Both sides are once again fighting for the title despite unconvincing performances
LONDON: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is in pressing need of a positive outcome as his side prepare to welcome Premier League leaders Manchester United to the Emirates Stadium this Sunday.
Fourth-placed Arsenal are only three points below United, but Wenger’s methods have once again fallen under scrutiny following the London club’s abject 3-2 home defeat by Olympiakos in the Champions League on Tuesday.
The result left Arsenal struggling to avoid a first group-stage exit since 1999 and saw Wenger aggressively rebuked in the British press for his decision to select second-choice goalkeeper David Ospina, who palmed a first-half corner into his own net, instead of new signing Petr Cech.
Wenger came out fighting in his weekly press conference on Friday, branding the media’s focus on Ospina “very, very, very, very boring” and threatening to walk out when he was asked about Jose Mourinho’s claim that he is the only English top-flight manager free from pressure.
Defeat at United’s hands would only provide further fuel for those critics who cite Arsenal’s 11-year wait for a league title and five successive last-16 eliminations in the Champions League as proof that Wenger is presiding over a period of terminal decline.
But Wenger would point to Arsenal’s successive FA Cup triumphs as evidence to the contrary and having seen his team end Leicester City’s unbeaten start to the season with a 5-2 win at the King Power Stadium last weekend, he is confident of a first home win over United since May 2011.
“It is a special fixture because usually Man United- are always fighting at the top,” said the Frenchman, who shared a tumultuous rivalry with former United manager Alex Ferguson between 1997 and 2005. “It has an even bigger meaning now because there are three points between the teams and we play at home in a big game.”
United manager Louis van Gaal describes Wenger, who this week celebrates 19 years with Arsenal, as “one of the best coaches in the world”, but says that he would not like to endure a comparable league title drought.
“I have won a lot of titles and I want to do that in different countries,” said Van Gaal, whose side beat Wolfsburg 2-1 in the Champions League on Wednesday to register a fourth successive victory.
While Cech is expected to come in for Ospina, Arsenal will be without centre-back Laurent Koscielny, who sustained a hamstring injury against Olympiakos that saw him join Mathieu Flamini, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky on the sidelines.
Merseyside derby offers chance for Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers has never lost a Merseyside derby as Liverpool manager and extending that record at Everton appears imperative to stop another round of soul-searching about his future.
Rodgers’ position has come under severe scrutiny during a run of just one win in five Premier League games and two unconvincing draws in the Europa League.
A first defeat for Liverpool in the Merseyside derby since October 2010 would only increase the pressure on Rodgers during the up-coming international break.
But the Northern Irishman said that he believes his team is improving as they look to secure the win they need to go above fifth placed Everton in the Premier League table. “This is my fourth season of going to Goodison Park and we’ve played well there,” he said. “We’ve never lost there in my time. Hopefully that continues.”
Everton appear to be the more content of the two rivals. While Liverpool have struggled for consistency, Roberto Martinez’s side have come through a testing start to the Premier League season relatively unscathed.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2015.
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