Gunners and United in search of Champions League qualification

Arsenal host Manchester United in the Premier League at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon (4.00pm kick-off UK time).

The Gunners go into today’s fixtures in sixth place in the Premier League table.

The Gunners are nine points behind third place Manchester City and fourth place Liverpool.

City beat Crystal Palace 5-0 yesterday at the Etihad Stadium.

Liverpool take on Southampton at Anfield this afternoon (1.30pm kick-off UK time).

The north London derby defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last Sunday condemned Arsenal to a first league finish below their rivals in 22 years.

It also left the Gunners cut adrift in the race for Champions League qualifying spots, albeit with games in hand on Manchester City and Liverpool.

Arsenal have already lost six league games in 2017, as many defeats as they suffered in the whole of 2016.

The Gunners though have only lost one of their last 15 Premier League home games (W11, D3), with that defeat coming against Watford on 31 January.

Their opponents today Manchester United are five points ahead of the Gunners in fifth place in the table.

The last season in which both Arsenal and Manchester United finished outside the top four was in 1978-79, when they ended seventh and ninth respectively.

Manchester United may well now feel that winning the Europa League provides them with the best opportunity to achieve Champions League qualification.

They took a major step towards reaching the Europa League final to be played in Stockholm with a 1-0 victory over Celta Vigo in the first leg of their semi-final tie in Spain on Thursday.

The second leg is at Old Trafford next Thursday. Should they reach the final their likely opponents will be Ajax who beat Lyon 4-1 in the first leg of their semi-final tie on Wednesday night in Amsterdam.

Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Swansea City in their last Premier League outing at Old Trafford helped them set a new club record of 25 successive unbeaten games in a single top-flight season.

That undefeated run though is tempered by the number of draws they have had this season – a league-high 14 games this season.

The result against the Swans meant that United also reached double figures for home league draws for only the second time in their history (11 in 1980-81).

Manchester United will be encouraged by having won their last four Premier League fixtures which have come immediately after a Europa League game.

Head-to-Head

This will be the 225th match contested by the sides and, historically, Manchester United have a good overall record against the Gunners. The Red Devils have won 96 and drawn 47 of the previous meetings, and have lost just once at the Emirates Stadium since 2010/11.

That was Arsenal’s 3-0 victory over Manchester United at Emirates Stadium last season, which has been their only win in 11 Premier League matches against the Red Devils (D4 L6).

Manchester United have not lost consecutive away Premier League matches against Arsenal since November 2001.

The sides drew 1-1 when they met at Old Trafford in November. Manchester United took the lead through Juan Mata, before Olivier Giroud’s 89th-minute equaliser.

Key Men

Arsenal

Alexis Sanchez is two goals away from scoring his 50th Premier League goal for Arsenal, becoming the 8th player to do this for the Gunners.

Sanchez needs just one goal to register his best-ever return from a single campaign in Europe’s big five leagues (currently on 19, tied with his total in 2013/14 for Barcelona).

However, just six of his league goals have come at home this season in the Premier League (32%) despite playing at the Emirates Stadium on 16 occasions in 2016-17.

Manchester United

Wayne Rooney has scored more goals against Arsenal than any other player in Premier League history (11).

Ander Herrera is enjoying the best season of his three-year stint at United. He’s the club’s top assist maker in the Premier League (six) – matching his tally from the past two seasons combined.

The Managers

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger’s only win in 16 previous encounters as a manager against Jose Mourinho came in the 2015 Community Shield (D7, L8).

This will be Arsene Wenger’s 58th match as Arsenal manager against Manchester United in all competitions. It’s the side he has faced most often with the Gunners, but also the side he’s got the lowest win rate against (29% – minimum of 15 games).

This is what Wenger had to say about Arsenal’s remaining Premier League games.

“Now even winning our games does not guarantee us to be in the Champions League, that is what we have to achieve.

“We focus on our own performance and I do not know what Manchester United will do. We know they have a massive squad with quality players and only a top-level performance will get us the win we want.

“The only advantage we can have is to focus on ourselves and not focus on the weakness of United. I want my team to turn up and plays with a stronger performance than Sunday against Tottenham, they need to respond well.

“I take very competition seriously and the only thing i have don in the past is give youth a chance in the League Cup.”

Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho is unbeaten in his 12 Premier League matches against Arsenal (W5 D7).

This is what Mourinho had to say on Manchester United’s busy schedule of Premier League and Europa League matches.

“I think he (Wenger) will be really pleased with me that I am going to change my team against Arsenal,’ said Mourinho. ‘I think he’ll be really happy with me.

“We have to be human with the players. We have to be sensible and (use) common sense in relation to our situation in the Premier League. I think the last match against Swansea was our last chance to fight for top-four, so I am going to rest players, sure.

“The players are in accumulation with lots of minutes because we played nine matches in April and now the one against Celta, so 10 in four-and-a-half weeks.

“The players in that accumulation are not going to play this weekend (against Arsenal).

“We are going to try. We are not going to Arsenal to say “beat us” or “beat us 5 or 6-0”. We are going there to fight for a result.

“But it’s impossible. I cannot do it in another way. If Celta were playing with their best team, if Celta were fighting for important things in La Liga, we would go in the same circumstances.

“But I cannot now play with the same team that played in Spain and then repeat again next Thursday.”

Team News

Arsenal

Granit Xhaka is out after picking an ankle knock in the loss at Tottenham Hotspur.

David Ospina is fully fit.

Shkodran Mustafi is back in full training.

Lucas Perez has suffered a set-back after returning to training.

Manchester United

Mourinho is likely to rest players ahead of Manchester United’s Europa League semi-final second-leg tie with Celta Vigo at Old Trafford next Thursday.

Marcus Rashford who scored the only goal in United’s win in the first leg in Spain on Thursday could be one such player.  He limped off against Celta.

Ashley Young sustained a hamstring injury in the same match shortly after coming on as a substitute.

Marouane Fellaini is serving a suspension after being red-carded in the Manchester derby.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Tim Fosu-Mensah are all sidelined with injuries.

Match Officials

Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistants: S Beck, S Ledger
Fourth official: C Pawson

Prediction

Arsenal to get a 2-1 win.

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