Manchester United play Arsenal on Saturday afternoon and the match could prove to be a highly important one. It is not only about the big rival. And neither is it about the expectations of the media.
This one will be about staying firmly in the Premier League title race. And also, it is about players proving to themselves they have plenty of ability to make that race very interesting.
Manchester United go to London in good mood. They have won last three league matches, but now is the time for important things. The clash against Arsenal comes only a week before the Manchester Derby and United will have a midweek Champions League game against CSKA Moscow.
One Match At The Time
However, Jose Mourinho is not thinking too much ahead.
“Yesterday I was watching an interesting movie – Bjorn Borg v John McEnroe – and Bjorn’s coach was him that all the time: one point at a time, think just about one point, and I tell my players [to] think just about the game. I always say this.
“It doesn’t matter what comes after, it doesn’t matter what happened before. It’s just this game, so now it’s Arsenal. We don’t think how many points we are in front of them, how many points we are behind the leader. We don’t think about that, just Arsenal.”
Nemanja Matic Is A Question Mark
Mourinho is doing the obvious thing. United cannot think about CSKA nor Man City. The match at the Emirates is the only thing that matters now. Yet, Mourinho might have to select a weakened side against Gunners due to Nemanja Matic’s minor injury.
“I don’t know if he can play. He’s travelling with the team, he’s going to try and hopefully he can, but I cannot guarantee he is ready”, Mourinho said on Friday.
The manager also confirmed Phil Jones and Eric Bailly will not be available. That means Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof will get another chance to show how much they are worth. Lindelof has improved in recent matches, but the real test is ahead of him.
How Will Manchester United Set-Up?
Alexandre Lacazette will not be spearheading Arsenal’s attack due to groin injury, but Olivier Giroud or Alexis Sanchez will. The two players are very different and it will be interesting to see how the Swedish centre-back will cope.
It is still hard to predict if Man United will sit deeper as they did against Liverpool or will they try and be more attacking-minded, as they were against Chelsea. Arsenal have not lost at home since their Champions League loss to Bayern Munich last spring and without Nemanja Matic that task could just prove to be even harder to overcome.
Manchester United were chaotic against Watford after the Serbian left the pitch. The Reds cannot afford that once again if Matic does not start on Saturday. Without him, Mourinho might opt for a more defensive approach, trying to catch Arsenal’s defence on the counter-attack, through pacey players like Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford or Paul Pogba.
“When we have the ball, we are going to attack with 11 players because even the goalkeeper needs to know what to do when we have the ball. When Arsenal has the ball, we are going to defend with 11 players”, Mourinho concluded.