With the atrocious record Arsenal have at Old Trafford, the last thing we needed was bad news before the game.
That is exactly what was dished out during Arsene Wenger’s press conference though – with the info regarding the availability of vital Spaniards Santi Cazorla and Hector Bellerin.
On Thursday, Wenger ruled out Bellerin for roughly four weeks after suffering an ankle injury during the Gunner’s last Premiership game, against tottenham. He will miss up to eight games, and not only will he miss this crunch clash, he will be ruled out for the last two fixtures of Arsenal’s Champions League group stage – those being against Paris Saint Germain and FC Basel.
His compatriot Santi Cazorla is also no nearer to a return, as his achilles injury has not healed sufficiently. Even worse is that Wenger confirmed he can not pin down a date for the return of the two-footed midfielder.
There is room for optimism as we look to this game, as the squad is in ruder health than in many previous seasons, and backup for each position is more than adequate.
The cover for the players concerned is Carl Jenkinson and a pick of Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka, and it will be a combination of two from those three midfielders that will make up the engine room for the trip to Manchester. Perhaps even the energy and runs of Aaron Ramsey could get a shock recall?
Carl Jenkinson has played well in his few outings thus far this campaign, but the English defender must take his chance while he has it in his grasp. The fan favourite bleeds Arsenal, but if he is to have any future at the club he adores, then he must reassure his boss that he can seamlessly drop into the side and lessen the impact of losing a player of the ilk of Bellerin.
The rest of the team more or less picks itself, aside from two slight niggles. Alexis Sanchez only flew back from international duty with Chile on Wednesday, and after playing on Tuesday against Uruguay despite nursing a troublesome hamstring, Alexis must be fitness tested before taking to the side.
The other worry is the form of Alex Iwobi. The youngster had to dip eventually after such a blazing start to his professional career, but the dilemma is – do you allow him to play through his bad run, or do you bench him and give someone else a shot? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has impressed recently, and could replace the Nigerian. Iwobi, whilst struggling for form and comabtting poor decision making, has still shown a fantastic ability to pick a pass.
The choice is Wenger’s.
Jose Mourinho has his fair share of issues to deal with as well, especially with his defence being the opposite of the normally watertight plan of the Portuguese manager – so there is a ray of hope.
He still has plenty to choose from elsewhere though, but his continuing selection of Marouane Fellaini in the centre of midfield smacks of desperation. When he can take his pick from Schweinsteiger, Mata, Carrick, Herrera and Blind to name but a few in the centre, it shows he is looking for an anchor that simply isn’t one. He is known to prefer a powerhouse in the middle, and if he goes with type again and picks the fuzzy-haired Belgian, then Xhaka, Walcott and Ozil can really take advantage.
United have won two games out of their last five, and are struggling to find a footing, but Arsenal have not won at Old trafford since 2006. This shocking run of results looked to be at an end last season when we travelled to Manchester with United barely able to put a team together and were patched together with youngsters who had barely any top-flight experience.
It didn’t matter though, as United ran out 3-2 winners. Arsenal practically handed the game to the home side with some lackadaisical defending and some prosaic attacking. There was no energy and the plodding players got exactly what they deserved – nothing.
Hopefully, lessons have been learned. Arsenal again have a great chance to end the Old Trafford hoodoo, and if Alexis is fit and firing, Theo is in tune and Mesut Ozil is fully refreshed after resting during the international break – the Gunners can grab three points and keep pace at the top of the league.
Predicted lineup – Cech, Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi, Alexis
Predicted Scoreline – let’s be optimistic – 2-0 Arsenal, with Alexis and Theo scoring.