Today’s visit to Old Trafford will be a stern test of Arsenal’s growing credentials as, at the very least, strong Top 4 challengers. After 5 straight wins it would be fair to say that the media and pundits are being kinder to Arteta’s Arsenal, but with the constant caveat of ‘you have not played anyone of note yet!’ Of course, we Arsenal fans could point out that Palace, Fulham and as recently as yesterday, Villa, who we have beaten have taken points of other top teams.
The truth is that is you are betting on the Premier League outcome, you probably would not place a huge bet on The Gunners, but there is little doubt the early gap between them and the likes of Chelsea and today’s opponents. Man United, means they must a serious bet to finish in the Champion’s League berths. It is why this afternoon’s clash with the Red Devils is so significant, even at this early stage of the campaign.
It would be fair to say that for many years Arsenal have had a psychological barrier when playing at Old Trafford, so today is a true test of the new strong mentality Arteta believes his team have been demonstrating. The Spaniard has urged his players to forget, the recent past and be confident today but in truth, the contest looks more even, both with United’s recent improvement and Arsenal’s injury issues.
We know Arsenal are without lynchpin Thomas Partey and his first-choice cover, Mo Elneny, which will heap pressure on the young, inexperienced shoulders of Sambi Lokonga. The Belgian was faultless against Aston Villa in midweek, but the cauldron of Old Trafford will provide a true test of the young man’s aspirations for this season and indeed, perhaps the World Cup. If Lokonga passes today’s test, then the failed deadline day attempt to sign Douglas Luiz will be forgotten by the Arsenal faithful.
Lokonga will be thankful to have the resurgent Granit Xkaha to support him and will certainly hope that Zinchencko is passed fit to come back in at left back to add further reassurance. Both the Swiss and Ukrainian skippers with their maturity and experience will give the young Belgian the confidence and a platform to shine. Certainly, Zinchenko will move closer to Lokonga when Arsenal are in possession, something that Kieran Tierney is less likely to do.
The other area of concern today will be the fitness of Arsenal skipper, Martin Odegaard, who has taken so well to the responsibility, showing magnificent form and leadership. Old Trafford, however, is not the ground to be playing if not fully fit. The Norwegian will have a fitness test today, but Arteta is highly fortunate to have a fabulous deputy in Emile Smith Rowe. The England international has been limited to substitute cameos so far this season and will be chomping at the bit to prove his worth, having been a permanent fixture in the team at this point least season.
United should also be worried by the mobility of Arsenal’s front three and the now consistent high press. In Gabriel Jesus, Arsenal now have their leader of the press, which was lacking last season and the Brazilian is ably assisted by Bukayo Saka and Gabi Martinelli. Indeed, the Arsenal’s Number 9 is leading the Premier League in applying pressure in the final third. I think the battle between Diego Dalot and Martinelli will be a key one this afternoon and I imagine the prospect of coming up against the tireless Arsenal left winger will have been giving the Portuguese sleepless nights this week.
If the Arsenal players who are doubts are passed fit, I make the Gunners marginal favourites, but I would happily take a draw, to see the team top of the league and undefeated.
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