It is always a big occasion when Arsenal and Manchester United meet, and the timing of Sunday’s English Premier League clash in London could allow both clubs to send a message about their potential title ambitions heading into the September international break.
After a surprising second-place finish last season, Arsenal, with seven points so far, have done their part to prove they are not going anywhere. Even their lone blemish on the season, a 2-2 home draw against Fulham last weekend, included an encouraging fightback from a goal down to briefly take a 2-1 lead.
They have also weathered a short-term injury absence of attacker Gabriel Jesus, with Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah each scoring twice over Arsenal’s first three matches.
With Jesus available on Sunday – having made a very brief cameo in the Fulham draw – manager Mikel Arteta admits a win would be a momentum builder, even if he thinks it is a bit too early to declare anyone a true challenger to Manchester City, the three-time defending champions.
“We all want to win games, we all want to play the best possible way,” the Spaniard said on Friday.
“That’s (a victory) not going to dictate but it gives you momentum and belief. Before the international break, it’s very important to finish well and win your game and go into September with another block of games on a high.”
Despite dropping points last week, the Arsenal boss insisted he is pleased with the performance and remains positive.
“Really happy, I said against Fulham, and I have watched the game twice, that we played ten times better, six or ten, but we definitely played much better (than before). But it’s all about the results,” he added.
Jesus’ return will be a boost, while Takehiro Tomiyasu also returns from a one-game suspension. Oleksandr Zinchenko is close to a full recovery from a calf issue, but long-term absentees Jurrien Timber and Mohamed Elneny remain out.
The Gunners and the Red Devils have two wins apiece in their last four league meetings, with the home team winning on all four occasions, so Arteta’s men might have a slight advantage on Sunday.
United, who have six points, have also certainly looked vulnerable at times this season, suffering a hefty 2-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur two weeks ago and having to overcome an early two-goal deficit in last weekend’s 3-2 home win over Nottingham Forest.
But Erik ten Hag’s men deserve credit for enduring some key absences early on, and the picture appears to be clearing heading into the weekend.
Summer signing Rasmus Hojlund is set to make his club debut and could even start after a back issue kept the Danish striker out in August
“He had a good training week, we still have a final training but he is doing well, he is responding well, so yeah he will be available for Sunday’s game,” ten Hag said on Friday.
And the club have added Sergio Reguilon on loan from Tottenham as well to fill an urgent need at left-back after a pair of injuries to Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia.
“He is a very experienced player, a player for big clubs, a player that’s played already a lot of games in La Liga, in the Premier League,” ten Hag added of Reguilon.
“While we had a problem with Luke Shaw injured, Ty Malacia injured, they are for long term out, so I think we responded very well in that emergency situation.”
United were also able to get Moroccan standout Sofyan Amrabat on loan with an option to buy from Italian Serie A side Fiorentina to help bolster their midfield, following an injury to Mason Mount.
Veteran centre-back Raphael Varane is out for a few weeks after coming off at half-time against Forest, so Victor Lindelof should deputise on Sunday.
– Reuters/ AFP