A few weeks ago, Manchester United were an incredible 11 points behind Arsenal. Now, goal difference alone separates them. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has revolutionised life at Old Trafford while Unai Emery seems to have lost a grip on things recently. After going on an amazing run a few months ago, Arsenal have lost four of their last nine in all competitions.
However, the recent win over an “unmotivated and mentally weak” Chelsea may have galvanised them. It was a big result and their first big game of three, with them facing Manchester City a week after United in the FA Cup.
While the rivalry between United and Arsenal isn’t what it once was, there’s still no love lost between the two sets of fans. While nothing beats a win over Liverpool for United, or a win over Tottenham Hotspur for Arsenal, the supporters will be well up for seeing their team knock the other out of this competition on Friday.
Arsenal haven’t claimed a win over United for almost two seasons, when Jose Mourinho fielded a weakened side at the end of the 2016-17 season ahead of their victorious Europa League final. United beat them home and away last year, before a 2-2 draw played out last month at Old Trafford.
In cup competitions, the pair have faced each other a few times over the last decade or so. In 2015, Arsenal knocked the 10 men of United out of the FA Cup. Danny Welbeck scored the winning goal and was left quiet and hurting in the dressing room after the game.
In 2011, Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a much-changed team, with a midfield consisting of fullbacks Fabio and Rafael Da Silva, along with John O’Shea and Darron Gibson, yet United were the victorious ones.
In 2008, United dished out a 4-0 thrashing, with Darren Fletcher scoring twice, but all of these games were played at Old Trafford. You have to go back to 1988 to find a fixture between them in the FA Cup at Arsenal’s ground.
Both managers will be desperate to claim an important win and will be relying on their players to show up for the occasion.
Arsenal vs Manchester United: Potential key players
One of those players for United may well be Alexis Sanchez, although his signing hasn’t quite panned out the same way Robin van Persie’s transfer did a few years earlier. Having been named the best player in the league, Arsene Wenger sold the Dutchman to United and he was instrumental in bringing home the 20th league title to Old Trafford.
But Sanchez has been at United for a year now and has made nothing like the same impact. The fans will be forever grateful for him saving them from the eternal humiliation of seeing rivals Manchester City win the title after beating them last season, with Sanchez playing a key role in all three goals as United came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2. He also scored in the FA Cup semi-final last season in his team’s 2-1 win over Spurs. Despite other goals sprinkled about over the past 12 months, his highlights reel is a short one.
However, under Solskjaer, in two substitute appearances, he’s assisted two goals, which has given fans hope that he will turn a corner under a more attacking orientated manager. He’s not a popular figure among the Arsenal faithful so he would certainly love the opportunity to grab a goal against his former team at the Emirates.
Sanchez isn’t match fit but Solskjaer has claimed that he will likely be in the squad for Friday’s match. Will he play the role of super sub again, as his manager did so regularly when wearing the red shirt?
The forward United will be most reliant on is Marcus Rashford who is enjoying a run of brilliant form. The 21-year-old has scored six goals and assisted five in his last 11 appearances, which is a great return. He scored the winner against Spurs recently, showing he has no fear in the big games. In his relatively short United career to date, he’s already scored goals against City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal too.
Solskjaer claimed that he can one day be better than Harry Kane and that, with the Spurs striker out, he’s the best striker in the league right now. Rashford now has 25 league goals to his name in his career, a total of 41 in all competitions.
When you consider that Kane had just three top flight league goals when he was Rashford’s age, with legendary Premier League strikers Alan Shearer and Andy Cole having 10 and zero respectively, there’s no limit to what Rashford may go on to achieve. He scored twice against Arsenal on his league debut and will be looking to add to his tally on Friday.
However, United don’t have the monopoly on talented forwards, with £56 million man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang currently holding down the position as the second highest scorer in the league. His goals may have dried up a bit lately, with just four in his last 10 appearances, but there’s no denying his ability.
He’s struggled in the big games, failing to find the back of the net in two games against Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as against City and United. He did score against Spurs though. Will this be the occasion where he rediscovers his top form?
The best both teams can hope for in the league is a top four finish, so in terms of trophies, the FA Cup is a real opportunity to add some cheer to their season. Solskjaer has won it twice before as a player and would love to add it his achievements as a manager.
Both clubs can boast of having attacking managers at the helm but time will tell over which can out-think the other. Solskjaer got the better of Mauricio Pochettino a couple of weeks ago and this is his opportunity to outdo Emery, as he aims to solidify his chances of becoming the long-term manager of United.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-3 Manchester United
Scott has selected Aubemyang, Pogba and Rashford as his key players for Arsenal vs Manchester United. Want to pick your top three for Premier League and Champions League matches? Download our free app on Android or iOS to play our game!