In sports, history is inescapable. It is the foundation on which glory is built, and it is a mirror that reflects back at us the storied pasts of our respective clubs, the good, the bad, and the ugly alike. History is everything.
The history of the Premier League itself was built on the storied rivalries that have decided titles and thrilled the masses, and few have been as important as Arsenal and Manchester United. The 90s and early 2000s of the Premier League were practically defined by the matchups between the two powerhouses. Finally, after years of falling outside of the realm of significance, the rivalry between these traditional titans has returned to the forefront, with this Sunday’s match carrying tremendous title implications.
If last week’s North London Derby victory was a statement of intent, the upcoming match at the Emirates against United could be doubly so for either side. The gap between Arsenal and United, who sit in 3rd with a game in hand, is 8 points, which feel massive when you’re chasing, but scant when you’re leading. Under new manager Erik Ten Hag, United have successfully shaken off a rocky start to their campaign while also dumping the ten ton anchor of Cristiano Ronaldo during the World Cup break. Since then, they have steadily climbed up the table and into the top 4 with a strong stretch of outings since league play resumed in December.
Neither side’s motivation for this match needs much explained. Outside of extending their league leading form, the Gunners have a chance to exact revenge over United, the only side to defeat the Gunners in league play this season back in early September, when the Gunners’ failed to deal with United’s counter attack and were without Thomas Partey, who has been Arsenal’s engine in the midfield all season. If we know anything about manager Mikel Arteta, it is that he will dissected the first match down to the atomic level in hopes of limiting the same mistakes from coming back to bite them in the home fixture.
Recent history, though, favors the Gunners at home. Since 2019, Arsenal haven’t lost to United at the Emirates in the league, with three wins from four in that span. But nothing is a given or a guarantee. United’s resurgence under Erik Ten Hag have the Red Devils looking sharp and vastly improved. Coupled with the resplendent form of Marcus Rashford, it is all but certain that United will feel they can put Arsenal to the sword to close the gap and put a dent in the Gunners’ title run.
But this is where Arsenal need to remind United and the rest of the PL that they are top for a reason. Banter Era Arsenal was an easy target for ridicule and often an easy team to rattle in the not so recent past. The mentality of this side, though, is so far beyond that of recent seasons that it is hardly recognizable. Between Martin Odegaard’s calm and collected captaincy and Granit Xhaka’s determined and fiery leadership, the Gunners don’t let the bright lights and lofty expectations keep their eyes anywhere but firmly on the match in front of them. Just look at the difference in the last two North London Derby matches at Spurs and you will see the night and day difference.
Personnel-wise, Arsenal received the boost of adding Leandro Trossard from Brighton on Friday morning, successfully registering him ahead of the 12pm deadline to allow him to be available for Sunday. His addition gives the Gunners another versatile cog in the attack to keep teams on their heels and helps bolster the attack in Gabriel Jesus’ continued absence.
United, on the other hand, were dealt a huge blow when Casemiro, who has become their talisman in the midfield, picked up his fifth yellow card against Crystal Palace on Wednesday, which sees him miss Sunday’s match due to accumulation. This more than likely means United will throw part-time WWE wrestler and full-time shit houser Scott McTominay into the fray to bang and bruise the Arsenal side with reckless abandon (and likely no booking, either). Fun.
Not that any of that matters. You can always count on the magic of the rivalry to bridge gaps and bring out the best in sides. But at home, Arsenal need to come out and stamp their name on the match early and often if they want to etch their name into the history books and, hopefully, the trophy at the end of the season.
WHAT: Arsenal vs Manchester United
WHEN: Sunday, January 22nd, 11:30am EST/8:30am PST/4:30pm BST
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium, London
HOW TO WATCH: Broadcast live on the USA Network. Streaming on Peacock.
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