Arsenal against Manchester United has a certain ring to it, and in past years it has been one of the most glamorous and exciting fixtures on the Premier League calendar. However, with the Red Devils winning the last three encounters between the sides, including an 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford at the start of last season, the fixture has lost some of its sheen. When the Gunners host United this Sunday, the home side must buck the trend and get three points to keep their top-four ambitions alive.
Gone are the days of the Roy Keane-Patrick Vieira battles, and United have somewhat forgot their rivalry with Arsenal given that the north London outfit have not been challenging for the title for a number of seasons. Instead of a title challenge, the last number of campaigns have been all about securing Champions League football for Arsene Wenger’s men. The Gunners are an outside, bet here even at home; Arsenal are 3/1 with Ladbrokes to get a much-needed three points.
United wrapped up the Premier League title on Monday night with an easy 3-0 victory over Aston Villa, but in truth the league has been over as a contest for quite some time. Arsenal will hope that United take their foot off the pedal slightly on Sunday, and Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted that his side may well be shuffled for the fixture.
One interesting sub-plot is Robin van Persie’s return to the Emirates Stadium for the first time since his controversial transfer to United in the summer. Given that this is the first game since United clinched the title, the Gunners are set to give their opponents a guard of honour – which will not go down well with the home faithful.
Regardless of personal vendettas against former players, Arsenal must monitor Van Persie closely, or the Dutch forward could put a considerable dent in his ex-employer’s top-four chances. A hat-trick to round off the title and 24 goals in all this season mean that Van Persie will most likely be awarded the Player of the Year award, and with good reason.
With Chelsea and Tottenham only a point and two points respectively adrift of the Gunners in third, it is plausible that a United victory this weekend could see Arsenal drop to fifth place. Given the tight nature of the race for the top four, it is imperative that Arsenal stand up and be counted against a side that has had the better of them in recent times.