By Adam Joseph
It was not a dream. Manchester United won two games of football this week. Not only that, they scored eight goals in those two games. Sure, Shrewsbury and FC Midtjylland were the minnows that faced United but they can only beat the teams put in front of them. Unrelenting criticism has been replaced by temporary optimism. But Arsenal presents a whole different challenge.
Back in October the Gunners put Louis Van Gaal’s men to the sword, teaching them a lesson in a 3-0 first half annihilation. The Dutchman got his tactics all wrong, asking an ageing double pivot (Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger) and number ten (Wayne Rooney) to press Arsenal when their failing legs do not really allow them to do so.
The game was nothing short of a nightmare. Not exactly a familiar feeling against Arsene Wenger’s men in recent times. They head into the clash as underdogs at Old Trafford against the Londoners for the first time in Premier League history. Youth has served them well this week and the team has gelled at both ends for the most part. Lightning striking a third time against much tougher opponents is a huge task.
Marcus Rashford has stolen the headlines after a dazzling debut, and has drawn the praises of the press and public worldwide after his second half brace. Joe Riley impressed too, and may keep his place unless Marcos Rojo is rushed back into the starting lineup as has been speculated.
What United will need before the game and during, is a bit of luck. David De Gea, Chris Smalling and Anthony Martial all missed the midweek European fixture with various injuries, and Van Gaal will be praying he can name all three in the starting XI. Sergio Romero has been a surprisingly able replacement in the Spaniard’s absence, but he is quite simply not De Gea.
Smalling’s absence forced Michael Carrick to partner Daley Blind, in an enterprise of two of the team’s defensive midfielders, not centre backs. They will need their star centre back more than ever against Arsenal. Martial was ably replaced Thursday, but he has a quality nobody else in the squad has. The reliance the team has on a 20 year old forward is quite scary.
Memphis Depay however provided a ray of hope in what has been a dark time for him. The wide forward has not been short of critics this season, and they have been fierce. Tabloids took it upon themselves to report that he’d bought toilet roll, such as the depths they were willing to plumb. He set a record for dribbles completed in a Europa League game, and tormented André Rømer the player claimed to almost be in tears post match.
It brought serious hope that Memphis could indeed prove his doubters wrong and turn around his career at Old Trafford. His best games have been against European minnows yes, but it’s an indication that the world class talent he displayed so brilliantly for PSV Eindhoven last season is very much there. He now needs only the time, patience and opportunity to showcase it.
With a colossal injury list, this weekend is the Dutchman’s first chance following his brilliant display. His matchup with rising star Héctor Bellerín will be a joy to watch, and it will be a serious test for both players. Whether an inexperienced defence can sustain serious pressure that also may or may not have their number one keeper will also be a tough assignment.
There are reasons for optimism following a week of positivity. Van Gaal also has a terrific record against the big clubs in his Manchester tenure. But in reality that’s hard to gauge because United have simply not played too many of them this season. They’ve played Leicester, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City once each. A lot more will be discovered in the four meetings that are to come.
Adam Joseph is a freelance writer from Melbourne, Australia. Manchester United fan from back when they were the only team on Australian TV and it was love at first sight. Manchester United, Oklahoma City Thunder, New England Patriots and Carlton Blues fanatic. If it’s sport related, I’ll talk about it.
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