An away trip to Old Trafford is never ideal straight after the international break, but Arsène Wenger’s side will travel to Manchester ahead of the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday with the belief that they can finally banish their hoodoo against José Mourinho.
Given the hosts’ inconsistent start to the league campaign, this represents Arsenal’s best opportunity to take all three points back to north London – something they haven’t done for 10 years. That in itself, is a depressing statistic to say the least, and although a lack of consistency has halted our title chances in previous seasons, you can only hope we don’t see the same again this time around.
In the pre-match presser, Arsène Wenger issued a fitness update on a few key players, as well as discussing the team’s prospects ahead of another important fixture this weekend.
First choice right-back Hector Bellerín (ankle) is sidelined for four weeks, having sustained an injury after a “very strong tackle” by Danny Rose in the final few seconds of the north London derby against Tottenham before the break.
Santi Cazorla is described as “still out”, and isn’t yet out in training, which is a worrying sign for the Spaniard.
On who will start at right-back on Saturday, Wenger said: “The options are basically Jenkinson – because Debuchy will play his first game back on Friday with the under-23’s – and also Gabriel because he played a few times at left-back for Villarreal.”
One of the common themes in the presser was the Mourinho v Wenger rivalry, that continues to intensify on a regular basis ahead of meetings between the two managers.
When questioned about whether this is his best chance to beat a Mourinho side, Wenger replied: “You know, we didn’t always lose. We have beaten them [United] and there were many draws as well. I think I have won against every manager in the world during my 20 years here and I do not make of this game a competition between two managers.”
He elaborated, saying: “It’s between two clubs and two teams and I think I can understand that people want to create controversy, but it’s not that that makes the audience. What will make the audience is the quality of the game.”
Alexis Sánchez returned back to London on Thursday afternoon following his two-goal haul against Uruguay for Chile during their World Cup qualifier in midweek.
The talented forward, who was believed to have played through the pain barrier after sustaining a hamstring injury last week, is a doubt to start and complete the full 90 minutes but he’ll want to play regardless, as usual.
Other than that, the starting line-up is expected to be a similar one to that of previous weeks where Aaron Ramsey could potentially start on the right-hand side of midfield, ahead of Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka in a holding midfield base.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Xhaka; Iwobi, Ramsey, Özil; Alexis.
United stopped their winless run with a 3-1 away victory over Swansea just before the international break, and will be hoping to gradually continue their form as criticism of Mourinho continues to dominate headlines across England.
The Swans were generally poor on the afternoon and United will understandably be anticipating a tougher challenge this time around, especially given the recent history between the two sides.
Marouane Fellaini (calf), Antonio Valencia (arm), Eric Bailly (knee) are all absentees from United’s matchday squad, whilst Luke Shaw and Wayne Rooney are doubts but should start as expected on Saturday.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended, having picked up his 5th booking of the campaign against Bob Bradley’s side in south Wales, so Marcus Rashford could be in line for his 4th league start of the 2016/17 season.
Either way, Saturday’s fixture is set to be an intriguing watch but equally one that the visitors cannot afford to lose.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Darmian, Jones, Rojo, Shaw; Herrera, Pogba; Mata, Martial, Rooney; Rashford.