Arsenal prepare to host Manchester United at the Emirates on Saturday as we slowly progress towards the second of the season. The Gunners won the reverse fixture in November with a 1-0 scoreline and will look to complete a Premier League double over their old rivals this weekend.
In a season full of upsets and surprises, the sight of Manchester United at the top of the Premier League ahead of Liverpool and Manchester City was probably the strangest thing of all. It’s not sour grapes, although I freely admit I’d prefer anyone else in that lofty position apart from Spuds
However, I genuinely believe that Manchester United are not worthy of leading the Premier League or being considered legitimate contenders. How predictable of the press and media to start blowing the United trumpet so prematurely, as if they had a team capable of outwitting Manchester City and Liverpool over the course of the campaign.
Some might refute my comments and label them unfair but apart from Pogba, Fernandes, De Gea, Martial, and possibly Rashford, United aren’t even at the races. Luck has certainly been on their side on several occasions and the subsequent results have flattered them heavily, perhaps into thinking that they can win the top honour.
Yet, the truth is all of their flaws and failures are still there but in a season so topsy turvy, so unpredictable and so unusual, they appear to have pulled off the deceptive masterstroke of the century. I say this in advance of the result between Arsenal against United at the Emirates this weekend, but I’m confident at optimistic because of the things I’ve just outlined.
Is United’s defence any better than the Gunners rotating backline? No, I don’t think so and Sheffield United’s goals were a good example of why I believe Arsenal could win with relative ease. The two Sheffield goals saw gaps and spaces appear, there was a lack of urgency, collective defending, and zero communication.
The second in particular saw a lack of willingness to close down and that cost United dearly as they allowed Sheffield to tap it around in the box. They won’t be able to do that against the likes of Saka, Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Martinelli.
Imagine if Tierney is fit for the contest, he will cause havoc in a defence that suffers when confronted with pace and invention. Let’s be honest, Sheffield were hardly racing around the area for Burke’s goal (74) and United have no one to blame but themselves.
They have a decent midfield with Pogba and Fernandes and on their day, if the opposition allows them to hit their stride, they will subsequently suffer the consequences, but if Arsenal press them and head upfield with a triangular movement between three offensive players and employ pace down the flanks, then United will succumb.
Arsenal have multiple threats in attack and if United concentrate too hard on one, it opens the door for another gifted player to rip them open. Which player offers the main threat? Take your pick, it’s actually anyone of five or six. If Partey finds Aubameyang with the ease which he did against Newcastle, United are in for a busy day.
If Saka and Smith Rowe link upright, left or middle, Lacazette or Aubameyang could profit or Saka might even fly solo. Martinelli or Pepe would also keep Luke Shaw and Co busy and one imagines that their boots might well end up smoking from the continuous acceleration in reverse.
I’m not denying that United could put the squeeze on Arsenal to pull off a result. Arsenal’s midfield isn’t established, United’s is. Arsenal’s strike force is more dynamic and exciting than their counterparts, the goalkeepers are on a par, but we all have to accept that both defences can implode.
This is not a game that will have the intensity of the ’90s, but for those of us old enough to have enjoyed a Wenger Arsenal and Ferguson United, it rekindles all those memories and emotions even if these sides are far removed from their predecessors.