Precious points in the top-four race will be up for grabs when Arsenal host Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League later today.
United are one place and five points ahead of the Gunners in the standings, but Arsenal have played a game fewer. Both teams have a lot of work to do to ensure a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Of the two, United’s chances look better, since the Red Devils can also qualify by winning this season’s UEFA Europa League. United are in the semi-final of the tournament, and there is a possibility manager Jose Mourinho may prioritise Europe by resting key players domestically.
By contrast, this looks like a must-win game for the struggling Gunners, particularly with pressure mounting on under-fire boss Arsene Wenger.
Wenger’s task will be tougher with key midfielder Granit Xhaka possibly missing out. The Arsenal chief confirmed Xhaka is a doubt after receiving a kick to the calf during last weekend’s north London derby loss to Tottenham Hotspur, per the club’s official website: “We still have Granit Xhaka out from the kick he got in the game. Mustafi’s back in normal training. That’s basically it.”
Xhaka has experienced an uneven first season in England’s top flight, yet there have been signs lately the Switzerland international is starting to adapt. In fact, Xhaka was proving his worth as an accurate distributor of the ball before struggling against Spurs.
If Xhaka is unable to play, Wenger will have a tough call to make in midfield between destroyer Francis Coquelin and the more steady Mohamed Elneny.
Wenger’s reference to centre-back Shkodran Mustafi returning to training could also be significant. The Gunners have deployed a back three recently, so Germany international Mustafi’s return is timely. He can join Laurent Koscielny, either instead of full-back Nacho Monreal or in place of Brazilian Gabriel, who floundered against Tottenham.
United have also had their share of injuries at the back, but Mourinho received a boost after naming centre-backs Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in the squad for the Europa League semi-final first leg against Celta Vigo.
One player involved against Celta who may not feature this Sunday is striker Marcus Rashford. Mourinho confirmed the England international, who scored the only goal against Celta on Thursday, went into the game less than 100 per cent.
Mourinho has hinted he may field a weakened side in the Premier League, according to James Ducker of the Daily Telegraph: “Mourinho confirmed David De Gea, rested for Sergio Romero against Celta, will start in goal against Arsenal but Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and Anthony Martial, none of whom started on Thursday, are also likely to be drafted in.”