Man United rest on results at the Emirates

MANCHESTER United’s visit to Arsenal tomorrow used to be the pick of the season’s fixtures.

But these days, 14 to 15 years down the line, it’s just the match of the weekend, such has been the changing of fortunes of these two celebrated English football clubs.

The last time Arsenal won the league title was 20 years ago, and the last time Manchester United clinched the league’s coveted crown was a decade ago.

They finished second and third respectively last season but they remain a good distance from the sheer dominance of Manchester City.

Today, both will be bent on consolidating their title credentials at the Etihad Stadium, where Arsenal should start with a slight advantage but with things expected to even out by the end of the day.

The Gunners’ edge should be that they will be playing at home. They haven’t started the new campaign anywhere near as well as they did last term.

But they do remain unbeaten, and Mikel Arteta, their Spanish manager, has really turned the club around the most since Arsene Wenger left the London team.

Rice has been excellent for Arsenal and they’ll expect more from him again when Man United visit the Emirates. — ReutersRice has been excellent for Arsenal and they’ll expect more from him again when Man United visit the Emirates. — Reuters

He will want more than anything else not to concede defeat against a side whom they see as a genuine rival for a top-four finish in May.

Arsenal will feel frustrated by the draw with Fulham last weekend. It would not be misplaced to suggest that Arteta will view it as two points dropped, particularly after playing against 10 men towards the end.

And even in these early stages of the season, no one wants to let Man City get away too far ahead, lest they regret it later.

Already, the Citizens, chasing an unprecedented fourth straight league title, are two points ahead of a chasing pack that includes West Ham United, Tottenham, Liverpool and the Gunners.

Man United, who were embarrassed by the defeat at the hands of Tottenham a fortnight ago when they failed to score, are in a three-way tie on six points, a point back in eighth place.

Arsenal sold Folarin Balogun to Monaco this week, but they do have ample strike power in Gabriel Jesus, Eddie Nketiah, Kai Havertz and Leandro Trossard, all of whom the 22-year-old was behind in the pecking order at the Emirates.

Many a pundit will be watching to see if Arteta deploys Thomas Partey as a hybrid full-back/midfielder again.

This appears to have unsettled their rhythm somewhat compared to last term and is borne of the idea to accommodate Declan Rice and Havertz, both of whom arrived in the off-season.

Skipper Martin Odegaard has shown good form and leadership in the opening of the new campaign, and he will need to be at his best again as they attempt to thwart a Man United seeking to redeem themselves from a rather lacklustre start of their own.

The way they crumbled against Spurs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will have worried Erik ten Hag. Their 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest came after they fell 2-0 behind in the opening five minutes.

This team, mired in a shambles of their own creation, will know that against a bigger club and better organised outfit, perhaps like Arsenal, they will not be let off the hook that easily.

Ten Hag, who will quickly find himself under growing pressure should they continue to perform like they started the season, has a strong squad of players; there’s no denying that.

They seem to be unable to play as a cohesive unit.

And their defence, which can no longer lay the blame at the doorstep of outcast Harry Maguire now that he has (rightly or wrongly) been sidelined by the coach, also needs a fair measure of strengthening and direction.

World Cup winner Lisandro Martínez, who somehow appeared to be their saviour last season has been out of sorts, looking a lot like a weak link now.

The inclusion of his partner in central defence, Raphael Varane, and midfielder Casemiro also surprises many.

These two might appear good enough at Old Trafford. But if they are not good enough for Real Madrid, how could it be that they will be good enough to stave off the likes of Arsenal, never mind Man City?

The Red Devils’ hierarchy was this week frantically searching for backup for injured left-back Luke Shaw.

At the time of writing, there were no clear signs as to who might be brought in, although Spurs midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Chelsea’s left wing-back Marc Cucurella were mentioned as possible targets.

In the meantime, ten Hag will have to go with what he’s got, and on paper, it should be adequate to at least muster a draw, if not an unlikely win at the Emirates.

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English football , sports , Man United


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