For the second time this season, Arsenal have visited a title rival and come away after a sound beating with their tails tucked humiliatingly between their legs. After a sobering defeat at Eastlands against title favourites Manchester City, Saturday lunchtime saw them suffer a similar experience against Liverpool. The question now is whether, with the Gunners facing a midweek game against Manchester United, Arsene Wenger can pick up his charges’ form and secure the vital three points.
The history between Arsenal and Manchester United is pitted with reversals for both teams, but arguably, for the future of both teams, there will have few previous games where victory is of more importance than the game in midweek. For many weeks, actually many months, pundits have expected the Arsenal flow of form to melt away as Spring pokes its head around the corner. Many of those pundits may feel that the spanking they took at Anfield, much as with the daffodils breaking through the sodden ground, is a sure sign that Spring is on the way, and seeing the March flowers bloom, the Gunners’ fortunes are likely to dip. Well, that’s how the theory goes anyway.
United will rock up at the Emirates with a point to prove. A successful defence of their league title, is probably beyond even the dreams of the most optimistic United fan, but a top four finish, and Champions’ League qualification, has to be the minimum requirement. And, if the Old Trafford outfit are going to achieve that – which will probably mean deposing a rampant Liverpool team – they can ill afford to drop many points from here on in.
This being the case, a victory over the Gunners would be ideal, not only for the confidence it would breathe into the squad, but also for the chance to erode the points difference. With each passing game, the points flexibility that David Moyes has to hand diminishes, and losing at the Emirates, would probably stretch that flexibility to snapping point.
The question therefore is how good are Arsene Wenger’s powers of rejuvenation? Does he still have the hunger and drive to pick his team up from an embarrassing hiding and send them out in a promising mood to tackle United. In a game that neither team can afford to lose, it will be a test not only of Arsenal’s faltering title aspirations, but also of Arsene Wenger’s man management skills. David Moyes will probably be glad to see that the media attention, just for a change, may be on the other guy. That pressure could just lead to a big win for United.