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Thursday evening’s visit to Old Trafford will be the 235th encounter between the two sides. The first, in October 1894, saw Woolwich Arsenal drew 3-3 in League Division Two with the then Newton Heath at their Bank Street ground in Clayton, now the site of the car park for the Manchester Velodrome. 

Let me start with what is at stake today. The Mancs will become the first club to beat us 100 times in all competitions if we lose. This cannot be allowed to happen.

Our record at Old Toilet is not encouraging: 16 wins in 94 visits. Among the 54 losses are the ignominies of the 8-2 in 2011, the 6-1 in 2001, a similar scoreline in 1952 and the 6-2 in 1957. 

One defeat especially sticks in the craw, October 2004, thwarting our attempt to go a 50th consecutive game unbeaten. Van Nistelrooy fired home a 73rd-minute penalty after Mike Riley deemed Rooney throwing himself to the ground, probably not for the first time and certainly not for the last, to be a scything down.

Perhaps Riley was giving Rooney a present on his 19th birthday. He had earlier demonstrated his generosity by handing out free passes rather than red cards when Horseface put his studs through Ashley Cole’s knee, and Rio Ferdinand bowled over Freddie Ljungberg when clear through on goal.

Thunderous affairs

There was a time, not so long ago, well, perhaps longer than I remember, the years blend as they advance, that the visit to OT was a clash of colossi. 

For the best part of a decade, the Guv’nor once wrote, the thunderous encounters between the charges of Wenger and Ferguson would be the most eagerly anticipated clashes on the Premier League calendar, and invariably decided the destination of the Premier League trophy and FA Cup. They hated us and we returned those feelings with a vengeance.

Not so much these days. Scrappy affairs between two diminished sides have replaced the Herculean battles of thought and thew. 

OT was not a happy hunting ground for Arsene Wenger, just three wins in the league and two in the FA cup in 27 visits. He lost 28 of his 60 games against United and 23 of the 49 when Fergie was in the opposing dugout. 
His final trip to OT was in April 2018. A minute into added time, a Fellaini header gave Mourinho’s United a last-gasp 2-1 win against a youthful but spirited Arsenal side lacking several big guns rested for a Europa League semi-final a few days later.

Yet, we have not lost at Old Toilet since.

As a player, Michael Arteta lost on all four of his visits, twice with Everton and twice with us, and was only on the winning side twice in 17 games against United. As a manager, he is one for one.

He had the hex on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with two wins and a draw. The Bilbo Baggins lookalike is no longer at the wheel, having been thrown under the bus after turning the talented players on which United spent heavily for him into less than the sum of their parts. 

Someone who knows what they are doing could turn that motley crew into a formidable side.

Pochettino, a man for a poisoned chalice having previously managed the neighbours, is reportedly favourite to succeed OGS permanently. He seems unavailable until the summer, when his likely replacement at Paris Saint-Germain, Zinedine Zidane, plans to return to work. 

Ralf Rangnick, the former RB Leipzig manager and most recently head of sports and development at Lokomotiv Moscow, will take over in the interim as head coach. That will transmogrify into a two-year consultancy to revamp the club’s football operations that have atrophied since Fergie’s retirement. 

Rangnick is the anointed father of gegenpressing, even if its roots predate him, and the inspiration for a generation of accomplished German coaches, notably Klopp, Low, Nagelsmann and Tuchel. He turned once little-regarded, Hoffenheim and Leipzig, into powers in German football. Previous with non-entities may prove helpful in his new gig. We shall see when the Mancs come calling at the Ems in April.

However, United wait on Rangnick’s immigration paperwork. (Gooners doing God’s work in the Home Office, perhaps.) Michael Carrick will continue as caretaker manager for our game.

The Opposition

Carrick secured a CL win at Unai Emery’s Villareal and a scarcely merited point at the bus stop in Fulham on Sunday in his two games in charge.

Pogba remains a long-term injury absentee, and the game will come too early for the returns of Varane and Cavani. Shaw faces a late fitness test. Greenwood will be available after Covid-19 and Slaphead Maguire after suspension.

Who knows if Rangnick has a say in team selection and formation or whether Ronaldo will again start on the bench? We shall likely see most of the same personnel that mugged the Chavs. Yet, it will be not so much who plays as how they play together.

The Arsenal 

Games against the two Manchester clubs bookend a hectic month with 24 league points and a place in the League Cup semi-finals at stake. Minutes management and fitness will be key in a critical sequence for our season’s success. We need a solid run of wins to have a shot at a top-four finish.

We know Xhaka and Kolasinac will miss the United game (please don’t all weep at once). Saka is a serious doubt, having limped off on Saturday with a hip or pelvic injury. Given the rush of fixtures and nature of the injury, allowing him more recovery time would be more prudent than risking a prolonged absence by aggravating it.

Arteta’s choice would be to replace him one-for-one with Pepe or Gabi keeping Ødegaard as a ten, or to play the Norwegian on the right with Laca as a hybrid nine. His other questions are: who fits like a T at left-back, and should he take advantage of the rotation necessary as December’s fixtures start to come like Aaron Lennon, thick and fast, to ‘rest’ our out-of-sorts skipper?

This is not a game to take lightly; United have plenty of potential match-winners. Thus Arteta will likely start a strong XI.


Tomiyasu — White — Gabriel — Tavares

Ødegaard — Partey — Lokonga — ESR

Lacazette — Aubameyang

Bench: Leno, Tierney, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Cedric Soares, Pepe, Elneny, Nketiah, Martinelli

The ‘holics pound

The bookies have the hosts as clear favourites. Any Arsenal win offers attractive odds starting with the classic 1-0 to the Arsenal at fourteens, and a realistic 2-1 is available at the same price. 
If you think the defence can hold out, including against Martin Atkinson, who has the whistle for the game and has given more penalties against us than any other team and more than twice as many as for us, then 2-0 can be found at seventeens.

Three points are needed; an away point, the bare minimum. Defeat is unthinkable for a hundred reasons.

Enjoy the game, ‘holics near and far.

48 Drinks to “Hold the line at 99”

  1. 1
    bathgooner says:

    Great and very informative preview, Ned. I had no idea the ton was coming up. Nor that we would have to play Atkinson as well.

    I really hope that Saka will be fit enough to start as he was outstanding against the Barcodes and I would expect him to give whoever plays LB for Manure a torrid time. If he doesn’t make it I would start Pepe on the right with Ødegaard at ‘ten’ rather than Laca.

    I think this is a ‘must not lose’ if we are to finish fourth (of course NOT just for the points but more for the psychological boost and the measure of this team) but I’d take any kind of win and celebrate for weeks!

  2. 2
    TTG says:

    An informative and enjoyable preview Ned, terrific stuff!
    I don’t expect Saka to be risked and my bold decision would be to bring in Martinelli , to drop Auba and replace him with Lacazette. Pepe would just drift through the game whilst Gabby’s energy would unsettle United especially if Shaw is still out . Auba needs to be rested and Laca would give us more presence upfront. A big call would be to switch ESR to the right and bring back Tierney pushing Nuno forward . Don’t rule that one out .
    I hope we can take a draw followed up by a win at Goodison . It’s getting serious now and the pace increases . But I have some faith in this team . Hopefully I will have even more about 10.10 tomorrow night

  3. 3
    Ollie says:

    Cheers Ned. Remembering the 50th game is always painful.
    I like your 2-1. Having said that, I’m not overly optimistic for this one, but while a loss would be a real pain, I think we can still afford to lose this one in the grand scheme of this season. That us, if Rangnick doesn’t tranform Man U overnight of course.

  4. 4
    Ollie says:

    That is, not that us.

  5. 5
    North Bank Ned says:

    Thanks, all.

    The table is so tightly packed below us that we have to consider all the games in December, save perhaps for the trip to Norwich, as ‘six pointers’ and not yield ground in terms of points in any of them. We’ll be playing a fifth of the season in December, so it is going to be a critical month to rack up points.

    TTG@the previous drinks: Selling both Laca and Nketiah in January would not be without risk, even if Jovic came in on loan. With Balogun likely off on loan to get regular senior football, a double sale would be putting a lot of faith in Auba and Gabi staying in form and injury-free. Arteta may also feel a need for Laca’s experience during the run-in. It might take a decent cash offer to make Arteta feel otherwise.

    Mari going in January or the summer would be a strong indication that Saliba will be with the first-team squad next season. Kola is long past his sell-by date and Mo, who has been halfway out the door more than once, will be surplus to requirements if Renato Sanches arrives. Did your knowledgeable friends have any views on the future of your favourite midfielder?

    I would be uneasy about signing Sterling. It has all the hallmarks of another Willian.

  6. 6
    Las says:

    Thanks, Ned, for the truly enjoyable preview.
    God knows I hate kilos. I hope we make them wait for this for a little (or much) longer.
    Let’s see how Saka was assessed today and we really need a sharp Abumeyang and in case a firing Pepe who finds his magic.
    Will be tough but we will be up for it.

  7. 7
    Las says:

    The other results went our way tonight. WHam and Lesta have drawn so with a win…

  8. 8
    TTG says:

    Some typically sensible thoughts from you. One of my mates speaks to agents quite a lot. Arsenal appear to be keen to avoid the situation where a lot of money walks out of the door ( obviously ) and while I think they’d like Laca to extend by a year they want him to reduce his wages. He may feel there are more productive furrows to plough especially if he can get into the Champions League . That might be with us but it’s far from certain. Sadly I am 50% sure that Auba is a spent force at the top level. I hope tomorrow I’m eating my words but his level in recent games has been absolutely dreadful and coming after a poor return last season ( I think he got ten in the league but most of them were against stragglers)
    I agree with your other comments and I hope Balogun can play regularly at a reasonable level . I’m also very keen we don’t waste big money on Sterling when we have Saka who would struggle to start if he comes .
    As for Xhaka my sense is he is deeply loved at the club . I cannot understand it although I understand he is very popular with team-mates but as everyone on this site is well aware I don’t believe he gives enough to the team in almost all respects. I know I’m not alone in feeling this on this site. I’m concerned about Partey too but willing to exercise a bit more patience although he’s been with us well over a year.
    Tonight’s result give us a chance to go fourth with Everton to play and the huge chasm between us and the top three is something we will have to deal with gradually over the next two years .

  9. 9
    Trev says:

    Thanks, Ned,

    Excellent and interesting history as usual – please commend the monks.

    One issue I have with your team and that is at left back. Tavares has proved an excellent find and to me, but probably not the coaching team, a surprise one too. However, if Tierney is now properly fit I do think he rates above Tavares in the pecking order. He is less chaotic than Tavares – a quality that has actually proven quite useful at times – but I think Old Trafford is a place for order in the defence – not that Tierney is any slouch down the touch line, and the latger’s crossing is a lot more consistent too.

    Any win and we’re in the top four. Whoda thunk it 👍🏻👍🏻

  10. 10
    North Bank Ned says:

    Trev@9: I went back and forth in my mind on Tavares v Tierney. Kremlinology was more straightforward than deciphering Arteta’s public pre-game comments on his players, but my reading between the lines of what he said in his press conference was that Tavares would get one more game before KT3 came back in at Goodison. Of course, I could be completely wrong, or TTG could be right, and Arteta plays both with KT3 on the left side of a back three and Tavares at wing-back in a 3-4-2-1. My hunch was Arteta would go for experience at the front and balance that with youth at the back, but, frankly, I have as little clue as anyone else.

  11. 11
    OsakaMatt says:

    Excellent preview thanks Ned. I think that if possibly available MA will play Saka as he generally has been reluctant to leave him out in the past and I imagine he will go with Nuno though I’d prefer Kieran for the next two games. Just a guess but I think some players will be rotationally rested for a couple of the other games in December – Southampton, Norwich and the League Cup.

  12. 12
    OsakaMatt says:

    I think I’d add Calum to the list of feasible departures in January, possibly before Mari, as he is out of contract and seemingly out of favour this season. We’re better covered on the right than the left with Rob available if needed. Calum is young enough and good enough to warrant a reasonable fee too.
    Like Ned I would be skeptical about the value of signing Sterling but to be fair the transfer team have earned a bit of trust with the so far highly successful summer’s business.

  13. 13
    Mulerise14 says:

    Wow…. superb preview,a medley of history, analysis and information.
    There is a silent optimism brewing from the fans for this young side,I could not remember the last time we played Liverpool and I had hope that we could nick a point or even win at Anfield.
    I am emotionally invested in this present iteration of players.
    So against united,am rooting for the boys….the bookmakers don’t know what we know.and true Ned, united is less than the sum of their parts and while our own synergy is brewing seriously.

  14. 14
    bt8 says:

    Thanks, Ned. You put this game into its proper historical context, and if we can come out on top there is a chance we could eventually look back on it as a historical turning point in the development of this group of players. COYG

  15. 15
    Uplympian says:

    Cheers Ned, a very thoughtful preview. Liverpool showed us where we are no where near, tonight’s match and the the following one at the blue scousers will show us where we should be aspiring to be at this stage of our “project”.
    We seldom play well at Old Toilet these past number of years, even when they have been struggling as well. It’s time to put on an away performance and send those hordes travelling back to Surrey wondering why they bother. A hopeful 2-1 to the good guys.

  16. 16
    Doctor Fautus says:

    A supremely enjoyable preview Ned!

    I am assuming the monks are busy with the preparation for upcoming festivities and decided to hold back the more sepia-tinted details of the history of this fixture? 🙂

    If our super Saka has even a minor niggle I think Mikel will be right to err on the side of caution. In that case I would like to see either Gabi (preferred) or Pépé (ManU left sided defense would leave spaces for him to attack) start over Laca.

    If Auba scores today he will be the first ever Arsenal player to score against ManU in three consecutive away matches. A very good reason for him to end this mini-streak of profligacy.

    Enjoy the match everyone!

  17. 17
    North Bank Ned says:

    Thanks, Dr F. I agree with you about protecting Saka. There must be a danger of aggravating the injury if he is not 100%. Worse, it could turn into a season-long niggle that will see him in and out of the team. I am sure Trev can weigh in more knowledgeably on the risks.

    Hoping for fresh supplies of sepia tone to be in by the next time I’m up in the preview rotation. 🙂

  18. 18
    Esso says:

    Cheers Ned!

  19. 19
    Tapera Doma says:

    Hello everyone.
    If I could pick the team for tonight, & if Saka is fit to play I would have
    Tierney, Gabriel, White, Toma
    Partey & AMN
    Martinelli ESR Saka (left wing).

  20. 20
    Silly Second Yella says:

    Come on!

  21. 21
    bt8 says:

    Come on Brentford and Arsenal. Double deelite ?

  22. 22
  23. 23
    Mulerise14 says:

    We should not start Saka as what we stand to loose will be much more than whatever we might gain by starting him.
    We need 11 workers on the pitch and unavailability of Saka should mean a change of formation kinda, for there is no like for like to replace him. I’m of two mind starting Tierney, but if I were the gaffer it would certainly not be at the expense of Tavares….so I will go with 3-4-3;

    White Gabriel Tierney
    Tomiyasu Partey Lokonga Tavares
    Martinelli Laca ESR.
    This is certainly not the match for both Ødeegard and Auba.

  24. 24
    bt8 says:

    The dot.con says 47% (7 of 15) of Arsenal’s Premier League goals this season have been scored by players aged 21 or younger. ESR with 4, Saka 2, Martinelli 1. Round numbers are cool so expect one of those guys to bring us up to a 50% with the first goal.

  25. 25
    bt8 says:

    Don’t forget Nuno is 21 too.

  26. 26
    Esso says:

    Arseblog – “Martinelli and Elneny starting apparently – I guess Saka hasn’t made it”

  27. 27
    scruzgooner says:

    lovely work, ned (and, one assumes, the monks). can’t believe we’ll hit a ton with a loss there today. damn it, let’s not.

    keep saka out of the starting lineup for pepe, bring in kt3 for tavares, and stay defensively disciplined. as you say, they’re missing pogba, and he’s their leading assister. hopefully with tp5 and sambi behind martin with esr, auba, and pepe ahead we’ll do fine until we add saka and martinelli to the mix in the 70th minute. and maybe tavares so he can run at the tiring ball of goo that is shaw.

  28. 28
    Esso says:

    Arsenal: Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tavares, Partey, Elneny, Odegaard, Martinelli, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang

    Subs: Okonkwo, Tierney, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Sambi, Pepe, Saka, Lacazette, Nketiah

  29. 29
    scruzgooner says:

    esso@26, if that’s the case, it may be that arteta knows mo’neny brings enough against this manure squad…let’s hope.

  30. 30
    scruzgooner says:

    interesting that leno isn’t on the bench. i hadn’t heard he’s injured. are we to believe he’s behind okonkwo in the pecking order? how his stock has fallen.

  31. 31
    Esso says:

    Man Utd: De Gea, Lindelof, Maguire, Telles, Dalot, Fred, Fernandes, McTominay, Sancho, Rashford, Ronaldo

    Subs: Henderson, Bailly, Jones, Lingard, Mata, van de Beek, Amad, Greenwood, Martial

  32. 32
    Silly Second Yella says:

    Mo’s the man!

  33. 33
    scruzgooner says:

    damn, shaw doesn’t make their team.

  34. 34
    Esso says:

    Least SlabHead is back.

  35. 35
    bathgooner says:

    A very surprising selection. Let’s hope it works!

    Give everything and go win, Gunners!

  36. 36
    Silly Second Yella says:

  37. 37
    North Bank Ned says:

    Scruz@33: Shaw was having a late fitness test, which I assume he failed.

    Gabi or Laca was probably a toss-up in my selection, but I am surprised about Mo replacing Lokonga unless it was planned rotation.

    Glad to see that Saka is not starting. I hope he can spend the full game sitting on the bench, resting.

    Low risk of a goalkeeping sub coming on, so you would doubt that Leno is being protected ahead of a sale. Injured?

  38. 38
    Las says:

    MA should know he is the gaffe. But be surprised me, us with Elneny.
    All n’ all it is an attacking team selection.

  39. 39
    scruzgooner says:

    ned@37, i’d hope he’d pass it, we’d rip his jelly roll to shreds.

    agreed with saka. though if we need, he can give us a goal with a few to play. hopefully gabi will obviate that need with a hattrick, especially against mickey mouse maguire.


  40. 40
    bt8 says:

    Graeme Lesaux commentating on Maguire pulling back Tomiyasu in the penalty area: “That is a blatant penalty … That is so obvious … I am still trying to take it in.”

    No VAR review, of course by the incompetent officials

  41. 41
    Gooner_KS says:

    We can beat them if we play our game, get in, Odeee

  42. 42
    Gooner_KS says:

    And now the VAR gets involved…😡

  43. 43
    Esso says:

    Pretty shit

  44. 44
    OsakaMatt says:

    Bastard of a result, but can’t fault the

  45. 45
    North Bank Ned says:

    Trust Atkinson to find a penalty against us.

    I thought we were good for a point, if not all three.

  46. 46
    bathgooner says:

    @35, it didn’t.

    Why were we so passive between the first two goals?

  47. 47
    Las says:

    All too bad

  48. 48
    scruzgooner says: