Manchester United put in yet another disappointing performance at the weekend, this time against Premier League strugglers Southampton, as their bid to finish in the top four looks less likely with every week.
Before the two recent draws, José Mourinho claimed that United would be in one of the Champions League places by the end of December, but having dropped four points in the last two games, they are now left needing a win against Arsenal on Wednesday night.
Mourinho oversaw two victories over Arsenal last season but now that they are recharged under Unai Emery, thrashing rivals Tottenham Hostpur on Sunday afternoon. United will have their work cut out to get a result against them this time around.
Arsenal haven’t lost a game since their defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea at the beginning of the season and have scored 10 more goals than United.
When comparing the forwards’ contribution per minute, Anthony Martial has enjoyed the best return, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and even Alex Iwobi have performed better than any other attacking player at United. It should come as no surprise that Romelu Lukaku, who ended his 12-match goal drought against Southampton, ranks the lowest.
Still, United’s biggest issue is not their attack, but their defence. Liverpool have scored just five goals more than United, but find themselves 14 points better off.
Spurs have scored just three more goals than United but have eight points more than them. Everton have scored fewer goals than United but are still ahead of them in the league table.
Victor Lindelof has been United’s best defender in recent weeks but is out with an injury for the foreseeable future. In fact, Phil Jones is the only fully fit centre-half United currently have at their disposal, although Marcos Rojo, who has yet to play in any competition this season, returned to the bench for Southampton.
Arsenal’s defence hasn’t been without fault, but again, when comparing their contribution per minute, Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding have outperformed all of United’s central defenders this season.
Almost a year ago, the two clubs swapped players, seeing Henrikh Mkhitaryan move to Arsenal and Alexis Sancez come in the opposite direction. Fans were happy with the deal, with Mkhitaryan failing to perform for United and Sanchez doing enough to get under the supporters’ skin with his questionable attitude. Neither have been a success at their new clubs though.
Mkhtitaryan has scored four league goals and claimed five assists since January, while Sanchez has three goals and five assists. The Armenian may well play at Old Trafford on Wednesday but, thanks to an injury, Sanchez has played his last game for United in 2018.
United supporters watched the North London derby and were filled with jealousy, watching what happens when two teams with attack-minded managers face each other. The pace that the game was played with was great to watch and somewhat of a distant memory for United fans.
You imagine Mourinho will do everything he can to ensure Arsenal aren’t allowed to play in the same way at Old Trafford. While that may mean they don’t get battered like Spurs did on Sunday, it always makes for a much less entertaining game.
If United beat Arsenal, they are within five points of the top four, but if they lose, or even draw, it’s likely game over for their aspirations of playing in the Champions League next season. Unless they win it, of course! But there’s probably more chance of United sacking Mourinho and replacing him with Arsene Wenger than that.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-2 Arsenal