By Rob Kelly
“We go into a very difficult game on Sunday. We have a good level of confidence and we want to use that level of confidence that we gained from our win against Leicester to have a positive result.” - Arsène Wenger
It is that time of the season again, when every game, every key moment is seen as potentially defining for those teams fighting for the title.
After the disappointment of their midweek Champions League defeat to Barcelona and goalless draw with Hull three days earlier, it is easy to forget that the Gunners last Premier League act was one of pure jubilation.
Danny Welbeck’s last-gasp winner against Leicester City not only brought his side to within two points of the top of the table, but also breathed new life into a title challenge that was in danger of faltering.
Now the task facing Arsène Wenger’s side is to forget their previous two results and harness the energy from that Foxes finale ahead of Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford.
“It looks such a long time ago, because we’ve played in the FA Cup and in the Champions League [since then],” the manager told Arsenal Player.
“We have put ourselves in a strong position and of course we are in front of a very important game. It’s vital that we focus on that.
|Man United: Martial (hamstring), Smalling (shoulder - doubt), De Gea (knee - doubt), Rooney (knee), Darmian (shoulder), Fellaini (hamstring), Januzaj (hamstring), Jones (leg), Young (groin), Schweinsteiger (knee), Valencia (ankle), Shaw (leg)
Arsenal: Wilshere (ankle), Rosicky (thigh), Cazorla (knee), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee)
“We have some difficult away games, but sometimes the difficulty raises the awareness and the focus [of the team]. That’s what we want.
“We go into a very difficult game on Sunday. We have a good level of confidence and we want to use that level of confidence that we gained from our win against Leicester to have a positive result.”
Arsenal go into the game at Old Trafford as the favourites for the first time in the Premier League era, and while Wenger does not put more store in that, he feels that last season’s FA Cup quarter-final win will help his side.
“Yes, of course [it helps],” he said. “What you have done, you can do again. That’s the positives on the history of that game - that we have done it, so why not do it again?”
ONE TO WATCH
The bigger the game, the better Laurent Koscielny performs - especially when he is up against the best in the business.
The France international delivered arguably his greatest display in an Arsenal shirt during the 2011 win against Barcelona at Emirates Stadium, and he was again in dazzling form against the same opponents on Tuesday night.
While the Gunners may ultimately have conceded twice to their much-vaunted opponents, Koscielny was exceptional - attacking the ball in the tackle, hustling and harrying Messi, Suarez and Neymar and always alert to any danger.
The centre-back is expected to face a far more callow opponent in Marcus Rashford on Sunday, as he continues a fascinating career that remains on an upward trajectory, even at the age of 29.
“Overall, he had a great performance [against Barcelona],” Wenger said. “He has an authority in the challenges now that he did not have at the start.
“He has the needed quality to play with the ball. We want to have defenders who can play well when your opponent has the ball and can play well when we have the ball. I think on both sides, he’s reliable now.”
Much has been made of Manchester United’s struggles this season, but they remain a blue-chip opponent with a fearsome home record against the Gunners.
|Arsenal have kept five clean sheets in their last eight Premier League matches
The Gunners' win against Manchester United at the Emirates earlier this season ended a run of eight Premier League matches against the Red Devils without a victory
Man Utd (33) have scored fewer goals after 26 league games than in any season since 1989/90 (30)
Wenger’s side have not won at Old Trafford in the Premier League since 2006, and while their FA Cup quarter-final victory last season should have removed any psychological hurdle, it promises to be another tough test.
One of Arsenal’s main tormentors in years gone by, Wayne Rooney, will miss Sunday’s showdown with a knee injury, and the list of home absentees grows by the week - with Anthony Martial the latest to be ruled out.
However, Wenger is convinced that Van Gaal’s side will provide a stiff examination of his team’s credentials - especially after their morale-boosting 5-1 Europa League victory against Midtjylland on Thursday.
“They have the quality, they will always be up for it against us,” the manager said. “I think they will build a team and when you look at the names on the teamsheet, you know that you face a good team.
“Apart from that, it’s very difficult for me to come out on Manchester United. What we want is to focus on ourselves and come out with a strong performance on Sunday.”