In a behemoth of a match that could potentially make or break both sides’ top-four chances, Arsenal and Manchester United renew hostilities on Saturday lunchtime in the Premier League at the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners reignited their Champions League bid with an enthralling 4-2 success at Chelsea in midweek, while Ralf Rangnick’s side capitulated in a 4-0 defeat to Liverpool.
It took Eddie Nketiah all of 50 minutes on Wednesday night to equal Alexandre Lacazette’s Premier League open play goal tally for the entire season, as the 22-year-old led the Arsenal charge in a phenomenal spectacle at Stamford Bridge to end their three-game losing run.
Handed another opportunity to impress from the off after Lacazette’s COVID-19 recovery, Nketiah took advantage of Chelsea’s defensive lapses to register his first Premier League brace alongside strikes from fellow Hale End graduates Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka – the latter banishing his Euro 2020 penalty woes with a confidently-taken spot kick right at the death.
Finally rediscovering their magic touch against a Chelsea side who were all over the shop defensively means that fourth spot is still technically in Arsenal’s hands, with Mikel Arteta’s side only behind Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference ahead of what will seemingly be a pivotal North London derby on May 12.
A spate of devastating injuries and failure to bolster the attacking ranks in January seemed like it was going to prove costly for the Gunners after losses to Crystal Palace, Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion, but Arteta’s side produced in the big game on Wednesday and will see no reason why they cannot boost their top-four hopes at the expense of United’s this weekend.
Despite suffering back-to-back home losses to Liverpool and Brighton, Arsenal’s tally of 32 points on familiar territory is still the third-best record in the division, and the Gunners have all the motivation they need to avoid a run of three straight home defeats for the third season in a row.
Whether Erik ten Hag was watching on Tuesday night we may never know, but the Manchester United manager-elect would have certainly got a good image of the task at hand awaiting him at Old Trafford, as the Red Devils were simply torn to shreds by Liverpool on Merseyside.
Luis Diaz, Mohamed Salah (2) and Sadio Mane all carved their way through the United defence in what was frankly an embarrassing display from Ralf Rangnick’s men, and the German was the first to admit that the squad is in dire need of a significant overhaul after the full-time whistle.
United legends Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes also made their feelings known on the night as the 20-time English champions dropped below Arsenal into sixth on goal difference, and defeat at the Emirates would leave them six points adrift of their North London rivals having played a game more.
Man United travel to the Emirates having posted a mere two wins in their last seven Premier League matches – as well as losing each of their last three away from home – and Rangnick’s side are still waiting for their first Premier League clean sheet on rival turf since the turn of the year.
The Red Devils’ chances of ending such a miserable streak are seemingly rather slim at the Emirates, where Arsenal are unbeaten in three against their top-four rivals, but Michael Carrick did oversee a 3-2 win for Man United in front of the Old Trafford faithful earlier this season.
Arsenal Premier League form:
Manchester United Premier League form:
Manchester United form (all competitions):
We say: Arsenal 2-1 Manchester United
The expected return of Ronaldo to the frontline should at least give Man United that extra attacking bite, but as much as the Portuguese loves a goal against the Gunners, it remains to be seen if he is in the right headspace to play.
If Arsenal’s new-look side can produce similar levels of incisiveness that they did against Chelsea, Man United’s dodgy backline could be in for a rough ride against Arteta’s side, and we can only envisage the Gunners effectively ending the Red Devils’ top-four hopes while giving theirs a major boost.