In what will be the final home game of the season, Manchester United entertain Arsenal with perhaps a last shot at third place in the league. Should United continue their impressive record against Arsenal in the Premier League, the Red Devils will spend Sunday night third, in the last automatic Champions League place, pending Arsenal's game in hand at home to Sunderland in mid-week.
With Champions League football all but secured, United can thank their home form for what has in essence been a successful campaign in terms of the Chief season's target. The irony of our home form though is that it is Swansea, Southampton and West Brom that have come away from Old Trafford with all three points. The theme therefore is that United have established themselves against the top sides that come to Old Trafford and want to play. Therein though lies the landmine ahead of the Premier League's signature fixture in the recent past.
United's dominance over Arsenal, in this fixture has been built on preying on Arsenal' weaknesses and destroying whatever strength there is in them. It is not far from the truth to suggest that the brand of football that van Gaal is implementing at United is more or less the kind that Arsene Wenger has instilled in the Arsenal. The difference is that Wenger no longer has the calibre of players to drive his style through the nitty gritties of a season. Van Gaal has coached at clubs that have allowed him to retain those players and hence make a success of it. Arsenal are however ahead of United in the league because their players are accomplished in that style of football. United are admittedly, not yet there, as evidenced in the inability to break down sides that sit deep.
Taking on Arsenal at their own game therefore will carry with it an element of risk. Indeed, the Gunners have already won at Old Trafford in the FA Cup this season in what was punch for punch an even game except that our backline is not as good as theirs and so you can almost see why the vital mistake in the game was made by our defence. Francis Coquelin has added a bit of defensive steel to their midfield and allowed more of their creative players to thrive. Now, it's one thing having United all over a side that is not interested in coming at them, but quite another having to constantly hold out a four man creative midfield of Arsenal. It's not that the task is rocket science or anything of the sort but that our defence never leaves you confident enough to trust it to hold out in such games.
You only need to look at the race for the Golden Glove to see why our defence doesn't inspire confidence. David De Gea is considered by his fellow professionals and indeed by most of the rest of us as the best goalkeeper in the league and yet clean sheets are not easy to come by for him. For all his world class saves in-game, he lacks a stable and able backline to keep out the opposition at all costs. Such are the concerns ahead of this fixture.
A performance with the heart and passion of the Manchester derby though will go a long way to nullifying those fears. United let in 2 that day but at no point did they look like they would be beaten for passion and sheer will to win. It's a last home game of the season and a final chance to show the home support that next season will be different. Beat Arsenal, and it will be clear that United have matched all the big boys in the league. Lose, and concerns will over around the club over the summer as to whether they cam really make that step up to challenge for the title next season.
With Michael Carrick done for the season, again the jury will be out on Daley Blind in that holding role. It should be easier on them though this time because Arsenal will come out to play. The question is whether we shall be as neat and as clinical in the final third.
Closing a season on the back of two home defeats will leave a bad taste in the mouth. If ever there was a call for one last hurrah from United this season, this is it!