The pizza stains may have long faded from Sir Alex Ferguson’s blazer. The vitriol shared between Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira may have fizzled out enough for them to share a documentary together – hell, even Arsene Wenger’s finest adversary since his own zipper ( I’m talking about Fergie of course ) has left the fiery ashes of this fixture behind.
This match though, will always captivate both sets of fans and the neutrals alike. The managers may differ, the playing staff may vary, but the opinion that this match is a powderkeg of action still remains.
It is a barometer of sorts. Both fans will look upon today at 4pm to see whether their team can realistically mount a title challenge. Ultimately however, the result will gift the all-important bragging rights to the victor. Those rights, in turn, allow the fans to dream a little and get a bit carried away with the euphoria of defeating a team which has always been a thorn in the others side.
For a while, it was only these two teams who tussled endlessly for supremacy. In this halcyon era they were the heavyweights who dominated all who came before them and when it was time to do battle with each other, then blood, sweat and more than a few tears were the least you could expect.
Chelsea and Manchester City have scrawled their own part in the Premiership diary, now perhaps it is they who lord it over all the other Premier League colleagues. Despite Arsenal and Manchester United’s fall from grace though, this game still ranks among the finest this exciting competition has to offer.
Both teams have had their problems of late, and will want to use this as a potential springboard for their pending matches. It cannot be doubted that a win for either team could be a shot in the arm in regards to form. In that category though, Arsenal are overshadowed by their opponent.
United find themselves near the top of the league before the whistle blows today. Despite Louis Van Gaal still seemingly unable to implement a successful defensive framework and also desperately trying to find a way to incorporate Rooney, Mata and Depay – they can look down upon the majority of the other teams in the table and also feel a little proud at proving the naysayers wrong. This is probably the largest of the tests they’ve faced so far this campaign.
Fresh from a European win which sets United up nicely for qualification, Van Gaal will have no doubts that his men can come away from the Emirates with maximum points. With only one defeat in the league thus far and an enviable record playing away in these games, the Red Devils can go into these 90 minutes on an even keel with Arsenal.
United may have to do without Ander Herrera, but Michael Carrick is ready to seamlessly slot in if the Spaniard doesn’t make the cut. Other than this, Van Gaal’s team is in full fitness. Anthony Martial will look to continue his excellent start.
Arsenal are still reeling from a woeful performance in the European loss to Olympiacos. The 3-2 result leaves Arsenal with a gargantuan task to qualify from the Group Stage and the blame and focus has fallen on Arsene Wenger. His decision to use a ‘Cup Keeper’ system and leave Cech on the bench didn’t raise eyebrows all that high – that was until Cech’s replacement David Ospina practically carried the ball into his own net and gift the Greek side the initiative and rob his own defence of any confidence.
The subsequent media questions have been centred on the Arsenal boss and his goalkeeping quandary and this has ruffled the Frenchman’s feathers. It has also overshadowed yet another result which lacked the zip and attacking vigour for which Arsenal have been famed.
The Gunners are three points behind today’s opponents but must do without defensive lynchpin Laurent Koscielny, who was injured in that cataclysmic loss versus Olympiacos. That will mean a central defence comprising of Gabriel and Per Mertesacker. Arsenal will also be minus Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, which leaves Wenger to choose between Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey for the two midfield spots. It is expected that Cazorla and Coquelin will maintain their spots in the side, with Ramsey playing on the right. Whether Theo Walcott gets the chance to keep up his fantastic scoring record of late ( 12 goals in his last 13 starts ) or the power and aerial ability of Olivier Giroud will get the nod, only Arsene will know.
What is known is that both fans will have more than pride invested in the course of events that span ninety minutes. This game has the ability to reinstall confidence in their squad, or render all belief in their side a forgotten memory. Arsenal have a rotten record against Manchester United and with bookies still having Arsenal as second favourites for the title ahead of their enemy, then you would expect the general consensus to be favouring an Arsenal win. Such is the nature of the stage fright that Arsenal have suffered in recent games though, that most can be forgiven for reserving judgement in terms of predictions.
This game, seeing as the League seems to be more open than in recent seasons, could have a huge impact on what team will be next crowned champions. Just like the battles of yore, from 4pm – this game could be the spark from which titles are forged. The memories of Fergie, Henry, Keane, Vieira et al should provide sufficient inspiration should the meaning of this match be lost on any of the players.
Pizza though, should be free from the post match menu.