A rivalry between two of England’s most decorated clubs, a rivalry between two of the league’s most successful managers, and although Manchester Utd and Arsenal may have failed to challenge for league titles in recent years but today’s game feels a bit different.
The most recent meetings between the two teams have taken place when neither team is likely to win the league. They’ve been important in the battle for Champions League football, but neither manager, team or their fans are happy with that. However this year Utd are serious contenders and a win today would cut City’s lead down to 5 points (at least until Sunday) with the Manchester Derby on the horizon. Mourinho has taken some criticism for a negative attitude in big games but the lead City have built up could force Mourinho to drop to defensive shackles and attack.
Last season Wenger got his first win over Mourinho when they won the fixture 2-0 last year. Mourinho defended that day, largely due to a lengthy injury list and the need for another transfer window. It’s Mourinho’s defensive attitude in big games that has been at the forefront of a number of their rivalry rows.
When Mourinho arrived in 2004 Wenger was at the peak of his powers. His Arsenal team had swept aside all before them and the arrival of Roman Abramovich’s money and Mourinho’s Chelsea struck a nerve with Wenger. Their rivalry is a prime example of the grass looking greener on the other side. Mourinho had money to play with, a team to build from fresh and began dominating the league. For Wenger, a footballing and economic idealist, this disruption didn’t sit right.
On the other hand, Wenger has longevity, something that Mourinho has admitted he’d like at Man Utd having become central in the “hire and fire” culture of Chelsea and Real Madrid.
Wenger has only won 1 of his 15 games against Mourinho, a record that he will be far from pleased with. Wenger suggested his Arsenal side are still in with a chance of the Premier League title and if he’s going to convince anyone else in the football world of that then Arsenal must take on Manchester Utd and win.
Utd come into this game close to full strength with no fresh injury concerns after Paul Pogba returned last week from injury and with Nemanja Matic shaking off a knock. Arsenal on the other hand suffered a huge injury setback in the week when Alexandre Lacazette went off with an injury and misses today’s game. Arsenal will also be sweating on the fitness of Alexis Sanchez who has a slight hamstring injury.
For the first time in a long time Arsenal vs Manchester Utd is a game with a genuine relevance to the title race and with City flying a draw isn’t good enough, both teams need a win.