Last Stand at Old Trafford: Previewing Manchester United vs. Arsenal

We discuss how Arsenal have so often gone to Old Trafford expecting to dispatch United in recent years, only to be violently rebuffed.

by Will Magee
Nov 18 2016, 2:59pm

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While Old Trafford used to be considered the Premier League's most formidable fortress, it's lost much of its impregnable aura in recent years. In the Alex Ferguson era, it was rare that a major rival would take points home from Manchester, while smaller sides would invariably be crushed under the vast weight of United's enormous presence. These days, things are rather different; United have already dropped seven points at home during the course of this campaign. Old Trafford's ramparts were breached under David Moyes, while the place was practically torn apart during the turgid reign of Louis van Gaal. Their successor is now having to rebuild the old fortress, and struggling to shore up its defences. Jose Mourinho might have inherited a footballing citadel, but he finds it half crumbled to debris and dust.

Those crumbling defences face a stern test this weekend, when United host Arsenal in Saturday's early kick off. The visitors are unbeaten since their opening day defeat to Liverpool, and arrive two places and six points ahead of Mourinho's men. With United languishing in sixth place, and struggling to put together a consistent run, this seems like as good a chance as any for the North London side to plunder three points from their old rivals. That said, Arsenal have something of a track record when it comes to failing to capitalise on United's weaknesses, as has become infuriatingly clear since Ferguson retired.

Beyond Arsene Wenger's abysmal record against Jose Mourinho, the main worry for the visitors should be their ongoing dearth of form at Old Trafford. Barring an FA Cup win in early 2015, Wenger's men haven't won at the Theatre of Dreams since September 2006. They have had ample chances to do so in the last few seasons, having come up against Moyes and Van Gaal's teams in the league at times of glaring vulnerability; United's home games against the Gunners have often felt like doomed last stands. Nonetheless, without fail, Arsenal have somehow managed to fuck things up.

Last season's 3-2 defeat to a practical youth team followed up on a 1-1 draw during the 2014/15 campaign, and a 1-0 loss to Moyes' flaccid set up the season before that. When Arsenal should have been avenging years of drubbings – not to mention the indelible mark on the club's history that is their infamous 8-2 defeat – they have instead launched a series of lacklustre assaults on their opponent's fortifications, and been violently and sometimes humiliatingly repulsed. Though, on paper, they have a good chance of taking Old Trafford by storm this weekend, memories of their club-record defeat seem still to resonate in the modern day. Again, there's also the Wenger-Mourinho dynamic to worry about, so don't be surprised if the visitors take a relative battering and get sent home with their tails between their legs.