Arsenal can take an important step towards mounting a sustainable title challenge when facing Manchester United at Old Trafford this Saturday, a game that marks the return of Premier League football following the international break.
The Gunners, currently 4th in the Premier League table and within touching distance of table-toppers Liverpool, head north with a ten-game unbeaten run to protect, winning seven out of their last ten league games since the 4-3 defeat at home to the Merseysiders in the first game of the season.
Contrarily, Man United trail the north Londoners by six points from 6th place, with poor form thus far seeing the Red Devils accumulate just one league win since the end of the month of September.
Arsenal, however, haven’t found themselves on the winning side of a league result at Old Trafford for little more than a decade, whereas Man United were able to get their name behind eight wins from a possible ten in this very fixture since 2006.
Arsène Wenger’s record against José Mourinho, a hot topic in the build-up to Saturday’s game, has also seen Arsenal’s rep come away as second best from direct duels, with the Frenchman’s only victory against the former Chelsea boss coming in last season’s 1-0 win in the Community Shield versus the Blues.
Should the Gunners buck the trend, they’ll have to do it without a number of familiar faces, more notably, and definitively, the Spanish duo of Héctor Bellerín and Santi Cazorla.
The young right back has been ruled out for four weeks with an ankle injury sustained in the final exchanges of the north London derby earlier this month, whereas no timespan has been placed on Santi Cazorla’s eventual return from an Achilles injury, with the midfielder yet to return to any form of training.
Wenger is also at risk of being without his two top goal scorers. The physical well-being of Alexis Sánchez has dominated the Arsenal spectrum after the Chilean played 84 minutes of football for his country, despite fears over a small hamstring tear.
Now the in-form Theo Walcott could also find himself out of the first-team selection, whose wife looks set to give birth this weekend.
Completing Arsenal’s growing list of absentees are Lucas Pérez, Per Mertesacker, Danny Welbeck and Chuba Akpom.
Man United have involuntary gaps of their own, with doubts looming over the availability of Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellaini and the injury-hit Luke Shaw.
The hosts will also be without the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic, present in every Premier League game so far for the Red Devils, meanwhile the injuries to trusted centre-back pairing Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly will again leave the likes of Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones spare.
Predicted XI: Petr Čech; Carl Jenkinson, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Francis Coquelin, Granit Xhaka; Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, Alex Iwobi; Olivier Giroud