There is a great deal at stake when Arsenal travel to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United this weekend, with the Gunners hoping to boost their title bid and Louis van Gaal’s side aiming to edge closer to the Champions League places (2.05pm Sunday on Sky Sports 1).
Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Leicester City last time out saw them move to within two points of Claudio Ranieri’s side at the summit of the Premier League standings. It was a must-win game for Arsene Wenger and his players as defeat would have left them eight points adrift of top spot with only 12 matches remaining. Arsenal have now turned their attention towards Man Utd after FA Cup (a 0-0 draw with Hull City in the fifth round) and Champions League (a 2-0 defeat at home to Barcelona in the first leg of their round of 16 tie) assignments in the last week.
It is the Premier League that the vast majority of Arsenal fans want success in this term, with the pressure now on the Gunners to deliver. The fact that they have not won at Old Trafford in the top flight since a 1-0 triumph in September 2006 may play on their minds somewhat and it will be interesting to see whether the pressure of requiring another victory helps or hinders the visitors to the northwest.
Man Utd have long been out of the title picture, but Manchester City’s inconsistent form has given them a glimmer of hope of still finishing in the top four. The gap between the pair is now just six points and, with City in action in the Capital One Cup final against Liverpool this weekend, United have a chance of halving that deficit and giving themselves renewed hope of finishing in the Champions League spots.
Louis van Gaal’s outfit have also dropped a fair few points in recent weeks, with the 3-0 victory over Stoke City at the start of the month their only win in their last four league outings. The Dutchman remains under heavy scrutiny and looks almost certain to leave the post in the coming months – the more pertinent question, indeed, is whether he lasts until the summer or is sacked before the season has concluded.
United have a whole host of fitness concerns ahead of this crunch clash with one of their biggest rivals: David de Gea, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Adnan Januzaj are doubts, with captain Wayne Rooney (knee), Anthony Martial (hamstring), Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (knock), Matteo Darmian (shoulder), Chris Smalling (shoulder), Marouane Fellaini (hamstring), Ashley Young (groin), Antoinio Valencia (ankle), Luke Shaw (broken leg) and Will Keane (groin) all unavailable for selection. Marcus Rashford, the goalscoring debutant in the midweek win over FC Midtjylland, could be in line to make his first start in the Premier League.
Arsenal will again be without long-term absentee Jack Wilshere, while fellow midfielder Santi Cazorla is still thought to be at least a fortnight away from returning to the fold. Tomas Rosicky is also sidelined until next month and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is out after leaving the Emirates on crutches on Tuesday. Centre-back Gabriel Paulista could be available for selection once more after injuring his hamstring two weeks ago.
Our Preview’s Arsenal v Man Utd Betting Tips
United’s injury issues and poor recent form means Arsenal are the more likely to emerge victorious at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon. A 2-1 scoreline looks like a decent value bet, while Danny Welbeck (pictured) – set to face the club who handed him his professional debut eight years ago – could be worth backing to get on the scoresheet. Both teams need the points for different reasons, but Arsenal are simply a better side than United, with their extra quality likely to tell.