Arsenal and Manchester United are two teams trending in opposite directions. The Gunners are unbeaten in their last 19 matches, sitting in 4th in the table, and flying high after defeating Tottenham at the weekend. The Reds haven’t won in the league since November 3rd (in fairness, they have two Champions League wins in the interim), are mired in 7th place, and seem incapable of escaping the drama that inevitably comes in the 3rd year of a Jose Mourinho managerial tenure.
In years past, Arsenal fans would be dreading Wednesday’s match, hoping to somehow steal a point. A short-rest, midweek game at Old Trafford would have seemed like the perfect time for everything to go wrong, for an in-form Gunners side to suddenly forget how to play football, and for Alexis Sanchez (or a few years back, Robin Van Persie) to net a brace. But things are different now.
For starters, Alexis Sanchez is expected to be out for “a long time” with a hamstring injury, so he won’t be available to triple his season goal total. Because I’m a nice guy, I’ll save you the trouble of having to do the math. If a brace triples Alexis’ goal total, that means he has 1, count it - ONE, goal so far this season. Hah, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has two. Oh, and Robin Van Persie is playing for Feyenoord in the Dutch league, so we’re safe there as well.
More importantly, I believe in this Arsenal team. Even if the underlying stats might not be great, there comes a point where it’s tough to argue with results. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is leading the league in goals and has scored on each of his last 10 shots on target, Alexandre Lacazette is tied for 10th, and the two of them have the greatest bromance since Bill and Ted and their Excellent Adventure. Unai Emery is getting his tactics right and making the correct adjustments at halftime. And Lucas Torreira is a beast.
Emery’s tactical acumen will be tested again on Wednesday - he will be without Granit Xhaka at the base of the midfield. Xhaka received his fifth domestic yellow card on Sunday and is suspended one match. The suspension breaks his impressive 65-match start streak in the Premier League. The obvious (and most likely) solution is to slot Matteo Guendouzi next to Lucas Torreira. He could also use Aaron Ramsey in that spot, but I suspect the Welshman will get the nod in a more advanced role, considering Mesut Özil’s fitness is a doubt.
Nacho Monreal (hamstring) and Laurent Koscielny (Achilles) are being assessed ahead of the match but unlikely to be available. Dinos Mavropanos is expected back in training some time this month, and Danny Welbeck is out long-term.
In a departure from his normal forthcoming, jovial self, Jose Mourinho refused to provide injury updates at his pre-match press conference. We do know that Ashley Young is suspended for the match, Romelu Lukaku and Luke Shaw left United’s weekend tilt due to injury, and Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Antonio Valenica, Matteo Darmian, Alexis Sanchez, and Victor Lindelof were all left out at the weekend for injury reasons. Sanchez and Lindelof are definitely still out, the rest are up in the air. Also missing from Wednesday’s match, most of Marouane Fellaini’s hair.
The Gunners have not won at Old Trafford since 2006. But in keeping with my confidence about this Arsenal side, I’m going to make a prediction, which I don’t often do. 3-1 to Arsenal: Lacazette, Ramsey, and Aubameyang to score.
WHAT: Arsenal at Manchester United
WHERE: Old Trafford, Manchester
WHEN: Wednesday, December 5th, 12 PM PT | 3 PM ET | 8 PM BT
US TV: NBCSN. Stream here.
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