Manchester United: Romero, Varela, Blind, McNair, Rojo, Herrera, Schneiderlin, Lingard, Mata, Depay, Rashford
Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Meresacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Ramsey, Coquelin, Walcott, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud,
“Desire, Hunger. A lot of times I use the word ‘horny’” – Louis Van Gaal
Where do you go from there? Said in a press conference before the second leg of United’s Europa League tie against FC Midtylland, this is what Van Gaal himself asked of his players before the game. Does ‘horny’ have a different meaning in Holland? I can’t say for sure, but the thought of a team of horny Manchester United players is hilarious.
What can really only be described as an utterly poor season, the request for his players to be ‘horny’ must be all too common from Van Gaal as he perpetually seems to be on the brink of losing his job. The vultures are circling over Carrington with a Mourinho-esque sound bite waiting to be rattled out after the Dutchman has consequently been picked apart and sacked and this Arsenal game could be the next final nail in the coffin.
Whilst the football has been insipid, uninspired and stagnant (delete as applicable), Van Gaal has got one hell of an injury list once more. Manchester United’s defensive players are seemingly as fragile as your Nan’s Clarice Cliff teapot and the visit of Arsenal to Old Trafford is again a case in point. Darmian, Jones, Shaw and Valencia are all missing. Rojo could well feature for the first time since November but you hardly want to throw the Argentine back into Premier League action against an Arsenal team with the title in their sites and with a full accompaniment of Sanchez, Ozil, Walcott and Giroud to choose from.
Yet there are things to be positive about for any Manchester United fan at the moment, most notably Jesse Lingard. The academy product has not only been impressive since the turn of the year (especially the goal he scored against Chelsea), Lingard also embodies a little bit of the United of old. The focus on youth, the promotion from within.
Marcus Rashford is another whose name that United fans would be keen to see added to this list. One game into his Manchester United career and the 18 year old seems to a striker’s mentality and with Martial facing a late fitness test, it will be interesting to see if LVG backs Rashford to lead the line. It is the like of Lingard and Rashford, as well as, McNair and Borthwick-Jackson that offer the best crumbs of comfort in this United side whose DNA has been question under Van Gaal.
Arsenal fans strap yourself in. Sunday marks the start of a very big 3 weeks for Wenger and the Arsenal squad with games against Manchester United (away), Tottenham (away) and Everton (away). In amongst that they have the second leg against Barcelona 3 days before they travel to Everton.
The Champions League is done and dusted bar some super human effort at the Nou Camp (I will quickly change the topic and admit how refreshing Wenger’s honesty was in the post-match press conference after the Barcelona game). You have to wonder whether Wenger might admit defeat in Europe and field a slightly experimental team if the Everton result becomes a must win. The defeat to Barcelona on Tuesday night shouldn’t be the cause of some season derailment for Arsenal and if Wenger’s team ever need to play with such discipline like they did in the first 70 minutes against a Premier League side at some point this season, they certainly wouldn’t be losing the game 2-0.
The biggest concern for Wenger from Tuesday night will be his team’s profligacy in front of goal where calls for a world class centre forward were heard once more. Many people unfairly criticise Oliver Giroud. The enigmatic Frenchman has glaring patches of bad form (Monaco last season at the Emirates particularly sticks in the mind) but he contributes enough goals or assists to be a constant threat in the Premier League at least. With 12 goals already in the Premier League to his name, coupled with the 4 assists and Giroud has either scored or assisted 39% of Arsenal’s league goals this season, a return that shouldn’t be scoffed by any stretch of the imagination.
This game in essence is a must win for either side. A loss for Van Gaal and he could potentially be gone before the season. A loss for Wenger and the title could have slipped through his fingers once more with questions about his stewardship at the club returning yet again. For Arsenal, Welbeck’s goal against Leicester City was massive and I am sure Wenger will be channelling more of last Sunday than Tuesday night.
With United’s continuing injury issues, as well as having two days less rest I think Arsenal are going to edge this affair in the North East and expect massive questions to be asked of Louis Van Gaal once more.
Match Prediction: Manchester United 1-2 Arsenal
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog
Form over the last 6 games
All Statistic Graphics provided by Sporticos.