With just five matches remaining in the Premier League season, Arsène Wenger’s side is in serious jeopardy of missing out on the Champions League for the first time since the Frenchman’s first season in charge at the club. Never before in football history have transfer windows been more important and it is impossible to say how damaging a season without Champions League could be for Arsenal, who have been an almost permanent fixture in Europe’s premier competition over the last two decades. With this in mind, as long as it is still possible, qualification for the Champions League this season should be prioritized with maximum importance.
Arsenal currently sit in 6th, six points behind Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in 4th, albeit with a game in hand, have a relatively difficult run in. Tough trips to Southampton and Stoke before hosting Sunderland and Everton lie ahead. Of course, these games are far from the minds of any Arsenal supporter with José Mourinho and Manchester United on their way to the Emirates for Sunday’s match. Arsenal have struggled to put together a consistent run of results for some time and will need to perform much better on Sunday than last weekend’s debacle in order to secure a positive result.
Arsenal’s task is quite daunting considering they are facing both Manchester United and José Mourinho, both historically tough opponents. During Wenger’s reign, only one English club (Sheffield Wednesday rather shockingly) have a better points-per-game ratio against Arsenal than Manchester United. Wenger’s Arsenal side have won just 17 times in 55 matches against United, with just 6 wins coming since the move to the Emirates in 2006. This poor record against United combined with Wenger’s much-publicized struggles against Mourinho, in which Arsenal have won just once (2015 Community Shield v. Chelsea) in 16 meetings with Mourinho’s sides, make for difficult reading for Arsenal fans. Rather than think about these dismal stats I just spouted off, however, I prefer to forget about this weekend for a while and look back at a historic match between Arsenal and United.
9 November 1997. Highbury. Back to back defending champions Manchester United turn up at Highbury already four points clear at the top of the table. Arsenal needed a result to prevent United running away with yet another title. The match started well for the Gunners, pressing Sir Alex’s men high up the pitch and creating chances. Less than seven minutes into the match, Nicolas Anelka, starting in place of the suspended Dennis Bergkamp, picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box and let rip, beating Schmeichel at his near post. The goal was Anelka’s first for the club. Midway through the half, Patrick Vieira scored Arsenal’s second with a memorable strike from the top of the box following an Arsenal corner. 2-0 up and cruising.
Things went sour as the half continued. Ex-Sp*rs striker Teddy Sheringham scored a brace before halftime to level up the scores. To combat United’s increased attacking threat, Wenger brought on Steve Bould for Vieira at the break, Bould slotted into a makeshift back three alongside Tony Adams and Gilles Grimandi. Arsenal continued to create chances including a wonderful chance for substitute Christopher Wreh saved brilliantly by Schmeichel. What happened next will forever be a part of Arsenal history. Former United youngster David Platt met Winterburn’s corner ahead of his marker and headed what is undoubtedly one of the best
headers in Premier League history into the top corner. The commentary alone is enough to give one goosebumps. The late winner gave Arsenal the confidence that they could challenge United at the top. Wins over big teams like this can have incredible psychological effects on the players, often leading to future successes. And sure enough, just four matches later, Arsenal would embark on that incredible 18 match unbeaten run that made them champions for the first time under Wenger. (Side note Sp*rs finished 14th that season)
While there will be no repeat a title charge like in 97-98, a positive result on Sunday could go a long way to allowing Arsenal to be serious contenders in the years to come. Not only will a win greatly increase Arsenal’s chances of reaching the Champions League, it could also help Arsenal in the long-term overcome what can only be described as an inferiority complex against top teams like United that will help them in future matches, including the FA Cup Final later this month.