Saturday November 18th 12.30
And we’re back with a bang. Up first on Saturday are two of the BPL’s oldest and most bitter rivals. Manchester United’s answer to whatever the opposite to a gentleman is, Jose Mourinho, welcomes mortal foe, Arsene Wenger, to Old Trafford to renew rivalries for another season.
Mourinho has, at various stages over the years, fired a whole bunch of personal insults and jibes toward Wenger but curiously, when Wenger chose to address Mourinho in a slightly more physical manner on the touchline during a game a couple of seasons ago, the Portuguese manager seemed reluctant to repeat his previous assertions in the proximity of the larger man. Like we said – curious.
A miserable joy
Mourinho may have moved clubs but his enmity toward Wenger remains undimmed and wretched, broken man that he now appears to be, getting one over his old enemy will surely still bring a little flicker of joy into his life. That means that he can put aside the legion of intrigue which increasingly seem to occupy his waking thoughts and focus solely on securing an ego-boosting result.
Giving youth its head?
In order to achieve the desired outcome, he will have to do without the services of Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the Swede serves a one match suspension. Given the forward’s well-documented struggle for goals, this might have looked like a blessing in disguise but for the fact that he bagged a brace in their last league outing and, given that he has retired from international football, one would expect him to be a touch fresher than team mates who have returned from abroad with their national teams. Might Mourinho do the unthinkable and give Marcus Rashford a chance to prove what he can do up top?
Arsenal, too, will be without one of their shining lights as news has emerged of an injury to right-back, Hector Bellerin, which will see the young Spaniard sidelined for up to four weeks. It also looks as if it’s too soon to expect Santi Cazorla to return to the starting line-up which is a shame for Arsenal as his intelligent, probing presence from midfield will be sorely missed. On the plus side, Aaron Ramsey has overcome his latest injury and will be a welcome returnee.
Gunners going good
Arsenal’s excellent start to the season sees them level with Manchester City on 24 points, a full six points ahead of Man Utd. Win here and that gap widens to nine. If Arsenal are to be maintain the physical and mental levels necessary to make a realistic bid to win the league, they need to view this match as an opportunity not only to assert their own credentials but also to drive a nail into the coffin of their would-be rivals.
Wenger will have breathed a sigh of relief that Alexis Sanchez didn’t injure himself whilst away on international duty but may well look to rest the Chilean and start instead with Olivier Giroud up front. The French forward is an entirely different proposition to Sanchez but he has been effective from the bench this season and will offer a more physical (and possibly static) dimension to Arsenal’s attack.
Of the two teams, Arsenal’s is by far the better form coming into this match. After all, Utd’s win over an abject Swansea team a fortnight ago was their first in the league for five games. And yet, whether it’s home advantage or the Mourinho v Wenger angle, the bookies make Utd favourites. They will likely play ugly and look to unsettle Arsenal’s players but, if we chose to ignore the history and focus instead on the present, the 2/1 for an Arsenal from BoyleSports looks like a nice price.