Rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United was a salient Premier League highlight in the late 1990s and early 2000s, at a time when the battle for the English top division’s supremacy served as undertone.
Both clubs have in contemporary times been involved in less fancied struggle to remain among the top-four hierarchy, while their city rivals Chelsea and Manchester City now bites at every chance to dominate.
The present dispensation may just be 11 weeks old, but enough for Arsene Wenger to waive his white flag at Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea who are 12 points ahead of their sixth-placed neighbours in the table. The ‘Gunners’ sit a point and a spot above United on the heels of Saturday’s meeting, which- as usual- connotes another tense atmosphere. coming in the wake of a disappointing 2-1 defeat at Swansea, Arsenal will be looking to maintain their push for Champions League football, so also their guests, who managed a slight victory against Crystal Palace last time.
Back in their respective back alleys, there have been several major concerns on the treatment table, with Louis van Gaal again facing a selection headache in the defence and midfield. David De Gea dislocated his finger in training with Spain last week, but is ready to play, and Angel Di Maria looks to have overcome the knock from international break.
Injury-related questions have since become a recurrent theme in the Dutch boss’ subconscious and in his pre-game media spin on Thursday afternoon, he noted Luke Shaw, Rafael, Phil Jones all have question marks on their availability for Saturday. Marcos Rojo and Jonny Evans are definitely missing. That leaves the returning Chris Smalling as the only notable defender in contention having completed his suspension after the loss at City.
Daley Blind is set for the sidelines with a knee ligament damage sustained in Holland’s 6-0 win over Latvia last Sunday, but the manager has ruled out a “six-month” hiatus. Ander Herrera- though has not played for United in almost two months- may become a last resort in the midfield. Juan Mata may be favoured ahead of Adnan Januzaj following his match-winning performance against Palace two weeks ago.
On loan striker Radamel Falcao has not played for a month with a calf injury. Van Gaal told MUTV on Thursday he will be back the day after the Arsenal game; nonetheless, it does not call for alarm as Wayne Rooney and ex-Arsenal marksman Robin van Persie are in perfect shape to lead the chariots.
Rooney had a memorable break with the ‘Three Lions,’ as he moved to within three of equaling Sir Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record for England.
Van Gaal said: “I have congratulated him but now he has to score for Manchester United. That’s also important. I think Rooney is not a typical striker, and because of that it’s then remarkable when you score so much. For a manager he’s a fantastic player.”
Wenger: “After he (Rooney) scored against Seaman on his debut I said he would have a world-class career. He works so hard.”
Better news came to Wenger during the international break concerning Olivier Giroud’s return to Arsenal’s Hertfordshire training ground after missing the last nine games.
Danny Welbeck arrived in the aftermath of the French striker’s injury, after which Arsenal have won 12 out of 27 available points.
The 23-year-old Mancunian will come face-to-face with his former employer for the first time since his £16m move from Old Trafford for greener pasture. With five goals in 12 appearances (all competitions), suffix it to say Welbeck has had a decent return but it remains to be seen how well Wenger could fit both players in his traditional 4-4-2 lineup, or would the on form English striker suffer an uncanny relapse to playing in his much-detested wider role?
Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain was on target in England’s 3-1 win away in Scotland, but will most likely join the fit-again Theo Walcott on the bench, with Santi Cazorla and the fired-up Alexis Sanchez likely to start.
Sanchez appeared to have adapted well with life at the Emirate Stadium after netting his sixth goal in four games against Swansea, to take his tally to 7 in 9 league matches. The Chilean remains a threat for opponents.
Mesut Ozil will not be ready before the New Year. Wenger, 65, has revealed that Mathieu Debuchy and Laurient Koscielny are “three-weeks” away from first-team training. Mikel Arteta missed the defeat in Wales a fortnight ago, but is available for selection. David Ospina is out.
Arsenal Possible Starting XI: Szczesny; Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs; Flamini, Ramsey, Carzola, Wilshere; Sanchez Welbeck.
Man Utd Possible Starting XI: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Blackett, Shaw; Fellaini, Herrera, Carrick; Mata, Rooney, Van Persie