Arsenal will look to recover from their humiliating 5-1 defeat to Liverpool when they welcome Manchester United to the Emirates on Wednesday, in a match that could prove crucial for both teams in determining where their Premier League aspirations lie.
The Gunners’ title hopes took a serious blow on Saturday, as the Reds ran rampant to clock up a four-goal lead in under 20 minutes. In all seriousness, they were lucky to concede just four as Liverpool had another three clear-cut chances to score, and they were soon 5-0 down in the second-half before a late Mikel Arteta penalty gave them nothing more than a consolation.
The result meant that Chelsea leaped from third to first, given Manchester City’s failings at Norwich, and despite Arsenal still being well placed to continue their push for silverware for the first time in nearly a decade, they have shown signs recently that they could find the next two months a real struggle as they take on the best that both the Premier League and Europe has to offer.
Slightly lower down the table, United’s attempt to salvage a fourth-placed finish could have really done with a Liverpool loss, but they have far more problems at home to sort out before they can even think of making a late charge for Champions League qualification. The late Darren Bent equaliser in Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Fulham saw United slip a worrying nine points behind their long-time rivals, and they are edging towards the point of no return – where even Europa League qualification could prove hard to come by.
A victory over the Gunners would send out a serious message that Moyes and his side are not done yet. The £37.1m addition of Juan Mata has looked a step in the right direction given his three assists in as many games, but the question remains whether he was the type of player United really needed. Further questions arose at Old Trafford on Sunday when Mata began the match on the wing, a position that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho decided he wouldn’t make the grade in.
History is on United’s side heading into the Emirates encounter though, as the Gunners have beaten the Red Devils just once in their last 13 attempts. However, as the club’s history may be on their side, Moyes’s history certainly isn’t. The Scot is yet to beat one of the so-called ‘big four’ (Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool) when on his travels, and the philosophy of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ doesn’t appear to have done his luck any good at all.
Should Liverpool secure an expected win at Fulham on Wednesday, a United defeat would leave them 12 points away from Champions League football next term, and when they slipped that many points behind the league leaders, talk of a title defence was quickly ended.
In effect, the match against Arsenal is one they simply cannot afford to lose, and with Arsene Wenger’s squad set to come out with a point to prove of their own, the fixture could prove to be a nervy affair. That’s not taking in the always frosty reception that former Arsenal captain Robin van Persie receives whenever he returns to north London, which always adds something to these games since the Dutchman made the switch in his personal hunt for silverware.
While Arsenal have been labelled a “big horse” in a two-and-a-half horse race (according to the ever-entertaining Mourinho and his “little horse league leaders”), they could end up falling short before they’ve even reached the last. It is not so farfetched to say that Arsenal could lose against United plus next month’s important fixtures against Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham, and immediately they would have let 15 points slip through their grasp since the Liverpool mauling and see their title hopes ended for another year.