Arsenal travel to Manchester United on Monday evening with both bosses under pressure.
Despite Gunners boss Unai Emery leading his team to three wins from their last three games the victories have papered over some serious cracks.
As satisfying as the 3-0 victory in Germany over Eintracht Frankfurt was in the first match of the opening group stage of the Europa League, the fact was the defence was under immense pressure and only profligate finishing by the Bundesliga side’s forward line allowed Arsenal off the hook.
Defensive flaws were compounded in the home match against Aston Villa last Sunday when the Gunners were 2-1 down with fewer than ten minutes remaining – with former Chelsea defender David Luiz and Sokratis looking wobbly in the heart of defence.
Luckily Arsenal were inspired by the in-form Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who led his team to victory through force of personality as much as his vital goalscoring input. That makes it 48 goals in only 72 matches for the North Londoners since since his £56 million move from Borussia Dortmund.
Which makes it all the more surprising the Gabon international was overlooked for the thorny issue of the captain’s armband in N5.
Emery has hesitated over who should be his on-field leader since arriving at the club and his oft-mentioned mantra of ‘five captains’ is puzzling. As his is choice of the inconsistent and invariably underwhelming Granit Xhaka as captain for this season.
While Arsenal’s third victory in three – 5-0 against Nottingham Forest in the third round of the Carabao Cup – was hugely satisfying, three key defenders that played a part in the win, Hector Bellerin, new boy Kieran Tierney and the fit again Rob Holding will be probably be too short of fitness for Monday’s game.
Ironically Bolton-born Holding was having the best spell of his Arsenal career before sustaining a season-ending knee ligament injury during the 2-2 draw between the sides at Old Trafford. That proved to be the end of Jose Mourinho’s reign in charge of the Red Devils, and one wonders whether that fate is inevitable for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Holding also missed the emphatic 2-0 victory over United at the Emirates back in March which marked the end of the impressive opening run of results under the Norwegian.
Arsenal do not have a good record at Old Trafford but no Gooner will ever forget the 1-0 win on the way to the Double in 1997/98 nor lifting the Premier League title in Manchester in 2002.
If Emery’s side can summon the spirit of those two great Arsenal sides the three points could be heading back down the M6.
One thing is for sure any match between these two giants of the English and world game normally makes for gripping viewing.
— Brian McClair (@BrianMcClair13) September 30, 2019
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