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It seems that the arc of Premier League era Arsenal vs. Manchester United rivalry through time is now entering a new unique phase, which even though it may never trace the memorable locus characterized by the feverish intensity of Wenger’s Highbury years, will nonetheless help to define the next stages of these two great clubs’ respective evolutions. Two great clubs that have been thrown into the morass of mediocrity since the departure of their best ever managers, two great clubs that are now trying to fight their way back into the prominence of their heydays, the memories of which still fuel the imagination and appetite of their fan base. 

While the current league table has Manchester United 7 positions above and 10 points ahead of Arsenal, the teams will go into the weekend’s marquee match without any firm favorites. That is not only because in this most egalitarian of seasons, in the most egalitarian of leagues any result is possible, but that the qualities on display by each of these two teams in the recent matches do not demonstrate any vast superiority of one over the other. Manchester United definitely had a much more consistent run of results since their 0-1 loss at home to Arsenal – rightly celebrated by the Goonerverse given the rarity of Arsenal away league wins at Old Trafford – whereas afterwards Arsenal went on a tailspin of poor performances and poorer results that had people – and even a few pundits – suggesting a potential relegation battle. Since then, Mikel Arteta has steadied the ship, and brought in a more dynamic and creative approach to the matches inspired significantly by Arsenal’s young talents who all took their opportunities with open arms and pushed their more illustrious bandmates to the substitutes bench, and now have us on a positive run of results that brought us back to a league position from which a European place is still well within reach. Difficult, but not implausible. 

The last time Arsenal did a “double” over Manchester United in the league was our first season at the Emirates, 2006-2007. On 17th September 2006 away at Old Trafford a young Arsenal attacking midfield of Fabregas, Hleb and Rosický (with Gilberto sitting deep) impressed with the verve and imagination that will come to characterize their times at the club. Very late in the match, Cesc picked Christiano Ronaldo’s pocket, glided through the midfield and set up the new boy Adebayor for a famous winner. On the return match back at the Emirates on 21st January 2007 Henry was back from injury, and so was Robin Van Persie, and they both scored in a memorable come-from-behind 2-1 victory with Henry scoring the winner in the dying minutes with a thumping header from a perfect cross by Eboue after a lovely combination play between Fabregas, Rosický and Eboue on the right.  The equalizer too had earlier involved another flowing move down the right with Rosický sending in a cross that Henry tried to flick in, and RVP ghosted in at the near post for a trademark left footed into-the-roof-of-the-net finish.   

Since then, we haven’t managed to put two league wins in a season against the old enemies simply because we didn’t manage to win away at Manchester United. Until this season, of course, when that 14 years long wretched streak came to an end thanks to captain Aubameyang’s penalty. That win away at Old Trafford was however built less on attacking fluency but more on a robust, dynamic and matured midfield display with the summer signing Thomas Partey justifying completely all the excitement around his arrival. Two of his most noticeable qualities that I think had instant impact on the team are his ability to make his central midfield partner play at a higher level than they usually do, and a directness and verticality that have been lacking from our midfield since the days of Santi Cazorla and Rosický.  Partey was substituted in the second half in our last league match at Southampton and let us hope that was simply as a precaution especially given his recent muscle injuries.

Manchester United’s away form has been superb in the recent months and despite their dispiriting loss at home in their last match against Sheffield United they will come into the game with confidence. Not only have they been winning away consistently, but they have also won a few times after conceding the first goal.  This consistency has propelled them up the table and now they are being considered to be a serious title contender. 

One of the more pleasing aspects of our recent run of good results was that we started brightly in all of these matches and tried to impose ourselves whenever possible. That positivity and courage have paid off. Knowing full well that there will be stretches of the game when we will have to defend with great tactical discipline and with everyone behind the ball, we must make our turns at possession and dominance count. Just when it had seemed Aubameyang and his infectious smile had finally shaken off the rare dry patch, a family emergency – which thankfully has since been resolved –  rightly needed his attention. Even though he seems to have returned to London, considering the travel protocols, it is unlikely he will start the weekend’s match.

In our captain’s absence the left side of the attacking trio remains a question. Even though Nicolas Pépé started on the left, played well and scored a good goal at the St. Mary’s, my choice will be Gabriel Martinelli whose non-stop pressing and constant movements drifting in and out can be a big plus in a match where forced turnovers in transitions can be a productive way of overloading our attack effectively. Lacazette, Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka should continue their growing understanding. If ESR needs a break (let us hope not) I would like to see Saka playing in that role with Pépé starting down the right, but Mikel will most likely start Willian in that case. The winter loan signing, the Norwegian prodigy Martin Ødegaard, may find the match coming too early for him to take an active part. But over the course of the rest of the season I think the most natural alternative – though not quite like-for-like – for ESR should be Ødegaard. 

Speaking of winter transfer business, much credit is due to Edu, Mikel and the club for the efficiency with which they executed much of what was necessary, both outgoing and incoming. Whereas Ødegaard’s inclusion got the headlines, signing of a highly capable and experienced goalkeeper in Mat Ryan to back up Leno was definitely the one that helped the more astute of the fan base (and one suspects Mikel as well) to sleep better. 

A suitable left back understudy for the magnificent Kieran Tierney is probably a pending piece of the remaining business, but Cedric’s performance in that position away at Southampton will give Mikel some comfort if that doesn’t happen. Based on current performance Cedric, if he doesn’t need to deputize for Tierney again, will probably deserve the right back position ahead of Bellerin. Let us hope our incomparable Scotsman is back fit to torment the United right flank all throughout the match. 

I suspect Mikel will keep the Luiz-Holding partnership. Pablo Mari’s injury was most unfortunate as he was playing with a composure and poise that has never been Luiz’s forte, though on his day he can be imperious and also a great attacking outlet. Gabriel had started the season excellently and was by far our best player for the first months, but one suspects since the Covid19-enforced time off he might need a little while to get back to his best, especially given this is his first season in English football.   

This is my predicted line-up based on what has been publicly made known about the state of the squad and based on my assumption that Partey, ESR and KT are all fit. 


Cedric – Holding – Luiz – Tierney

Partey – Xhaka

Saka – ESR – Martinelli


If Auba can play he will slot in for Gabigoal. And if KT still needs a bit of time Cedric will start down the left and Bellerin in his customary position.

As always this is a hard match to predict. I am hoping for a hard-fought but controlled 2-0 win, with Mikel tactically outmaneuvering his opponent and the team able to execute the game plan. 

Come on Arsenal! 

62 Drinks to “Tantalising Glimpse of a Rare Double”

  1. 1
    scruzgooner says:


    well in, faustus. i’ll take your 2-0 and laugh with joy, kind of like the little dog laughing at the cow.

    i remember that henry header, it being a relative rarity, coupled with an eboue assist it was a hen’s tooth of a goal.

    i agree with your lineup, and hope esr isn’t too close to the red line. he too was substituted, after his leg injury, and we have to hope it’s nothing much and his youthful exuberance will see him performing his mesmeric duties in midfield.

  2. 2
    Esso says:

    Cheers Doc!

  3. 3
    TTG says:

    Dr F,
    Congratulations on another very comprehensive abd appetising preview with nods to positive,nostalgic memories. I was in the ground that January, it was arguably the first really big win at the new ground and the place rocked. RVP sadly gunged his knee in scoring that day but Henry milked the cheers with his late header .
    I think Bellerin will play and we may see Pepe retain his place but your team is very credible as is your focus on the need for a fast start, perhaps like the one we had on New Years Day last year when we overran them early on . ESR to clinch a 1-0 to the Arsenal win .

  4. 4
    bt8 says:

    Thanks once again Doctor F for an excellent preview. The double can be done, so let’s do it!

  5. 5
    bt8 says:

    Agreed that this is Gabigol’s moment to shine. Partey’s too. Just keep that defence solid.

  6. 6
    North Bank Ned says:

    Good going yet again, Dr F. I hope a win will warm you in what must be a very cold Bean Town.

  7. 7
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Thanks everyone for the kind words.

    Ned — yes, you got that right. Minus 19 Celsius with the wind chill now, just enough cold for Tierney to put on a jacket. 😂

  8. 8
    ksn says:

    Thanks for another fine pre match report, Dr.F. This is going to be a very tough match to win in view of Manure’s away form and league record of not losing in their last 17 away fixtures. Hope we break their streak with another 1-0 win. I agree with TTG that Arteta is more likely to start with Pepe and Bellerin though I think Cedric has impressed with his solid defending and decent crosses in his last couple of matches.
    We also have a problem against teams which have pacy forwards and Rashford, Martial and Greenwood would be a handful for our defenders as neither Holding nor Luiz is fast. A nail biting match ahead, for sure.

  9. 9
    Countryman100 says:

    Lovely job Dr F. In early team news:

  10. 10
    Uplympian says:

    Thanks Dr F for a comprehensive review. I share KSN’s fear of Utd’s pacy forwards against our slowish defence as well as Hector v Rashford. Let’s hope we can start fast on the front foot, get ahead and keep it going for 90 mins plus. It’s about time their impressive away record is dented and there is no finer team to do it than us of course.
    Will MA8 keep David Luiz alongside Rob or will he bring back the more pacy Gabriel. Hopefully with KT3, ESR & TP all fit to start then the final decision is whether to play Pepe or Gabigoal wide left – there is a positive case for either. It probably will be a close game with just 1 goal in it – to the red & white army of North London of course.

  11. 11
    Countryman100 says:

    Seems Mat Ryan also has a hip injury (according to Arseblog) so Runarsson will be on the bench.

  12. 12
    BtM says:

    Excellent preview. Fernandes is their primary threat and Partey’s contribution will be pivotal to the outcome. I think Bellerin will start for Cedric and Pepe for Gabi in your team. No reason not to win this one by a two goal margin.


  13. 13
    North Bank Ned says:

    Dr F@7: 🙂

    C100: Ryan’s hip knock confirmed by the club. https://www.arsenal.com/news/team-news-partey-smith-rowe-aubameyang

    KT3 sounds as if he has one of those niggles that won’t heal without an extended period of rest, which we might be best off in the long-term giving him despite the desire to play him every game. Tricky call for Arteta.

  14. 14
    Esso says:

  15. 15
    Esso says:

    Saka out?

  16. 16
    Esso says:


  17. 17
    Esso says:

    Win today would be as right result for that side.

  18. 18
    Esso says:

    Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Luiz, Cedric, Partey, Xhaka, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Martinelli, Lacazette

    Subs: Runarsson, Gabriel, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Willock, Odegaard, Willian, Nketiah

    Man Utd: De Gea, Lindelof, Maguire, Wan Bissaka, Shaw, Fred, Fernandes, Pogba, McTominay, Rashford, Cavani

    Subs: Henderson, Telles, Bailly, Tuanzebe, James, Matic, Van de Beek, Greenwood, Martial

  19. 19
    North Bank Ned says:

    Saka crocked?

  20. 20
    North Bank Ned says:

    That looks like a bench intended to defend a lead, not chase an equaliser or winner.

  21. 21
    Countryman100 says:

    Sore hip in training yesterday evidently. That’s one of the weakest benches we’ve put out for a while.

  22. 22
    Steve T says:

    Cheers Doc

    What’s up with Saka???

    No KT or PEA does not make us stronger.

    Bring it on lads. Three points today will be more than welcome.

  23. 23
    Osakamatt says:

    Great preview, thanks Dr F.
    Shame about Saka and KT,
    we’ll miss them. Auba too.
    2-1 to The Arsenal would be
    as Esso said a right result.

  24. 24
    North Bank Ned says:

    C100@20. Thanks for the Saka info. Hope his hip does not turn into another long-term niggle. As for the bench’s strength, if you exclude those with off-games notes, Reiss Nelson and Mustafi are the only members of the first-team squad not involved today (although I would have the seemingly never-present Nelson rather than the overly present Willian). I also suspect it is not a match Arteta would choose to throw a promising Academician in at the deep end.

    This game is going to be a good measure of how far along Arteta has brought the team. I’d take Esso’s 2-1 in a heartbeat, but I suspect it will make for nervous-making viewing

  25. 25
    Countryman100 says:

    Pepe left or right?

  26. 26
    ksn says:

    Three of our best players out. Advantage Manure.

  27. 27
    ksn says:

    the challenge on Xhaka by Fernandez would be at least a yellow if Xhaka had committed the foul.

  28. 28
    ksn says:

    Twice Partey has given the ball away. Nerves?
    what a save by Leno.

  29. 29
    Steve T says:

    World class from Leno

    Need more cutting edge. Pepe bring Pepe.

  30. 30
    Countryman100 says:

    Brilliant ESR. Come on the Croydon de Bruyne

  31. 31
    Steve T says:

    Is Pepe the most one footed player ever???

  32. 32
    ksn says:

    Partey is playing poorly and giving the ball away or mis passing too many times today. Not his usual self.
    Martial coming on for sick McTominay.

  33. 33
    ksn says:

    Close shave after Martinelli gives the ball away in a dangerous area and Rashford muffs a great chance. But Manure get a free kick which hits the wall and goes for a corner. Close call that. end of first half but we did our three missing attackers.

  34. 34
    Steve T says:

    Love Luiz’s reaction after that header in the wall.

    A bit of a nothing first half really. We’ve not really created too much and clearly miss the attacking skills of both KT and Saka. Hopefully we will be a bit more productive in the second half.

  35. 35
    bt8 says:

    Big double let off at the end of the half, but kudos to Leno and Luiz there. Not Willian!

  36. 36
    ksn says:

    Martinelli off and Willian on. Scary.

  37. 37
    Steve T says:

    Willian on one wing and Pepe on the other????? Oh dear.

    I can only assume that Gabi has picked up a knock.

  38. 38
    ksn says:

    Cavani misses an open goal .Lucky.

  39. 39
    ksn says:

    Laca hits the cross bar.

  40. 40
    ksn says:

    Two good chances for us but unlucky to miss both.

  41. 41
    ksn says:

    Manure making a mess of their open chances, too.

  42. 42
    Steve T says:

    64:51. Xhaka played a forward pass

    Ignore the Laca free kick

    Ignore the ESR effort.

    Embrace the forward pass by Xhaka.

  43. 43
    ksn says:

    Partey gives the ball away and Rashford almost scores.

  44. 44
    ksn says:

    Pepe misses a good chance by whiskers.
    Odegaard replacing Smith Rowe. Let us see what the new whiz kid can do.

  45. 45
    ksn says:

    Another open goal miss by Cavani. Phew.

  46. 46
    ksn says:

    Laca has taken so many knocks. He is a fighter.

  47. 47
    ksn says:

    Nketiah on for the much kicked Laca.

  48. 48
    scruzgooner says:

    i can live with that.

    physios are going to be busy the next few days.

  49. 49
    North Bank Ned says:

    Bity performance, but it was important not to lose. The clean sheet is a bonus. It looked like a game between two top teams that are both a smidgen short of top-quality.

  50. 50
    ksn says:

    i will take that draw. The boys fought hard but we were unlucky on many counts. We didn’t have our best eleven to start. But Manure missed an open goal on three occasions. So a draw is fine. Seven unbeaten with four straight clean sheets. Remain eighth in the table.

  51. 51
    scruzgooner says:

    ned, when did luis suarez appear?

  52. 52
    Steve T says:

    Only you and me watching ksn??? Very quiet in the bar tonight???

    I’m not sure I’d be too unhappy with 4 points each season from the Mancs each season so I will take that.

    Another clean sheet so always a positive. Win the next two and we will be in a great position.

    Luiz man of the match and rightly so. Another clean sheet, creativity, leadership and a great team man. If he makes a mistake, it’s not good. But it can live with that after performances like tonight.

  53. 53
    Countryman100 says:

    I was happy with that. Clean sheet, hugely committed, missing three highly creative players. Take the point and move on. If Saka plays, we probably win that.

  54. 54
    Bathgooner says:

    Could have won it, could have lost it. I agree with scruz, ksn, Steve T and C100.

    Top performances from Luiz and ESR. One of Pépé’s and Willian’s best too. Partey showed that he’s not got an infallible passing radar.

    Take the points and move on. If we play like that in every game we will keep progressing up the table.

  55. 55
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Mikel is successfully converting Pépé into a much more complete player. Did well today. As did Laca and ESR. Both teams lacked quality in the final third and also didn’t deal with each other’s press well. Hope Gabi’s substitution was just precaution or even tactical. Willian did better than how he has been playing until now.

    Partey’s passing radar was completely off today, otherwise we may have had a few more effective counter attacks.

    Luiz had a very good game. So did Holding. And Leno as usual made an excellent save to keep us in the game.

  56. 56
    Countryman100 says:

    I don’t think Partey has been fit since the first United game. The week off after the Villa game, should be important as we plan to charge forward in the Europa and the League.

  57. 57
    Steve T says:

    Doc. How on earth is Pepe a more complete player?? I’ve obviously watched a lot of football and missed loads??

    Agree totally re Luiz, Holding and Leno. All excellent this evening. I have always thought that Holding was limited as a player, but I am more impressed every time I see him play. Same I must say for Cedric. Another good team performance

    Partey to me seemed to be playing a lot of the game at half pace. I hope he’s still not carrying some sort of injury.

  58. 58
    TTG says:

    I’m violently agreeing with my fellow drinkers . I don’t rate United as potential champions but they are tricky to play when they are away . Given our injuries and the fitness levels of Partey and Martinelli we did pretty well and could easily have won .
    And to be fair to Willian, apart from not scoring- brilliant block by W-B – he did a decent job on the left and his ball to Pepe was excellent . I’d give 7s to Leno, Holding, Luiz, Cedric , Xhaka, ESR and Pepe . I wouldn’t go below 6 for anyone

  59. 59
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Steve@56 : I meant he is becoming a more complete player compared to what he was before. He never used to defend for Lille — where his great season was built on him hanging out in the middle of the pitch and then do his thing in counter attacks — and was mostly iffy for us in any tactical sense. Look at his defensive contribution today as well as contribution in the final third.

    When Saka is fit he starts before Pépé, always. But that is not a reason to not acknowledge that Mikel is changing his game for the better.

  60. 60
    Doctor Faustus says:

    And Mikel in his Man City coach role is credited to have transformed the games of pacy, talented but inconsistent and erratic wingers like Sterling and Sane. I just notice more structure, organization and discipline to Pépé’s game lately. Hope it continues to get better.

    Not all players get the kind of early education that our academy offers. 🙂

  61. 61
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Based on Mikel’s interview even though he explicitly didn’t mention Gabi it seems the sub was more tactical and to improve our attacking performance better. Gabi is still coming back to fitness so that makes sense. He released a lovely through ball for Laca which was just a fraction overhit, and he did well defensively especially that clearance off Rashford, but overall his attacking game was not very sharp today.

  62. 62
    Pangloss says: