After a devastating performance at White Hart Lane, the Gunners return to the pitch to face another demon. Sunday, they host archrival United and Wenger boogeyman, Jose Mourinho. How you approach this match shows how you view the Arsenal – this match is either a major opportunity to slay a demon in favourable conditions or a prime opportunity to add further embarrassment to a season to forget.
The Special One Already Winning the Mind Games
Jose Mourinho owes a lot of his success in England to Arsene Wenger. As Chelsea manager, The Special One consistently got under the Frenchman’s skin in pre- and post-match antics. It is continuing at Manchester United. According to both, however, the great handshake debate is over and they will be on their best behaviour tomorrow.
That said, Mourinho is already winning the pre-match battle. After United’s Europa League match on Thursday, Mourinho said that this competition, not the Premier League, was his priority. Of course, that’s not the whole truth; Manchester United finishing outside the top four in his first season is a reason for pause and not what the Board brought the controversial manager in to do. A Europa League title and automatic Champions League place assuages some of these concerns, but it still isn’t the promised immediate improvement.
What it does do, however, is remove any pressure from his side and place it squarely on the home side. If United win, they do it despite playing players he would not normally start. If Arsenal win it’s against an opponent with a midweek match forced to rotate the squad. Pressure and expectations fall squarely on the team that folds most under pressure.
Point of No Return for Mesut Ozil
By now everyone is familiar with the post-Spurs story of Mesut Ozil’s poor reaction to a requested drug test. It followed a poor showing in the match and an overall underwhelming showing this entire season. Ozil’s reputation and his sparks of amazingness to this point have been good enough to justify his exalted reputation. Wenger singled him out for defence this week, noting in his pre-match press conference, “His style is more fluid, less aggressive, but it doesn’t mean you want it less than others.”
However, Ozil is now at a turning point in his Arsenal career. Negotiating a new contract and publicly backing Wenger, it is time for Ozil to play like he did when he first arrived at London. His disappearing act in some of the team’s biggest matches means he is seen in the same light as players like Theo Walcott – good at times but not justifying the drama around him and his contract. This may be a bit extreme, but compare how Alexis and Ozil’s contracts are perceived. The former is a symbol of Arsenal’s title ambitions, the latter’s is not.
Regardless of how many youth players they run out, United playing Arsenal is a “must see” match. Ozil rebounding against a hodgepodge Red Devil midfield would reshape the narrative and redirect the pressure away from him.
Predicted Arsenal Starting XI:
Cech; Gabriel, Koscielny, Holding; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Monreal; Ozil, Alexis; Giroud
This match is a shot at redemption for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. Even if it is the substitutes playing, they are wearing that Manchester United red. Besides Chelsea in the FA Cup final, this is the club’s last chance to take down a major name (sorry Evertonians). If they want to end the season on a run like last season, this is a prime opportunity to start. A win over Manchester United erases a little of the hurt and makes us fans feel a little better beating Mourinho’s side.
However, the psychology of this team at this point gives me little reason for hope. The best thing going for the home side is the squad rotation. Thus I anticipate a sloppy 2-2 draw.