James MortonManchester United vs Arsenal, Wednesday December 5th, 20:00, Old Trafford. It’s a game that used to decide the destination of the Premier League title, but now Manchester United vs. Arsenal is more about two teams trying to get into the Champions League for next year. Even so, it’s still a fixture that catches the eye.
It’s a game that used to decide the destination of the Premier League title, but now Manchester United vs. Arsenal is more about two teams trying to get into the Champions League for next year.
Back when Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were at the height of their powers, fixtures between Manchester United and Arsenal were often title deciders in all but name. Indeed, the Gunners famously won the 2001-02 title at Old Trafford through a Sylvain Wiltord goal.
The action was as entertaining in the dugouts as on the pitch, too, as, in days before Jose Mourinho descended on English football, Ferguson and Wenger were the undoubted top dogs, the best of enemies and two of the greatest managers to ever grace the Premier League. Now Mourinho is on the United bench but this is the first United-Arsenal game in a generation not to have Wenger in the Gunners’ dugout.
Unai Emery succeeded the Frenchman and has breathed new life into the club – in a way that Mourinho needed to do but didn’t at United. Where Emery’s team is energetic and exciting, Mourinho’s is dour and fractious, much like the manager himself. United still feel like they’re only one defeat away from mutiny, which isn’t a situation that can go on forever.
The clubs have traded wins back and forth over the past few years, regardless of who was in the United dugout. The Red Devils won both games last season but didn’t claim a victory the year before, although with Emery having replaced Wenger, there’s a different dynamic now. He won’t let Mourinho get under his skin to the degree Wenger did.
Arsenal won’t go to Old Trafford to frustrate United like most teams do but will Mourinho’s lumbering midfield be able to cope with the fleet-footed Londoners? It’s a close one to call – a 2-1 away win is tempting.
Emery’s team can set their stall out early with the first goal, putting United under pressure in front of a home crowd that’s come close to revolt on more than one occasion. United conceded the first goal against Bournemouth, Juventus and Manchester City in recent weeks, too.
Bournemouth, Juve and City all scored first when they met United but United did net in the second half in each of those fixtures. If that happens again and the scores are level late on, expect United to push for a winner – and leave space at the back for Arsenal to exploit on the break.
Head to Head
It’s one of English football’s prestige games and has been held 186 times. United have won 80 of them to Arsenal’s 63, with 43 draws. Arsenal haven’t won at Old Trafford though since a 2015 FA Cup victory.
Manchester United and Arsenal are first and second respectively in the combined table of every Premier League season. Chelsea are third, with Liverpool rounding out the top four.
The last five meetings between United and Arsenal have produced 16 goals, more than three goals per game on average.
The last Premier League team to beat United at Old Trafford was Arsenal’s North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who took a 3-0 victory in August.
Arsenal haven’t lost an away league game since August, when they were edged out 3-2 by Chelsea.