Defeat Man United or Forget Champions League?

The time has finally come to play out the reverse fixture of the 8-2 defeat that Arsenal suffered at the hands of Manchester United on that horrific August evening at Old Trafford. The memories of that mauling are fresh on the minds of not only the Gunners fans but also European bookies like Champions League betting, which is why Arsenal have been priced as the underdogs even though this Sunday’s match is taking place in the North Londoners’ own backyard.

The Arsenal fans want revenge of that humiliation caused to them by the nature of that lop-sided defeat but it is probably not the right approach to go into such a crucial match by setting the target of a ‘big’ win to satisfy injured souls. In a recent interview with the British tabloid The Sun, Arsenal’s Swiss centre-half Johan Djourou confessed that he has revenge on his mind.

“It’s a fantastic game for us after Swansea which was difficult to swallow. It will be a bounce-back game. We have to turn up, we have the away game still in our minds so there is revenge to take. We have to keep working hard to try to improve. We have to fight to get in the top four,” added Djourou. “It will be a difficult task but there is a long way to go.”

Mentioning the ‘revenge’ factor in the build-up to such an important game might be a good strategy to up the moral of a team that recently lost to Barclays Premier League minnows Swansea City. But Djourou and company should also be careful about not getting overexcited and committing too many fouls and reckless challenges. It is worth noting that in their last match, the one-sidedness of the scoreline overshadowed the fact that Arsenal had picked up four yellows cards and a red. Had Carl Jenkinson not been sent off in the 77th minute of the match, then United may not have scored the two additional goals. Not much of a difference really but 6-2 is certainly better than 8-2 if you think about it.

Djourou isn’t the only one who had something to say today. Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood has apparently told the Daily Star that it would not be a big deal if they miss out on a top four position at the end of the season. Coach Arsene Wenger’s men currently occupy the fifth position on the league table and are four points behind city rivals Chelsea. By the time they take the field to host United, there is every possibility that they could be trailing Chelsea by seven points, if the Blues manage to collect all three against Norwich City on Saturday.

“We are hanging on in there, no more. From a financial point of view, not qualifying for the Champions League is quite a blow. We have been planning for not qualifying every year, so it’s not a disaster, but it would be nice if we could,” Hill-Wood told the British publication.

So is Hill-Wood trying to prepare the Arsenal faithful for life in the Europa League? Let’s hope not. But erasing a seven-point gap on Chelsea in the second half of the season could prove to be a very difficult task considering that the Blues’ form has improved lately and they are likely to strengthen their squad in the on-going transfer window.

Hence, if Arsenal are serious about qualifying for the UEFA Champions League this season, they have to defeat bitter rivals Manchester United at the Emirates on Sunday. It doesn’t matter if they avenge the 8-2 loss or not. What matters are the three points that Wenger and his troops cannot afford to drop.

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