Cast your minds back to Remembrance Sunday last year – this chilly afternoon churned out the finest moment of the somewhat abominable David Moyes era. In a match where Old Trafford was in vociferous voice, Manchester United beat an Arsenal team that had won 16 out of their last 18 games courtesy of a Robin Van Persie header. Following that result, there was a genuine belief that beating the in-form team of the Premier League would kick start Manchester United’s title charge; unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out like that – and now I have spend my weeknights watching the finest club competition in the world with a complete lack of concern or care, instead it’s more a feeling of dismay and dark, dark reflection of what we all had to endure not so long ago.
Anyway, this weekend’s away fixture against Arsenal holds all the promise to fill me with the same optimism that I was swelled with just over a year ago on that glorious Sunday afternoon. Louis van Gaal could see his team pick up their first away win of the season against an Arsenal side that is also riddled with defensive issues and injury problems.
But equally, this game has the potential to plunge me into the deep depths of despair. A probable makeshift back four of Blackett, Carrick, Smalling and Valencia could easily fall to pieces against a team that hasn’t lost at home in the Premier League since the 17th August 2013, I can envisage the trauma already; Di Maria ruptures his ACL in the 4th minute, De Gea breaks his neck, United lose 5-0, Newcastle go ahead of us in the table, and to top it off, Danny Welbeck scores a hat-trick.
Should that happen, I might not recover – and lead a misguided, peculiar life that consists of watching badminton and stamp collecting.
That is incredibly unlikely to happen, however. A team that has been heavily scrutinised for their defensive frailties has kept relatively solid since the demise at Leicester – Louis van Gaal’s side has only conceded 6 goals since that horrible afternoon. For a team that has had 9 centre back partnerships in their last 8 games they’ve hardly shipped a ton of goals.
Furthermore, Arsenal is a team who are maybe feeling the pressure slightly more than those of Manchester United. Whilst Louis van Gaal has the sweeping support of Manchester United’s fanbase as he continues to implement his ideas and plan on the squad to notable affect, Arsene Wenger is once again subjected to an array of criticism from a generally quite fickle fanbase, who sway from ‘Wenger out’ to ‘Wenger knows’ (and vice versa) with a laughable amount of ease.
That said, it’s understandable as to why some are beginning to doubt the Frenchman; a team that ran out of steam in their title charge last season by around February look as if they’ve bottled this seasons challenge already. The Gunners currently sit in 6th place, 12 points behind Chelsea. Home performances this season for Arsenal this season have been underwhelming but not necessarily disastrous – they took 70 minutes to score past Burnley and had to rely on Danny Welbeck to salvage a late point against Hull, but do remain unbeaten. In other words, an away win for Manchester United is by no means beyond the realms of possibility, far from it.
Arsene Wenger will once again have to make a few difficult calls in terms of who he puts in his back four; with Koscielny and Debuchy both injured, as well as Chambers being mentally scarred from being bullied by Montero last time out it seems that Arsenal’s defence could look relatively makeshift as well. Ozil and Ospina will definitely miss the encounter and Danny Welbeck is a slight doubt following a hamstring problem obtained on international duty.
Louis van Gaal’s press conference momentarily merited utter dismay as it was thought that Daley Blind would be out for the rest of the season, only for it to be clarified that his knee injury isn’t as serious as first thought. One thing is certain; he’ll be part of a list of players that include Shaw, Rojo, Rafael, Young, Jones, Falcao and Evans who won’t be available for the game against Arsenal. The good news is that Di Maria, Carrick and De Gea are available – in a game that will require a few excellent saves, calmness in the midfield and pace on the counter attack, these 3 are somewhat vital.
A game that filled me with false hope last season could do the same again this Saturday. Two teams that both contain second string defences and promising attacking options could serve to provide a scintillating encounter, but could also end up devising a neurotic matchup of two sides that are equally petrified of conceding. I much prefer the former.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-3 Manchester United