We return to Premier League action at Old Trafford on Saturday. Chris Harris previews the game with the help of the manager, Arsene Wenger.
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"In big games he has no fear and he wants the ball." - Arsene Wenger on Alex Iwobi
It’s been so long since our last Premier League win at Old Trafford that our matchwinner that day is more reviled than revered by our fans.
It was Emmanuel Adebayor who got the goal that beat Manchester United in September 2006, and in the intervening years he’s gone from darling of the North Bank to pantomime villain.
We’ve enjoyed an FA Cup win at Old Trafford in the past decade, but nothing in the top flight. Arsene Wenger has talked a lot about “inconvenient facts” this season and, having put to rest poor records against Chelsea and Swansea, he now has another to confront.
OP = Outfield PlayersGK = Goal Keepers
“Yes, it’s another inconvenient fact. We have not won for a while at Old Trafford,” the manager told Arsenal.com.
“Manchester United are traditionally one of the strongest teams in the league and, although we beat them convincingly last season at home, the away game was maybe the one in which we faded.
“It was a key moment in the season, a key game of the season and on the day we didn’t produce the performance we wanted to. When we speak about inconvenient facts, that is still here, and that’s what we want to get out of our system on Saturday.”
That 3-2 defeat is our only one on the road in the Premier League in 2016 and, as he seeks to avenge it, Wenger has some big selection decisions to ponder.
The involvement of Alexis has dominated the pre-match chatter but Hector Bellerin’s injury leaves perhaps a more sizeable gap to fill. The Spaniard has become so established in such a short space of time and he’ll be missed at both ends of the pitch.
|Arsenal: Bellerin, Lucas (both ankle), Cazorla (Achilles), Akpom (back), Mertesacker, Welbeck (knee) Man United: Fellaini (calf), Valencia (arm - doubt), Rooney (knee - doubt), Bailly, Wilson (both knee), Smalling (toe)|
“Hector is Hector,” said Wenger. “He has strong points and is a very strong player. Our team likes to go forward so we’ll try to keep these attacking options open.
“The options are basically Jenkinson - because Debuchy will play his first game back on Friday with the under-23s - and also Gabriel because he played a few times at left back for Villarreal.”
But don’t expect to see Shkodran Mustafi shuttling over to the right - even though he’s played there for Germany.
“I do not want to destroy what works to put a player somewhere which is not 100 per cent his position,” explained the boss. “You have to keep your strong points in the squad and our central defence has worked well, so let’s not destroy it. Sometimes, to correct one position, you don’t have to change two.”
Who do you think should start at right back? Have your say now.
ONE TO WATCH
There are question marks hanging over a few positions but not on the left flank.
Alex Iwobi has the resounding backing of our fans - the majority want him to play at Old Trafford - and they are almost certain to get their wish.
Wenger showed his faith in Iwobi by starting him against Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Tottenham, and he won’t hesitate to throw the Nigerian into another big game after a stellar first year in the first team.
“It has been remarkable what he has achieved,” said the manager. “At the start not many people knew him but he has made his way.
“What is remarkable in life is that, through his own merit, he forced a way into the team without having a big transfer on his back. That means there was not a red carpet there, it just means that it came from the quality of his game and the quality of his dedication and enthusiasm. I have a huge respect for that.
“Looking back over the last year, he has been absolutely sensational. He’s a young player and that means there’s still a lot more to come from him. The way he works every day makes me very optimistic that he will still improve every month. I think he will move forward.
“In big games he has no fear and he wants the ball,” added Wenger. “He’s always available. Our game is constructed around availability, around who wants the ball and he’s one of those players who always wants the ball.”
Think Old Trafford and you think Limpar in 1991, Overmars in 1998 and Wiltord in 2002. When we win there, it tends to bode well for the title race.
“Winning there has always been a very positive sign, yes, but it’s too early in the season to say it will be decisive this time,” said Wenger.
"Now we have to play a bit more on the front foot and really go for it"
“I would say they have no weak points, Man United. Their midfield is creative and productive in chances, and if you look at the names of the players, on the day they have always had players who can be decisive.
“They don’t have [the suspended Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, maybe, but they have young players like Marcus Rashford who was an unknown player last year when we played against them, who basically killed us on the day. So we have to make sure that this time that doesn’t happen.”
Before the international break we spurned the chance to open up a six-point lead on Tottenham. Saturday presents an opportunity to open up a nine-point lead on United.
“We had a little hiccup against Tottenham,” admitted Wenger. “I think we did the most difficult thing because we were in the lead and we didn’t keep the lead. I felt we played a bit too apprehensively, so now we have to play a bit more on the front foot and really go for it.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
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