A trip to Old Trafford. Emery’s best opportunity yet?
Old Trafford does not hold happy memories for Arsenal fans. The Gunners have won three of a possible TWENTY-SEVEN Premier League games away to Manchester United, so this certainly does not inspire confidence. Tonight, however, may be the best opportunity to right this terrible statistic. In this article, I shall outline how, and why, Emery should be confident.
Unfortunate may not be the correct term here. It is almost inevitable that selling two-high profile forwards over the summer and failing to replace them would result in a shortage of forwards. For what it’s worth, I can see the logic in the sales, but not to recruit a back-up striker was frankly criminal. The reality of the situation, however, is that both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are significant doubts for the Red Devils, whilst Paul Pogba aggravated a previous injury in their defeat of Rochdale.
This means that Manchester United are working with a seriously depleted roster, the choice of centre-forward being one between Jesse Lingard and youth prospect Mason Greenwood. This should offer Arsenal a serious advantage. However, it must not be taken for granted; in February 2016, a similar situation arose, and Marcus Rashford burst onto the scene with a brace on his league debut. Injury crisis or not, Old Trafford is never an easy place to go.
That being said, the Manchester United squad, even before injuries, is probably at its weakest since the league began. This offers Arsenal a huge opportunity to capitalise and really lay down a marker for their top four intentions.
One huge positive that Arsenal fans can go into tonight’s game with is the return of defenders from injury. Defence, of course, has been Arsenal’s biggest weakness this season, with the pairing of David Luiz and Sokratis proving to be nothing short of comical. Rob Holding completed 90 minutes against Nottingham Forest and is in line to start in Manchester. Kieran Tierney is also in the frame, having looked very promising in the Carabao Cup fixture. Both provide huge upgrades to the back line and should inspire confidence.
On Friday, Unai Emery named his five captains. Despite social media opinion, it was always going to be Granit Xhaka named as club captain, as he is a mainstay of the side. In naming him captain, Emery has all but confirmed his starting berth in the Arsenal team for Monday night. Xhaka’s job will be to remain disciplined and begin to win over some of his critics if he is to represent the club. Regardless of opinion on Arsenal’s best midfield, it seems like we will be seeing Xhaka week-in week-out.
In attack, Arsenal are blessed with pace and trickery in Nicolas Pepe and Reiss Nelson, who I expect to start either side of Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang. Although Bukayo Saka has impressed, and Unai Emery has shown no fear of throwing youngsters into high-profile games, I would like to see the man with slightly more experience given the nod in this fixture. With Luke Shaw injured, Nicolas Pepe will be given plenty of opportunities to stretch his legs against an ageing Ashley Young, and it would be the perfect fixture for him to really announce himself to the league.
The choice of formation Unai opts for will go a long way towards deciding the result of the game before a ball is even kicked. At Anfield, the Spaniard opted for a diamond midfield behind two strikers, which to me suggested a desire not to get beaten, rather than to win. Against Liverpool, this attitude is understandable, but it would be a huge mistake to go in with the same mindset against Manchester United. Sitting back would invite pressure onto an already weak defence. Rather, Emery should be looking to dominate the game, having confidence in the players he selects by offering them the best chance to take all three points. Going in with a positive mindset, given previous Arsenal results at Old Trafford, will be key. This will be best achieved by opting for a high energy side who will force United onto the back foot.
In my opinion, this is the best opportunity Arsenal have had to win at Old Trafford for a long time. A victory would send out a strong message to the rest of the top four hopefuls, as well as surely providing a huge boost in confidence given a poor record away to the top six. A defeat could see questions continue regarding Emery’s suitability for the club, especially given the Red Devils’ injury woes. It will not be an easy game by any means, but I am definitely hopeful of taking all three points back to London.