EPL Preview: Manchester United v Arsenal – Old Trafford – April 29
Arsenal face a gruelling week ahead, hosting Atletico Madrid for the 1st leg of the Europa League and then travel to Old Trafford on Sunday for a Premier League clash against Manchester United. Manchester United have just come out of an impressive win over a an in-form Tottenham Hotspur in a FA Cup semi-final. Mourinho’s boys have shown great resilience in recent weeks coming from behind to beat sides like Manchester City, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and most recently, Tottenham. For United fans, it was a relief to see Alexis Sanchez in form and get the side’s opening goal from a superb header. But there was some disappointment over Jose Mourinho’s decision not to start off with the likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. But the effectiveness of Jesse Lingard, Romelu Lukaku and Sanchez upfront made up for the attacking duo’s absence. The last couple of months have seen the Red Devils get back their mojo, that was missing in the middle months of the current season. With no European commitments, unlike their weekend rivals, United will be a very rested bunch when they host a possibly weary Arsenal side at Old Trafford this weekend.
The Gunners meanwhile have rewarded Arsene Wenger with a farewell gift in style, thrashing a hapless West Ham 4-1 at the Emirates on Sunday. Alexandre Lacazette looked in great touch, getting a brace in the game and fans will be wishing that the Frenchman carry on in the same vein against United on Sunday. Mesut Ozil missed the West Ham game owing to illness and so did Jack Wilshere and Sead Kolasinac after sustaining ankle injuries. All of them are expected to be fit for the Old Trafford game. Pierre Aubameyang, too, seems to have found his goal-scoring ways (with 6 from his 10 games for his new club so far) and will be a threat to the United defense, which of late has been quite solid. The manner in which the back-line of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Anthony Valencia and Ashley Young kept the rampaging Spurs attacking combo of Harry kane, Del Alli and Christian Eriksen at bay, will give Wenger some food for thought for the Old Trafford clash.
A big worry for the departing Wenger will be his side’s poor show on the road. The Gunners have won just 3 of their 16 away games this season (compare this to 14 wins out of 18 at home). They have conceded many more goals in away games than they have scored – 26 against vs. 17 scored. These statistics will be music to United’s ears going into the 29th April clash.
For Arsenal, the Old Trafford may not take the contours of an epic battle normally associated with encounters between these two, primarily because, one – Arsenal are out of the Top Four and two – they are almost assured of a berth in the 2018-19 Europa League by virtue of a certain place in the Top 8 of the EPL. Arsenal look to hold on to their 6th spot on the EPL table for sometime, whatever be the outcome of Sunday’s gameand are a comfortable 14 points ahead of 8th placed Leicester City. It is this that may prompt Wenger to rest some key players for the Old Trafford clash before the Gunners’ very tough 2nd leg fixture in Madrid. Moreover, he would not want to risk injury to players for a game which he considers of much more significance than the Old Trafford clash. Obviously, European glory takes precedence. But then, this is all very speculative.
Manchester United, moreover, will be very hard to beat at home. The only game the current runners-up lost was a 1-2 to Premier League champions Manchester City and it’s hard to see the visiting Gunners do the same. But an Arsenal side filled with a desire to gift Arsene Wenger a memorable farewell may just upset the odds. A positive result in April 26th’s UCL clash against Atletico could have a psychological bearing on the Gunners’ performance in the weekend’s big Premier League clash.