Gunners ambush wounded Red Devils
Old rivals: Gunners ambush wounded Red Devils at Emirates

Old rivals Gunners and Red Devils will meet in a vital Premier League game for both sides at the Emirate tonight.

Seven places and 10 points separate Manchester United and Arsenal on the EPL table, but the ninth-placed Gunners are on the back of the win while the second-placed Red Devils have been left to a defeat by Sheffield United for the last time. Two former players who know all about the history of this fixture are now in the dugouts, and will no doubt demand that their predecessors do justice to the current crop.

Red Devils boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be demanding an immediate reaction from his side after they slumped to a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Sheffield United on Wednesday night, but for Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta the message will be to continue where they left off last time out.

The Gunners swiftly avenged their FA Cup exit at the hands of Southampton by beating them in the Premier League, again at St Mary’s, just three days later, with talented teenager Bukayo Saka further enhancing his burgeoning reputation with another goal and assist.

That result lifted Arsenal up to ninth in the standings and continued a resurgence which has catapulted them up towards the top of the form table, with only Manchester City having picked up more points over the last six games.

The scale of the turnaround has been stark; Arsenal have picked up 16 points from the last 18 on offer, more than doubling both their points tally and their goal tally in the process.

Arteta’s men won just four of their first 14 league games this season but have now won five of their last six, while they netted 12 goals in those opening 14 games – whereas the last six outings have yielded 16 goals.

Of course, sitting ninth in the table after 20 games is still a disappointing return for Arsenal, but they at least appear to now be back on the right track, with a growing identity to go with their improving results.

Certainly, the pressure on Arteta’s shoulders has eased, and both he and his counterpart in this match Solskjaer will be thankful to their clubs for keeping faith in a position where Chelsea did not with Frank Lampard

In addition to an improvement going forward, inspired by Saka and ably assisted by Alexandre Lacazette’s return to form, Arsenal have also been better defensively, with only Southampton having scored against them in their last seven outings across all competitions.

Arsenal’s season looked to be in tatters heading into the festive period, as they spent Christmas Day sitting 15th in the standings, with a relegation battle seeming more likely than any kind of challenge for the European places.

However, fast forward little more than a month and the Gunners have moved to within touching distance of the top four after picking up five wins and a draw from their last six top-flight games.

Only league leaders Manchester City have accumulated more points than Mikel Arteta’s side during the same period, with the Gunners starting to fire at both ends of the pitch, scoring 14 and conceding just two in that run.

The north Londoners have also won three and drawn one of the last four meetings with United, including a 1-0 success in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford in November.

The Red Devils were in good form themselves before a flat performance in the 2-1 home defeat by Sheffield United and Arsenal could capitalise on any doubts that may have crept into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad off the back of that loss.

Before the shock result against the Blades, Red Devils had gone 13 games unbeaten in the Premier League. During this spell, the Reds found the net 29 times and climbed to the top of the table. Sunday’s fixture will be our last in January, and in the first month of the new year the Reds have won five, drawn one and lost two across all competitions.

The Gunners have found form in the league, following a tricky start to their campaign. After their 3-1 triumph against London rivals Chelsea on Boxing Day, the Gunners are unbeaten in six, winning five of those games. However, they did fall to a 1-0 defeat against the Saints in the FA Cup on 23 January.

At home, Arsenal have kept three clean sheets in a row – as many as they had managed in their previous 19 games at the Emirates – and Saturday offers them the opportunity to extend that to four on the bounce for the first time since April 2019 – a run which, incidentally, included victory over Manchester United.

There could also be a small slice of history on offer for Arteta as he looks to become the first ever Arsenal boss to win each of his first three league games against Man United, while that is a feat only three managers of any club have ever achieved in the Premier League era.

Such a result would be another dent in the title hopes which have grown at Man United this season, but the Red Devils are chasing history themselves as they travel to North London.

A win or a draw would see Solskjaer’s side make it 18 consecutive top-flight away games unbeaten stretching back more than a year, something Man United have never managed before in their illustrious history.

The 20-time English champions have won more points and scored more goals away from home than any other Premier League side this season, so a trip to an Arsenal team with a distinctly average home record should not faze them.

Whereas Man United’s away form has been peerless so far, the loss to Sheffield United was their fourth at home already this term – their most in a single season since the David Moyes campaign of 2013-14.

The Red Devils’ uncanny habit of coming from behind to win – something they have achieved seven times already this season – abandoned them on Wednesday, denying them the chance to regain top spot from local rivals Manchester City.

The result also ended a 13-match unbeaten streak in the Premier League, which incidentally stretched back to the reverse of this fixture, which Arsenal won 1-0 at Old Trafford on November 1.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang settled that game from the penalty spot, but Man United have not lost back-to-back league games for more than a year now and will know that a repeat of that result on Saturday would put the title race firmly into the hands of an ominous-looking Man City.

Arsenal’s recent improvement has coincided with the return to form of forward Alexandre Lacazette, who has scored six goals and provided two assists in his last nine appearances.

The Frenchman’s strike during the midweek victory at Southampton means he has now hit double figures in each of his four seasons since joining the club from Lyon in 2017.

It is not just the goals that Lacazette is providing, as his all-round performances have also been impressive of late, with the 29-year-old stepping up to the plate in the continued absence of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Lacazette has previous experience of notching against United, although he has not done so since 2017. However, given his current form, it would be no surprise to see him registering once again.

Another player who has been instrumental to Arsenal’s resurgence is Bukayo Saka. The 19 year-old has been in fine form for Arteta’s men of late. Against the Saints on Tuesday evening, the Gunners’ no. 7 showcased his talents with a goal and a precise assist for Lacazette. Saka also scored in the 3-0 triumph over Newcastle in their previous Premier League fixture, a game where Aubameyang found his goal-scoring touch with a brace.

Manchester United have not won a league game against Arsenal since April 2018, including all four meetings under Solskjaer, who is the only Man United manager to have faced the Gunners more than once in the top flight without winning.

Three of those four meetings have ended in defeat, including each of the last two, and another Arsenal victory on Saturday would see them make it three on the bounce for the first time since September 1998, in addition to completing a Premier League double over the Red Devils for only the fourth time.

Arsenal could also record three consecutive home league wins over their old rivals for the first time since May 1991, having won the corresponding fixture last season 2-0.

Man United’s defeat to Sheffield United makes this contest even more difficult to call; on the one hand Solskjaer will expect a response from his side, but on the other it was exactly the type of result which caused some to exercise caution over declaring them genuine title contenders.

We could learn a lot about United’s true credentials in this match against an in-form Arsenal side which will be full of confidence as they attempt to rectify their appalling start to the season.

Man United’s away record is far superior to Arsenal’s home record this term and that is difficult to ignore, but in the end we can see these two sides sharing the spoils this evening.

Infosive Sports