One of the fiercest rivals in the history of English football is set to have another chapter added to the story on Sunday, as Manchester United travel to London to face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
With only one point between the two sides and nine games left to go, the contest could do a long way in deciding the race for the fourth and final Champions League qualification spot.
Both sides were in France during the week for European contests but ended up with vastly differing results.
Manchester United come off one of the most famous nights in club history. After losing the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie to Paris Saint-Germain at Old Trafford, and in the midst of an injury crisis, no one gave the Red Devils must of a chance to advance to the next round.
However, United would defy the odds by winning 3-1 on the night to book their spot in the quarterfinals. They were helped out by the fact that PSG simply bottled it, but the team put out by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fought until the very end to get the job done.
Romelu Lukaku capitalized on two defensive mistakes from the home team to grab a brace before Marcus Rashford stepped up and slammed home a penalty in stoppage time. It was a win that effectively guaranteed Solskjaer the permanent job, and should give United a major momentum boost entering the final stretch of the season.
The next day, Arsenal lost 3-1 to Stade Rennais in their round of 16 tie in the Europa League. The London made a perfect start to the contest, as a cross from Alex Iwobi somehow found its way into the back of the net.
It seemed like the Gunners were in full control of the match, but then the capitulation began. Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off after a second yellow with minutes to go in the half, and the French side made him pay by scoring off the resulting free kick. Nacho Monreal would deflect a cross into his own net at the hour mark before a diving header from Ismaila Sarr would put the first leg to bed.
Arsenal are still expected to get the job done back home in the second leg, but Europa League elimination at this stage would be borderline embarrassing.
Last time out
The two clubs have faced off twice this season, once at Old Trafford in the league, and once at the Emirates Stadium in the FA Cup. It was a draw at the end of the opening contest, as the defensive issues of both teams was on full display. Arsenal took the lead twice, but allowed United to equalized within minutes on both occasions after allowing loose balls to bounce in the area.
The rematch two months later was a different affair, as United ran rampant in London. Lukaku was the star on the night, providing assists to Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard as the Red Devils took control of the cup tie. Arsenal would get one back through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but Anthony Martial put the game to bed with ten minutes to go.
United have only lost to Arsenal once in the last seven games between the two, but it’s still impossible to predict what will happen whenever the sides take the same field.
It would be easier to list the players that haven’t dealt with injury problems in the past few weeks for United. However, there’s hope that a number of players will be able to return to the team on Sunday. Martial is the most likely to feature but might have to settle for a spot on the bench to start.
Eric Bailly came off in the first half against PSG, but he’ll be available for selection against Arsenal. Midfield pairing Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic could possibly come back into the team, but it’s far from a guarantee for either player.
Arsenal haven’t had any recent problems, as Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck, and Hector Bellerin are still recovering from various long term injuries.
The big news is that Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira will be suspended for the contest following his straight red card in the North London Derby against Spurs. He’s been a key player for them since joining in the summer, and boss Unai Emery will have to figure out a way to replace him in the lineup.
Manchester United: De Gea, Young, Lindelöf, Smalling, Shaw, Andreas, McTominay, Pogba, Lukaku, Rashford, Martial
Arsenal: Leno, Mustafi, Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal, Guendouzi, Xhaka, Mkhitaryan, Ramsey, Iwobi, Aubameyang
What to watch for
Lukaku to keep it rolling?
Romelu Lukaku was coming close to being completely written off by United fans. He hadn't seemed like his old self and had failed to fully recover from injury problems. Rashford became the starting striker, while Lukaku was forced to settle for appearances off the bench.
However, the injury crisis at the club gave him another chance, and he’s fully taken advantage of it. The Belgian has grabbed a brace in each of his last three games, and he terrorized Arsenal when the two teams played in the FA Cup.
Lukaku is a striker who thrives on confidence, and he looks like a world beater at the moment. If Arsenal want any chance of success on Sunday, they’ll have to figure out how to slow him down.
Will both Lacazette and Aubameyang start for the Gunners?
The biggest selection headache Emery has had to deal with since joining Arsenal has been how to get Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang in the same team. Both strikers are match winners on their day, and have been inconsistent throughout the season.
They also work very well together, but having both in the lineup makes the Gunners fragile at the back. They both started for the FA Cup fixture, but only Aubameyang started in the opening contest of the season. One thing is for certain, it’ll be clear how Emery is approaching the game when the starting lineups are announced.