What does the first Man U vs. Arsenal clash mean for their...

What does the first Man U vs. Arsenal clash mean for their next encounter?

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“Arsenal vs Manchester United” (CC BY 2.0) by wonker
In their first meeting of the season, Manchester United and Arsenal shared the spoils in the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. United were clearly the better team in the encounter, and the Gunners were lucky to come away with a point. The failure to win has hurt both managers. The pressure is mounting on Jose Mourinho after a poor start to the campaign, and Arsene Wenger is still haunted by his continued failure to beat his Portuguese counterpart.

With nothing resolved in the first run-in between the two sides, there is a lot riding on the opposing fixture. Here’s an assessment of the current situation between the two heavyweights.
Wenger has still never beaten Mourinho in the league


Mourinho has been the bane of Wenger’s existence since the self-professed “Special One” joined the Premier League. Their dislike of each other has been well-documented, and they constantly seize the opportunity to have a dig at one another in interviews and on the side-lines. Up to this point, it’s Mourinho who has had the upper-hand, as Wenger has never managed to beat one of the former Real Madrid man’s teams in the league. The only time the Frenchman won a contest between the two managers was the Community Shield in 2015, when Arsenal narrowly won 1-0.
Wenger and Mourinho have now met 12 times in the top flight. There have been 7 draws, and the two-time Champions League winner has won the other 5 matches.
One of the main criticisms of the Arsenal manager in recent years has been his inability to pick up the points against Arsenal’s main rivals. This season they have managed to beat Chelsea, but lost to Liverpool and only drew against Tottenham Hotspur and Man U. This isn’t good enough for a team that are supposedly challenging for the title, and if Wenger fails to secure 3 points against Mourinho’s side at the Emirates in May they may well be out of the race. That’s if the Gunners manage to maintain this form until the final fight for the finish line.
Analysis of the Old Trafford clash

As seen in the video above, the last meeting between the two sides was an electrifying episode. The experts had tipped a tight affair ending in a draw and were vindicated, but it was United who deserved to take the three points. Mourinho has a tendency of late to feel hard done by, but he had a point on this occasion – the penalty claim that was denied by referee Andre Marriner when Nacho Monreal pulled Antonio Valencia down in the box was unfortunate. Juan Mata’s powerful finish was pure class, though, and should have been enough to win the game.
United had 12 efforts on goal with 5 on target, whereas Arsenal fired off a measly 5 shots, all of which went astray apart from the last-gasp leveller from Olivier Giroud in the 89th minute. The Frenchman’s goal was the first Arsenal have scored against Mourinho in the league since May 2007, so it could be that the World Cup finalist has lifted the curse in time for the next encounter. Giroud did not look happy to be used as an impact substitute, though, and he may well have done enough to earn a place in the starting XI for next time. That’s if the big poacher isn’t coaxed away in the January transfer window by the prospect of more regular football elsewhere.
Changes to be made by both sides
There is no denying that Alexis Sanchez is one of the top players in the division, but his failure to score goals when it matters is a pressing issue. In recent weeks he has slotted away a couple of braces against Sunderland and Bournemouth, but versus Spurs and Man U he was completely ineffective. With Giroud coming on and scoring the winning goal, Wenger may be tempted to start with the big man as the focal point of his attack, with the Chilean shifted out to the wing where he played for most of last season.
United were missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Old Trafford tie as the former PSG man was serving a one-match ban. Although the Swede has started slower in England than some expected, he is still firing more attempts on goal than any other player in the league. Furious to miss such a high profile fixture, there is no doubt he will be back in the fold for the next meeting.
United fans will also be hoping that by that time new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan will have become a mainstay down the flanks. The former Borussia Dortmund man has barely been given a chance this season, but racked up 11 goals and 15 assists in the Bundesliga last term. His attacking threat could be just what United have been lacking.
Pressure on Mourinho
With only a third of the season played, United have been dismissed by many as title contenders. Some bookies are offering odds as long as 50/1 for the Red Devils to lift the trophy. Mourinho’s job is already under scrutiny, and the pressure clearly got to him when he was given his third touchline ban of the season against West Ham. The former Chelsea boss kicked a water bottle in fury over the referee’s decision to book Paul Pogba for diving. After 16 games in charge of the club, Mourinho’s record was worse than those of both David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal. The Scotsman won 9, drew 4, and lost 3, the Dutchman won 8, drew 4, and lost four, and Mourinho won 8, drew 3, and lost 5. These stats are sure to keep the three-time Premier League winner up at night.

United have a huge mountain to climb but the club have reduced large deficits in the past. Mourinho must focus on the league and try to gather some momentum during the festive period if the next meeting with Arsenal in the league is to be a noteworthy contest.
The next meeting


The importance of the next league meeting between these two sides will all come down to how they play over the coming months. The fixture is set for the first week of May, with only two game-weeks remaining afterwards. If both teams are firmly in the title race at that point then the clash will have a lot riding on it.
Arsenal are up there at the moment contending with the top sides and haven’t lost a game in the League since the opening day of the season. If they can navigate the busy Christmas schedule and keep key players fit then there is no reason why they can’t keep their place in the chasing pack.
United on the other hand already have an 11 point trail on league leaders Chelsea to make up, which would require a miracle. But that’s what this time of year is for – and anything can happen in this league.
No matter what happens, the next time these managers meet there are sure to be fireworks. Wenger is still desperate to beat Mourinho, and the United boss just loves to wind up the Arsenal man. With such a long wait until that clash, it’s hard to predict how the actual game will pan out. However, there is a chance that the two teams could meet in the FA Cup before then – which would give Wenger a chance to have another crack at shattering the psychological edge Mourinho has possessed up to this point.

Amit Singh is the editor of Think Football and contributes for a number of other football websites, follow on twitter @Think_Football