Danny Welbeck fired Arsenal to a win in our last visit to Old Trafford but, with the striker missing, what does this weekend’s game have in store?
With two away wins in Manchester followed by a dominant performance at home against Liverpool maybe 2015 is the year that Arsène Wenger and his team have cracked how to win big games, even away from home.
Another win this weekend would lay even more ghosts to rest as we approach the end of this Premier League season.
A win in the FA Cup quarter-final gave us our Old Trafford victory since 2006, but this weekend provides a great opportunity to win our first league game there in that time.
Another big away win would mean we definitely avoid a Champions League qualifier and serve as a boost ahead of what is expected to be a push toward the title come August.
“We feel we have made progress,” said Wenger in Friday’s press conference.
“Our recent away form has been very strong and that’s always a sign of a team who is in progress.
“To win at Old Trafford again would convince us that we have the strength and help us be stronger next season.”
And it’s hard to argue with the Arsenal manager.
Performances haven’t always been convincing but the results have improved hugely.
Arsenal lost four and drew six of the first 17 games of the season, winning just 27 points – less than 1.6 points per game.
The last 18 matches have seen us lose on three occasions but we have generally scored the decisive goal and held on to a narrow lead to claim all three points rather than just one. The reward has been 2.5 points per game. The run has seen us safely into the top four, and that form over a whole campaign would put us in a great position to challenge for the title.
Last week was different. The 1-0 loss to Swansea was odd after we hadn’t conceded any chances of note while placing the majority of ours more or less at Lukasz Fabianski. On most other nights we would win that game 2-0, but it just didn’t happen for us. There was nothing wrong with the approach though the result was more than frustrating.
Danny Welbeck, scorer of the winner in the FA Cup quarter-final, will have to wait until next season to play at Old Trafford again. The striker was supposed to be ready for the game on Monday night but wasn’t included, and the lack of detail about his setback is a concern.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also out and will miss the game against Sunderland in midweek – he looks likely to miss out on a second cup final in a row.
Mathieu Debuchy returned to training for the first time on Thursday after his hamstring trouble but is still out of the squad.
Aaron Ramsey should be fine, and Wenger should be able to choose the same XI for the sixth time in the Premier League.
There will probably be three changes to the side that won at Old Trafford in the FA Cup with David Ospina, Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud replacing Wojciech Szczęsny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Danny Welbeck.
Possible XI: Ospina; Bellerín, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Cazorla; Ramsey, Özil, Alexis; Giroud.
Following their FA Cup defeat to us, Manchester United improved hugely. What was most encouraging for the Red Devils that it was performances, not just results, which were suddenly on the up. Wins over Liverpool and Manchester City in particular looked frighteningly familiar – had United gotten over their period of vulnerability?
Three losses and no goals scored followed the win in the Manchester derby, but a scrappy win over Crystal Palace stopped the rot last weekend.
The side is more balanced now with Louis van Gaal settling on a formation and, seemingly, a first choice team. Ander Herrera has impressed in midfield while wide roles have revitalised Juan Mata and Ashley Young.
A first season under the Dutch manager will end in a return to European football – it’s now all but certain that Manchester United will, at the very least, feature in a most likely a Champions League qualifier next season.
And they won’t stop there, Arsène Wenger anticipates a busy summer as the true rivals from his early years at Arsenal also look to reach the summit of English football once more.
“He has shown that he has the personality to be at a club of that size. We expect them to buy some strong players.”
This weekend van Gaal will only have the 2014/15 squad to choose from, Memphis Depay and whoever else comes in will have to wait until August. Key midfielder Michael Carrick is missing through injury so Daley Blind should start.
Possible XI: De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Rojo; Blind; Mata, Herrera, Fellaini, Young; Falcao.
To win twice at Old Trafford in the space of a few months would send a statement.
“First of all we can mathematically put a distance between (Manchester United) and us in the top four and basically secure the top three.
“Also, we can make a symbolic statement because we won over there in the FA Cup. To reproduce that would be psychologically important.”
This team is ready, with another addition or two in the summer, to make a run for the title.
They just have to believe it themselves, and a win on Sunday would surely reinforce that belief.