Premier League 17/18 Week 36: Manchester United vs Arsenal – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Wenger takes the Gunners to Old Trafford for the final time in Sunday’s blockbuster Premier League clash
16:30 BST, Sunday 29th April, Old Trafford (Manchester, England) Sky Sports
This once legendary clash may not draw the same attention as the early days of the Premier League, however, it is still a significant battle looked for in the annual fixture lists.
With Arsenal’s continued involvement in Europe and the league’s pecking order already established, there is less at stake than some previous encounters have commanded. As Arsène Wenger’s sign-off from this fixture and Alexis Sánchez’s first game facing the opposite direction, it carries it’s own personal weight, regardless.
Manchester United will look to record their first double over the Gunners in 6 seasons, adding to a run of 10 home matches unbeaten against the London side. For Arsenal, they may have technically a bigger game waiting for them around the corner, however, they need a minimum of 10 points from their 4 remaining league games to ensure they don’t set a new lowest points total from Wenger’s 22-year reign, so a defeat on Sunday is out of the question for a manager wanting to leave signs of a legacy behind.
Last Time Out
Manchester United 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur (FA Cup)
The Red Devils marched into the FA Cup final with a determined and clever performance that swept aside the Spurs. It was Tottenham who began the game aggressively, and they got their reward for this with an 11th-minute goal from Dele Alli. But while Tottenham dominated the opening 20 minutes, Mourinho and United turned the tide of momentum to seal a deserved win.
Romelu Lukaku has been United’s player in scintillating form throughout this season’s competition, however, it was Alexis Sánchez who continued his own good record in this tournament to pull the teams level. Paul Pogba brushed the unusually ineffective Mousa Dembélé off the ball to float an inviting cross for the Chilean to expertly head back across the goal and into the net.
While Eric Dier came close with a shot that licked the woodwork, it was Ander Herrera who next found his sights in line. A hard and low shot around the hour mark turned the tables and gave United the lead for the first time. It proved enough as United carefully managed closed down the game Tottenham to claim victory on the dubiously neutral Wembley turf.
Arsenal 1-1 Atlético Madrid (Europa League)
The Gunners soft under-belly was once more exposed as they gave away a weak goal late in the game to leave an uphill challenge waiting for them in Spain. The match had begun with two quick yellow cards for Atlético defender Sime Vrsaljko to reduce them to 10 for the vast majority of this contest.
With a numerical advantage, Arsenal had the upper hand but found their opponents vigorously stubborn and a challenging proposition to break down. Alexandre Lacazette continued his recent rich vein of form with an energetic and threatening display, clipping the Madrid post before he eventually broke the deadlock just after an hour had been played.
While Arsenal were in the box-seat, they resorted to type by refusing to do things the easy way. Having looked set to take a narrow lead into the 2nd leg, a long ball launched into the Arsenal half near the end of the match proved to be their undoing.
Shkodran Mustafi’s clearance got as far as his own face before Antoine Griezmann took possession to shirk off the attentions of Laurent Koscielny before landing his side what could be a valuable away goal. The slumped shoulders of Arsenal players leaving the pitch told everything that needed saying as Wenger’s side were made to pay for their earlier inability to beat Jak Oblak.
Manchester United Lineup
Mourinho again has a near full squad to choose from with only Sergio Romero (knock) unavailable this weekend. Despite a wealth of options, he could well field an unchanged team from the side who beat Tottenham as he looks to build momentum ahead of the FA Cup final next month.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is recovering well from his knee injury but is not expected to make the starting lineup against his former club, however, could make an appearance from the bench this weekend. Mohamed Elneny (ankle) will not feature though, either will
Santi Cazorla who is still fighting back from a devastating Achilles injury.
Key Battle: David de Gea (Manchester United) vs Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal)
The reverse fixture saw the United keeper in inspired and possibly his greatest form to prevent near-certain goals for the Gunners more than once. With Arsenal looking more open and attacking against West Ham, there’s a chance they will again go for United’s jugular in this match. With 17 clean sheets already to his name this Premier League season, De Gea is favourite to claim the golden glove award which will be the first time he has won this accolade.
Since returning from injury, Lacazette has been in scintillating for the Gunners. 7 goals in as many appearances (4 Premier League, 3 Europa League) has not only been his best return in an Arsenal shirt, its what many fans had hoped and expected following his £50m unveiling last summer. With only 1 goal from the 11 appearances before this injury, the French striker finally looks to have arrived in North London.
An upward curve
Whatever your opinion on José Mourinho’s current Manchester United team, it’s hard to dispute their effectiveness. Victory over the Gunners will secure Champions League football next season, stretch their 2nd place advantage over Liverpool to 5 points and a game in hand, and be the 5th successive win against teams placed in the top six.
Having collected 5 more points than last season already, United are surely improving in the grand scheme of things while an FA Cup final on the horizon still leaves them a chance of claiming silverware this season. It’s now 5 years since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped back from the dug-out at Old Trafford and only now are United close to the level which became a standard during the Scotsman’s reign.
What about Arsène?
Since Arsenal’s announcement that Wenger will step down from his position at the end of the season, there has been much written and talked about regarding his successor. While many high-profile talking heads have stopped to give praise and adulation on Wenger the manager and Wenger the person, few have mentioned anything about Wenger’s future.
While it seems almost impossible to imagine Wenger in charge of a different Premier League side, there are many options lying open to him. Whether a European-based club, a national team manager or a different role in the sport, plenty of clubs and organisations will be tempted by his availability. The more pressing question is perhaps whether he takes a sabbatical or if the 68-year-old plunges straight back into the beautiful game.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal
Arsène Wenger will want nothing less than victory in what might be his last game against both Manchester United and José Mourinho, two rivalries which have contributed high and low points to his 22-year reign at Arsenal. With the semi-final against Atlético Madrid in the corner of their eye and a dismal away record blemishing 2018, this could prove to be another victory for the mechanically efficient Red Devils.
(Photo Credit: Reuters/Andrew Couldridge)