Arsenal Battle United in Top-Four Quest

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Arsenal and Manchester United are highly motivated heading into Sunday’s Premier League fixture at the Emirate Stadium. While Arsenal can draw inspiration off the back of an inspiring performance against Tottenham in their last league game, United on Wednesday did the unthinkable by overturning a 2-0 home loss to PSG in the UEFA Champions League. The Gunners will, however, be looking to claim all three points to leapfrog United in the table and edge closer to a top-four finish

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 14 Premier League home games, winning 12 and drawing two, and winning each of the last eight in a row. This highlights how impressive Unai Emery’s side are when they have home advantage.

The London club were tactically well-organised and defensively strong in last Saturday’s north London derby against Tottenham and there is a sense that, with Emery now in charge, his game plans and tactics seem to be having a positive effect and are beginning to work when facing stronger opposition: the Gunners have already taken nine points from ‘top six’ opposition this season, compared to just six the whole season before.

However, the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has seen Manchester United totally turn their fortunes around, and they will come into the fixture off the back of another victory, overturning a 2-0 home loss against PSG in the UEFA Champions League having earlier beaten Southampton 3-2 in the league at Old Trafford, to extend their record in the Premier League to 10 wins and two draws from their last 12 matches.

Just one point separates these two long-standing Premier League rivals, with Manchester United having surged into fourth place under Solskjaer and Arsenal right behind in fifth.

The two sides played out a manic 2-2 draw in December at Old Trafford, with some nervy defending from both teams making for an entertaining fixture. That was during the last days of the Jose Mourinho era at United, however, and a more instructive result would be the 3-1 win Solskjaer masterminded in the FA Cup at the Emirates in January.

United made it clear after that game they knew they could hit Arsenal on the counter, which means it’s up to the Gunners and Emery to adjust this time around. Otherwise, United could be dancing on their rivals’ pitch yet again.

However, Solskjaer has warned his Manchester United players that they must quickly turn their attention to this weekend’s Premier League showdown with Arsenal after the victory over PSG. 

While Solskjaer acknowledges the players should soak in the delight of such a win, he insists they must get their feet back on the ground in time for the weekend as they travel to the Emirates with the chance to go four points clear of the north London outfit with what would then be just eight games left of the season.

Asked by United legend Gary Neville if he had already begun to bring his players back down in a post-match interview after the PSG win, Solskjaer told his former team-mate: “Yeah of course. You’ve got Arsenal. 

“We’ve got the biggest game for us. We need to be among the top four when the season finishes. We’ve been down there earlier on in the FA Cup so we know how hard it’s going to be. 

“Now, of course, they’ll have to enjoy this. The boss has been in there saying it to them and they’ve got to enjoy these nights.”

Despite cautioning his players that they must remain level-headed ahead of the Arsenal clash, Solskjaer admitted to Neville that this was the best moment of his managerial career so far – despite winning two titles with Molde in his homeland.

He added in his beIN SPORTS interview: “Definitely it was the best moment. Absolutely unbelievable. It was great to be there. These are the moments you do it with your coaching staff, the players, the staff, the supporters. That’s what football is all about.”

Meanwhile, United will be hoping that Romelu Lukaku can add to his eight away league goals this campaign, while Rashford goes into the game looking to score the fifth goal in six top-flight games on the road.

Only Sergio Aguero, Paul Pogba and Heung-Min Son have scored more Premier League goals than these four since December 22 – but nobody in the league can match Lukaku’s goal ratio of 85 minutes per goal in that time.

His six goals have come despite just 28 touches in the opposition box, some 41 fewer than Lacazette in the same period and even three fewer than Brighton defender Shane Duffy – who has played in the same number of games.

Lukaku has scored 28 goals in 60 Premier League appearances for United, but has only one goal in 17 against big-six clubs – scoring in a 2-1 win against former club Chelsea back in February 2018.

In contrast, Rashford has scored eight of his 26 top-flight goals against United’s big-six rivals. Lukaku will undoubtedly want to improve this record on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Manchester United could be without Eric Bailly for Sunday’s Premier League clash against Arsenal after the defender limped out of his side’s Champions League win against Paris Saint-Germain. The Ivorian was selected in an unorthodox right-back position by Solskjaer and endured a torrid half an hour before being replaced by Diogo Dalot.

Bailly was playing so poorly that many felt Solskjaer was simply replacing making a tactical decision to replace the former Villarreal defender. However, Bailly was on the end of a nasty tackle from Marco Verratti and hobbled off the field moments later to be replaced.

The defender is now a doubt for Sunday’s clash at the Emirates and his injury couldn’t come at a more unfortunate time for Solskjaer. United are without 10 first team players at this moment in time, though Anthony Martial could return for the game against the Gunners.