As Manchester United and Arsenal face each other on Sunday, it’ll be impossible not to cast our minds back to transfer deadline day and wonder how things would have panned out had United agreed to sign Mesut Ozil, rather than deeming the German international too expensive, thus allowing him to join the North Londoners.
Since his arrival at the Emirates, the former Real Madrid man has been inspirational for the Gunners, who have won eight games and drawn one after losing at home to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season and arrive at Old Trafford with a five point lead over second-placed Chelsea.
If Arsenal’s superb run had remained under a cloud up until last week, with doubters questioning the Gunners’ real strength after they had capitulated at home against Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea, Arsene Wenger’s men have now quelled those doubts by beating Liverpool last Saturday, before registering a surprise 1-0 win in Dortmund on Wednesday.
Arsenal’s history of post-Christmas capitulation means it’s probably too early to consider them favourites for the title, but at the same time, should the Gunners maintain their current form, they’d be in with a shout to end their eight-year drought. On a more practical note, three points for Aaron Ramsey & co. on Sunday would probably spell the end of United’s dreams of retaining the title, while a United win could prove the springboard David Moyes has needed since taking on from Sir Alex Ferguson.
For the first time in almost a decade, United enter a clash with Arsenal as the underdogs, much as they had done in 2005, when Arsene Wenger arrived at Old Trafford on the back of a 49-game unbeaten run and capitulated 2-0, courtesy of goals from Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney.
The game, widely remembered for its intensity and the subsequent “pizza gate”, was arguably the last to be contested with the same fierce rivalry that had characterised United-Arsenal matches in the 1990s and early 2000s, for with Arsenal decline over the last couple of season, the fire between the two sides has been somewhat extinguished.
However, that fire could be blazing again come Sunday afternoon.
United enter Sunday’s clash on the back of an eight-game unbeaten run in all competition and last week’s 3-1 win at Fulham was the first time they have won back-to-back league matches this season, but Arsenal remain very much the team in form, as they arrive at Old Trafford having won 14 of their last 15 away matches.
The Gunners will relish the opportunity to extend their run on United’s home turf, a ground where they haven’t won since 2006 and have lost eight of their last nine visits, including a 2-1 defeat last season, when Robin Van Persie scored the opening goal in his first appearance against his former club.
The Dutchman was instrumental at Craven Cottage, his crisp passing and movement proving the perfect foil for Wayne Rooney – with whom he’s developing a fearsome partnership – and Van Persie will again be the key man for United when he comes up against a much improved Arsenal back four, where Per Mertesacker has been excellent all season.
With Mesut Ozil and the in-form Aaron Ramsey in midfield, United are likely to be exposed in the middle third of the pitch and must hope Michael Carrick will be fit ahead of Sunday, as his presence was sorely missed against Sociedad on Tuesday, while Tom Cleverley could also return to the starting XI.
One way or the other, Sunday could prove to be a crucial point in United’s season. Let’s hope it’s a starting point, rather than a dead end.
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