The match-up that was once the Premier League’s best fixture is set for another edition on Wednesday, as Manchester United host Arsenal. The Reds and the Gunners come into this match in contrasting form - United on the brink of crisis (if they’re not there already) and Arsenal fresh off a thumping derby win. Friend of the site Paul DeBruler from Arsenal blog The Short Fuse stopped by to chat with us and discuss the match, Arsenal’s form this season, and that infamous January swap deal.
I stopped by their place and answered some questions as well.
The Busby Babe: So you’ve had to replace your legendary long-serving manager, and you haven’t fallen immediately into disrepair. Weird. How did you manage that?
The Short Fuse: It’s been a process. Arsene Wenger was solely in charge of almost literally everything at Arsenal, but last season, even before Wenger announced his departure, the club brought in a Director of Football, a Head of Recruitment, and a few other front office types in order to smooth the transition from 22 years of one guy in charge. And while Unai Emery hasn’t set the world alight (about which more later), he also hasn’t taken the club a step backwards, which as Manchester United fans well know was a risk after such a transition.
TBB: Unai Emery has obviously hit the ground running. I’ve been impressed with how quickly he’s managed to implement a system, and how he already has a good enough grasp on the players he has to make really effective in-game adjustments. What is the biggest impact that Emery has had on the club, in your opinion?
TSF: It’s hard to quantify, but the main difference relates to that system you mention - mostly in that he has one. Arsene Wenger was famous for recruiting intelligent players and basically letting them play, and letting them figure stuff out on their own, even when things went south. That went really well (see: the Invincibles), until it didn’t (see: the last two or three seasons). Emery is much more...rigid isn’t the word, but he has instilled a sense of positional and situational discipline in this squad that may not have been there before, and it has resulted in a squad that seems to be carrying a lot of confidence. Again, it’s all pretty unquantifiable, but Arsenal are different this season in a lot of ways.
TBB: It looks to me like your summer signings have been a success, but also that a few players previously at the club have improved this year. Who has been your best player so far this season?
TSF: Frustratingly, one of the best players at Arsenal this season is also a player that the club has rescinded a contract offer to. Aaron Ramsey apparently had an offer on the table, and then the new regime came in and pulled it off the table, reportedly because the wage demands were too high, saying that Ramsey was free to go at the end of the season. I hope that Arsenal, in light of how Ramsey’s been playing lately, rescinds their rescision and makes Ramsey another offer, because he’s very much key to this team. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been really solid too, despite Emery playing him out of position more often than not.
TBB: Any chance you’d take Alexis Sánchez back? How do Arsenal fans feel about Mkhitaryan? Has there ever been a less successful swap deal for every party involved than the one our clubs did in January? (Seriously, take Alexis back. He’s broken and we don’t want him. We thought it would be funny, and it was, but now it’s not.)
Nope. While I don’t think that Sánchez will ever rise up and claim the Ashley Cole What A Bastard Cup as a detested ex-Arsenal player, he didn’t really endear himself to many people in his last few months at the club, and watching him struggle has put smiles on many a North London face. He’s your problem now, and we wish you much luck (For what it’s worth, I was hoping Arsenal would “accidentally” leave Mkhitaryan behind at the airport on one of their Europa League trips, but no such luck).
TBB: What’s going on with Özil then? Any chance he plays on Wednesday? Does he have a future in this Arsenal team under Emery, or is the writing on the wall?
TSF: I wish I knew. There has apparently been a falling out of sorts between Emery and Özil, but no real details have been forthcoming. Rumors are that Özil has a back problem, but he was also kept off the squad at Bournemouth because Emery thought it would be, and I quote, “too demanding” for him. So, I have no idea, but it would appear Mesut’s days might be numbered .
TBB: United are in the midst of an injury crisis, and are coming into this game on the back of a run of disappointing performances. Arsenal on the other hand are in good health and riding the high of a big derby win. How do you rate your chances of getting your first league win at Old Trafford since 2006?
TSF: Honestly, trips to OId Trafford always scare me regardless of United’s form at the time. Arsenal can’t seem to shake whatever it is that ails them there, and while Wednesday sets up well for Arsenal, I can’t shake the feeling it might not go as well as I want it to.
TBB: With all the current injuries, it’s hard to predict how United will line up tomorrow. Where do you think the game will be won or lost?
TSF: With the Arsenal back line. This is a team that gave up 51 goals last season and is on pace to give up 48 this season. That is an improvement, sure, but that’s like saying owing $4,995 to a bookie is better than owing $5,000. Until this defense can stop leaking goals, I will never be comfortable.
TBB: Finally, your prediction for the final score?
TSF: 2-2, with Arsenal grabbing a late equalizer.
TBB: Always a pleasure, Paul. Thanks for stopping by.