Pre-Match Report

Manchester United v Arsenal: The Brief

Old Trafford has been the setting for many memorable moments during the Arsène Wenger era, so it's an unusual feeling to have so little riding on the game as he takes on Manchester United for the last ever time as Arsenal boss this Sunday.

Victory there in 2002 sealed Wenger's second league and FA Cup double, four years after another 1-0 Old Trafford win had set up the double in his first full season. More recently Danny Welbeck scored an unforgettable winner in the 2015 FA Cup quarter-final, edging the boss towards the sixth of his record seven wins in the competition.

But Sunday's game will be more about reflection than reward – with us unlikely to improve upon sixth position even with a win – and priority inevitably given to Thursday's trip to Spain.

So there will be time for Wenger to reminisce upon his 59 previous encounters with United when he leads the side out this weekend.

In fact this fixture is actually something of an inconvenience – coming as it does sandwiched between the two legs of the Europa League semi-final – but the boss says he needs to strike the right balance between keeping players fresh by resting them, and keeping confidence up with a positive result. 

"I use it to win the game and as well prepare for the next Europa League game," Wenger said on Friday. "I felt last night like we were sharp, focused. We rested some players in our last game against West Ham but overall I thought we were ready and focused and in good shape." 

So in that sense it's business as usual. We go to Old Trafford with attention drifting towards Thursday's meeting with Atletico, but manager and fans alike will be excused for casting an eye back in time as well.

To preview the match we bring you classic goals against United, team news, an exclusive chat with the manager, Michael Cox's verdict on the opposition, facts, graphics and a chance to have your say.


HAPPY MEMORIES

Wenger has had plenty of magic moments at United's home, and one from May 2002 springs immediately to mind… 

"Yes, we won the league there. We won big games and we lost big games. I always remember more the defeats than the wins because the wins are normal and the defeats are painful. The pain remains with you.

"The fierce rivalry, the tension before the game: all the managers will tell you we live for the big games, the important moments and where we can make people especially happy and have special satisfaction. That was always great rivalry between Manchester United and Arsenal. We had good and bad memories there because it’s always two fantastic teams."

Arsène Wenger on Alex Ferguson

Team news

ARSENAL: Elneny (ankle), Cazorla (calf)

MANCHESTER UNITED: Valencia (calf, doubtful), Romero (knee)

The Opposition

Tactical expert Michael Cox assesses Sunday’s opponents…

“Jose Mourinho has spent much of the season switching between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3, and has sometimes looked unsure where to deploy Paul Pogba, the club’s record signing. But the Frenchman clearly looks more comfortable on the left of a three-man midfield, with Ander Herrera to the right and Nemanja Matic playing the holding role. It would be a surprise if Mourinho deviated from that approach here.

“United’s full backs, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, are converted wingers and lacking the speed of their younger days. Both have performed solidly this season, but they’re not natural defenders.”


THE LAST WORD

After Sunday's game the boss will have just four - hopefully five - matches remaining in charge of the club he took over in 1996. The end of his reign is only a few weeks away, but he admits he hasn't thought about his next move yet…

"I will take four or five weeks, distance to analyse in the most objective way possible for me to make a decision after. Honestly, I don’t know what I will do yet and I would be lying to say that I do know.

"I haven’t made any decision because of course I’ve been solicited to make decisions, but at the moment I want to take a distance. This is a love story that was special for 22 years, so it will always take some time to recover from that. You also need time to analyse that in an objective way, to see where I’ll go from there."

Matchday Show: Manchester United (a)