United v Arsenal: Five big talking points
Manchester United face Arsenal at Old Trafford this weekend, in the penultimate home game of the season.
The visit of the Gunners always evokes memories of an enduring rivalry between two of English football’s big guns and is often a frenzied occasion.
Ahead of Sunday’s big game at the Theatre of Dreams, here are five topics of discussion for you to mull over…
WENGER’S OLD TRAFFORD FAREWELL?
Sunday’s showdown is set to be the final time we will see Arsene Wenger in the away dugout at Old Trafford as Arsenal boss, with the Frenchman due to step down at the end of the season after 22 years in the role. Although he has openly stated his desire to continue working and not retire just yet, it could be the last occasion he comes up against the Reds as an opposing manager. As ManUtd.com’s Adam Marshall has written, Wenger has been an admirable adversary down the years and has had a profound effect on English football since pitching up at the Gunners in 1996. He undoubtedly deserves a respectful reception at Old Trafford, one which he is sure to receive from the United faithful.
POTENTIAL REUNIONS FOR TRIO
There are three players who could come up against former clubs on Sunday. Alexis Sanchez will face the Gunners for the first time since swapping north London for Manchester in January. He was in the Arsenal team when the Reds won 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium in December’s reverse fixture but the Chilean will be keen to show his old employers what they are missing this weekend, while building on his Man-of-the-Match display in the Emirates FA Cup semi-final victory over Tottenham last time out.
Meanwhile, on the opposing side, Henrikh Mkhitaryan left the Reds three months ago but is reportedly set to miss out on an Old Trafford return on the pitch with a knee injury. Danny Welbeck could lead the line for the Gunners and is looking to score for the third time at Old Trafford since making the switch from United to Arsenal in 2014. But, as a Mancunian who came through the club’s Academy to eventually score 29 goals in 142 first-team appearances for United, he will always be fondly remembered by Reds fans.
THE RACE FOR THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
As you’d expect, ensuring UEFA Champions League football for next season is on the agenda for both teams. Jose Mourinho’s men hope to secure the three points required to guarantee a top-four finish on Sunday and are on course to finish second, with a three-point cushion over third-placed Liverpool and a game in hand.
For Arsenal, they look set to miss out on a top-four finish for the second successive season, having previously qualified for the Champions League for 20 years in a row under Wenger. The Gunners are 11 points adrift of their north London rivals Spurs, who currently occupy fourth spot, with just four games left and their chances of returning to Europe’s elite competition now hinge on winning the Europa League – in the same way the Reds did in Stockholm a year ago.
WHO WILL START FOR UNITED?
The big games have brought the best out of the Reds in recent weeks and there are only four matches before the Emirates FA Cup final on 19 May, so the players are looking to impress the boss, with places in the starting XI against Chelsea at Wembley up for grabs. Mourinho seems to have found a winning formula of late, with Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera supporting Paul Pogba in his favoured position in the left of a midfield trio, while Jesse Lingard and Alexis have operated either side of leading scorer Romelu Lukaku in a 4-3-3 formation. It was the system and personnel which helped to inspire the second-half comeback against Manchester City and turnaround against Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final. To that end, the boss could be tempted to name an unchanged side. It remains to be seen whether Eric Bailly earns a recall, with the Ivorian defender having started just one of the last five games and missed last weekend's Emirates FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham. The boss could give an update on the squad in his pre-match press conference on Friday.
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WILL ARSENAL ROTATE?
Sunday’s clash is sandwiched in between both legs of their crucial Europa League semi-final against Spanish giants Atletico Madrid and it is clear where the Gunners’ priorities rest – which may be reflected in the team that lines up against United. Wenger could be tempted to rest some of his key stars for the decisive trip to Spain next week and give some fringe players an opportunity, particularly after conceding the initiative to Atletico by conceding a late goal to draw 1-1 in the first leg at the Emirates. But he may be wary of making too many changes, after an under-strength Arsenal team were put to the sword by United in the memorable 8-2 triumph for the Reds back in 2011. He will also be looking for a positive result on what could be his final trip to Old Trafford, where United are unbeaten against the Gunners in the Premier League since 2006.
MUTV's live coverage of United v Arsenal begins on Sunday at 14:30 BST, two hours ahead of kick-off at Old Trafford.
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