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Picking over the Manchester United carcass, or kicking a club while it's down

A key fixture against Manchester United could decide if Arsenal can consolidate their third place spot and chase second.

ANALYST
Feature 17 May 2015, 16:08 IST
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Coquelin Fellaini
Marouane Fellaini has emerged as a surprise regular in Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United

A season that once felt brimming with promise and potential just one week ago now seems to have gone off the rails – and yet we still sit in third place, behind two of the heaviest spending clubs in the Premier League and ahead of another.

So why the gloom and doom? A week ago, we knew that three wins and a draw would secure second place. Swansea didn’t get the memo. Or maybe they did. At any rate, we now go into the belly of a beast hoping to catch lightning in a bottle a second time.

Somewhere in there is a warning, something about lightning never striking twice in the same spot, but I don’t think it quite applies here.

Even if Manchester United are eager to qualify for a Champions League spot, they’ve looked more than a bit wobbly in their last four or five outings, needing a generous penalty to slink out of Selhurst Park last weekend in order to end a three-game losing streak. Making matters worse for them, Wayne Rooney limped off at half time and might join Michael Carrick and Rafael on the injured list, as might Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, and Robin van Persie.

The absence of that last one might prove to be a blessing more to United than to us as it deprives us of a spite-laden motivational target while liberating the Red Devils’ offense from his fading skills and me-first attitude.  

More-pertinent might be the absence of Michael Carrick who, despite his age, has been a crucial if overlooked cog in the Manchester side’s play. Without him, there’s frequently a lack of form or structure to the defense that we might be able to exploit.

The loss to Swansea might have been a kick in the teeth, but it might also be the kick we need to go into Old Trafford with intensity rather than complacency. We’d been riding high, and although I’m not a fan of the idea that a team needs to lose in order to refocus, I’d trade a loss to Swansea for a win over Man U nine times out of ten.

Our lads have got to be angry at the chance they’ve squandered – finishing second now depends on Man City dropping points – and this bodes well for invading Old Trafford. The last time we were there, of course, we won in stunning fashion to earn a place in the FA Cup semi-final.

Winning this time through would confirm third place in the Prem while keeping the heat on Man City as well. They have to visit Swansea and host Southampton, neither one an easy task.

For all of the hand-wringing of the previous week, we could very well emerge feeling quite good. Despite their win last weekend, United look vulnerable, and we could deliver a knock-out punch on Sunday.

Liverpool's loss to Crystal Palace allows Manchester United to back their way into that fourth place finish; whether this saps their desire for the third-place fight is another question. Should we win or draw, we'll have third place sewn up; even if United win, we could still finish above them by taking four points from our remaining two matches—not that I see us needing to.

They spent 150m on transfer fees this summer and were unburdened of any continental commitments, yet they'll finish fourth thanks more to the ineptitude of others than to their own efforts. Yes, they'll qualify for Champions League play, but it's hard to feel like this squad will remain intact. If we can nab the win, we can exacerbate the exodus all the more.

Last 3:
Man Utd 1-2 Arsenal (09-03-2015)
Arsenal 1-2 Man Utd (22-11-2014)
Arsenal 0-0 Man Utd (12-02-2014)

Factfile:
The two clubs first met on 13 October 1894, a 3-3 draw between Newton Heath and Woolwich Arsenal.
Arsenal have won their last five away matches in the Prem.
Arsenal haven’t won a Premier League match at Old Trafford since 17 September 2006.

Injuries:
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mathieu Debuchy, and Mikel Arteta have been ruled out, while Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey face late fitness tests.

Possible Starting XI
Ospina; Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerin; Coquelin, Cazorla; Alexis, Özil, Walcott; Giroud.

This one has the looks of another barn-burner, but the Gunners should find a way past David de Gea in order to steal three points.

Prediction: Man Utd 1-2 Arsenal

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