Praveen’s latest “The Arsenal Annals” column.
Arsenal travel to Manchester United in search of their first win at Old Trafford since September 2006; however, the Saturday’s early kickoff presents them an easy opportunity to overcome the United hoodoo given the form of either side heading into the game.
On the back of a 16-game undefeated run, the Gunners clearly have the upper hand, compared with United’s two defeats in five competitive outings.
Whilst their current forms will definitely play its part, the return and absence key figures will also influence the result of the high-profile clash.
The absence of Zlatan a boost
Scoring eight goals in 14 competitive starts for United, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has proved a talisman although he has proved ill-equipped to prevent a dip. Despite struggling to emulate his Paris Saint-Germain laurels, against an equally mighty side in Arsenal, he will have felt the necessity to up his game.
Given his itch for limelight – something the Saturday’s game will offer in plethora – ostensibly, he will have been at his impeccable best; however, given his suspension, he will only watch his colleagues take on familiar enemies from the stands.
His absence will definitely offer Arsene Wenger’s men a much-needed psychological boost as, as history suggests, they develop a mental block every time they lock horns with a dominant team.
In addition, with Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi lacking the height required to tussle with the 6ft 5in United striker; the Kostafi will have been bullied, especially with Arsenal’s own demon in Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata lurking for the perfect layoff from the Swedish superstar striker.
Besides, with the involvement of other key players in Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia, and Marouane Fellaini all up in the air, United find themselves in a position that shall not delight them.
Alexis’ involvement another positive, alongside the Kostafi partnership
Whilst Ibrahimovic’s absence will hamper their chances of claiming Arsenal’s scalp, Alexis Sanchez’s recent announcement – he claimed he was ready to spearhead the Arsenal lineup this weekend despite injury scares – should excite both the Arsenal dressing room as well as fanbase.
However, the absence of first-team regulars in Santi Cazorla and Hector Bellerin can go a long way toward altering their chances of sending the Old Trafford faithful home unhappy.
Although Cazorla’s understudies in Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey are expected to produce a decent performance, the Bellerin’s absence may cost them three huge points as second-choice right-backs in Carl Jenkinson and Mathieu Debuchy have never had a sniff of league football in ages.
With the Kostafi forming a decent partnership, however, the right-back’s projected inadequacy will be masked.
A more positive outlook on Arsenal’s side
In addition, the Arsenal manager has had a history of heading into United games or games against Jose Mourinho’s side with massive pressure upon his shoulders; however, for once, he heads into one such game with a positive outlook given his personnel’s form and availability.
On the other hand, his Portuguese counterpart, besides internal issues such as injury and complacency – he only recently put more pressure upon his players, stating they lacked the desire – has to goad his underperforming skipper, Wayne Rooney, to gain mentally fitness after he was embroiled in a drinking controversy during the international break.
The stage is set for Wenger to finally not just overcome the United hoodoo, but also nudge his long-term foe Mourinho onto the ground.
Should his personnel deliver, Arsenal fans will finally leave the Old Trafford with a huge grin after a long time.
Written by Praveen Paramasivam
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