Resurgent Arsenal face stern Man Utd test

Resurgent Arsenal face stern Man Utd test

Evening all. With Manchester United having lost at home against bottom club Sheffield United on Wednesday – a beautiful, glorious football result that fills every ounce of my body with joy – the importance of the clash with Arsenal tomorrow takes on even more importance. It is simply a huge fixture for both clubs.

From a United perspective, it represents an opportunity to immediately put the Sheffield failure behind them. What better way to move on than securing a win at the home of one of your biggest rivals (historically at least)? Victory at the Emirates would put their title push immediately back on track.

From an Arsenal stand point – as a Gunner that’s all I really care about – this game will provide a stern examination of our recent upturn in fortunes. Given our form leading up to the game, victory over Chelsea was great, but subsequent events at Stamford Bridge – culminating of course in Frank Lampard’s unceremonious sacking – take some of the shine off that particular result. Wins over West Brom, Brighton, Newcastle and Southampton, with a combined goal difference of 11-1, have since provided further encouragement. But again there are caveats. Arsenal, it could be suggested, should be beating those teams anyway. The current run of form is good – you can only beat the team you are playing – but the true extent of our improvement will only be revealed by the performances against tougher opposition.

After Saturday’s game against United, Arsenal travel to Wolves and Aston Villa in quick succession. There follows a home fixture against an unpredictable and dangerous Leeds team, before league leaders Manchester City visit the Emirates in between a testing two-legged European tie with Benfica. Ahead of these challenges it is vital that we keep our good momentum going. A positive result against our old rivals would be the ideal way to start.

While a fixture against United is never simple, Arsenal fans can at least wake up tomorrow morning with a confidence that would have been difficult to come by a few short weeks ago. Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof have recovered from a shaky start to the season to form an effective central defensive partnership for United, but they will come up against a rejuvenated Gunners attack led by Alexandre Lacazette. The French striker looked about as sprightly as the Brazilian Ronaldo in the 2006 World Cup for most of last year but has found a new lease of life in recent weeks. The French striker has notched three goals and two assists in six games in 2021.

If Lacazette has rediscovered his mojo, he has two Arsenal youngsters to thank. Since shifting from the left onto the right-hand side of Mikel Arteta’s attack, 19-year-old Bukayo Saka has added consistent end product to his prodigious talent with four goals and two assists in his last six appearances. Fellow Hale End academy graduate Emile Smith-Rowe, meanwhile, has been a sensation since coming into the team for the Chelsea game. It is far too early to draw comparisons to United’s Bruno Fernandes, but the impact each has had on his team is not dissimilar. After limping off against Southampton, Arsenal fans will be hoping that the 20-year-old will be ready to play tomorrow afternoon.

There are question marks about who will play on the left flank of our attack, but thankfully all of the options have their merit. Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has missed the last couple of games for personal reasons, and while his goal threat means he will surely start if available, the suggestion is he won’t be. That leaves Arteta with the choice of Nicolas Pepe, who scored against Southampton and generally looked far more effective than he has done in recent months, and Gabriel Martinelli, a precocious talent still working his way back to full fitness. Of the two, I’d be tempted to start Martinelli, whose constant movement could cause Aaron Wan Bissaka a problem or two. I suspect Arteta, however, will plump for Pepe’s experience.

Arsenal’s new-found attacking might has not been simply down to the front four. Midfielder Thomas Partey, recently reinstated after injury, moves the ball quicker and with more purpose than our other deep-lying central options, while his ability to break up opposition attacks has made us a more potent force on the break. At left-back Kieran Tierney is expected to return to the side after sitting out the previous few games with a calf strain. Despite Cedric Soares’ encouraging performance against Southampton, Tierney’s boundless energy and excellent crossing adds another important dimension to Arsenal’s offensive portfolio.

It would be remiss, of course, not to mention Martin Odegaard here (sorry don’t know how to do the Norwegian “O” thingy). The 22-year-old arrived on loan from Real Madrid in the week, promising to bring creativity and flair to the attacking midfield area. Both will be warmly received in an Arsenal squad still lacking strength in depth. Odegaard hasn’t played much football of late – just nine appearances in all competitions for Los Blancos this season – and so is unlikely to start tomorrow’s game. But his technical security and ability to play in a number of positions – off the right, centrally, in a two-man pivot – could well come in handy off the bench.

While I am full of optimism, it is worth highlighting the reality of the task facing Arsenal tomorrow. Spearheaded by the devastating Fernandes – who has 18 goal involvements in the league this season, second only to Harry Kane (23) – United’s attack is at best dangerous and at worst terrifyingly good. Paul Pogba has burst into life in recent weeks, and David de Gea has eradicated the mistakes that characterized recent seasons. While I hate to admit it, a draw against the league’s second-placed team would probably be a good result.

No matter what the circumstances, Arsenal-United is always a massive game. It feels even more so today. I probably won’t sleep great, my heart will be pumping well before kick-off, and my weekend ruined if things don’t go to plan. Come on boys!

Right, that’s enough of that. I’m off to have a massage on a Friday night because I’m that rock n’ roll. Have a good weekend and I’ll catch you all with more here on Monday.

—How do you expect the game to go tomorrow? Let me know in the comments section below!—