I only have two aspirations left in my Arsenal career: see them win the Champions League and see them beat a Jose Mourinho side in the league. It’s hard to know which is the more unrealistic dream.
There isn’t much time between the end of the international break and Arsenal’s toughest test of the season so far. Despite winning the Premier League title there in 2002 (and all but doing so in 1998), it’s been the graveyard of their dreams for the most part. It’s been a decade since they last won a Premier League match there and then there’s the Mourinho factor.
But what Manchester United line-up will they face and are there weaknesses to be exploited?
In goal, David De Gea is one of best goalkeepers in the Premier League and getting through the United back four is no guarantee of scoring, especially as he is capable of saving equally as well with his feet as his hands or any other part of his body.
But Mourinho’s back four has been decimated by injury. Summer signing Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling and Antonio Valencia are all out, leaving a ramshackle quartet in their place.
Daley Blind is likely to be partnered by Phil Jones whose ability to gurn should never be underestimated whilst his defensive skills are largely overrated.
Darmian and Ashley Young will form a less than formidable full back pairing. As much as the Italian is reliable, Young failed to win an Olympic gold medal for diving which given that’s his biggest strength, was hugely disappointing.
Paul Pogba owes Mourinho a big performance in midfield but facing him with Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin ought to sort that problem out. OK, maybe it’s not that simple and Arsenal do need to be wary of the French international whose confidence may be high following his goal against Sweden.
Who he is partnered with depends on Mourinho’s view on whether Michael Carrick can move his Zimmer frame around fast enough. Most likely, the hugely impressive Ander Herrera will be tasked with stopping Arsenal’s creative midfield in their tracks.
And he’s been effective in doing so against other teams so it’s no stretch of the imagination to believe he will be any less so against Arsenal.
The supporting attackers and lead striker is where Mourinho has got it horribly wrong this season. Marcus Rashford is far better leading the line but has found himself pegged out on the left. Fellow England international Jesse Lindegaard will probably feature on the right with Juan Mata pulling the strings in the middle.
Which is where Zlatan Ibrahimovich’s suspension hurts Arsenal. The Swede has been largely ineffective this season, barely justifying his salary. To accommodate him, Mourinho has pushed Wayne Rooney into the midfield role which renders him impotent. With the Swede missing, Rooney may lead the line and be more trouble to the Arsenal defence than they might have otherwise expected.
It’s never easy at Manchester United for Arsenal and even when a particularly weak side is fielded by the Red Devils, Arsenal have always struggled. Can this year be any different? There may not be a better opportunity!