More heat on Arsenal

Wenger has much to prove; Emirates visit marks start of tough spell for United

Petr Cech (above) is set to return in goal for Arsenal after David Ospina's blunder in mid-week, while United's exciting teen Anthony Martial aims to plunder more goals.
Petr Cech (above) is set to return in goal for Arsenal after David Ospina's blunder in mid-week, while United's exciting teen Anthony Martial aims to plunder more goals. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

It is a situation few envisaged when Manchester United ended August with three goals from four games: They finished September top of the English Premier League.

They will spend October facing Arsenal, Everton, Manchester City and Crystal Palace. Meetings with four of the top seven should prove if the Red Devils are genuine title contenders.

If a month has made a difference, so has a signing. Anthony Martial may have begun as a costly curiosity, a 19-year-old who had scored only 11 league goals in his career and who could earn Monaco £58.8 million (S$127.45 million), but he has become a talisman. United have struck 11 times in his four league games.

He has drawn comparisons with Arsene Wenger's greatest player, Thierry Henry, but despite Martial's early success at United, the 65-year-old Wenger, who scouted his fellow Frenchman at Monaco, is adamant that the teenager is a winger.

Martial has the chance to prove otherwise which, given Wenger's stubborn refusal to buy a striker, would be especially embarrassing for the Arsenal manager.

The Frenchman's decision-making has already been called into question once this week, when the choice of David Ospina ahead of Petr Cech backfired alarmingly in the Champions League defeat by Olympiakos as the Colombian dropped a corner into the net.

Cech should be restored tomorrow. Returning Arsenal's fans to a state of happiness will be harder. It would probably need victory.

It is a result that they require for other reasons. Rewind two months and Arsenal were widely deemed likelier champions than United.

They may have ended Leicester's unbeaten run in spectacular style last week but their frailties seem too familiar and too pronounced to convince many that the trophy is bound for the Emirates Stadium.

But their match-winner seven days ago has the potential to assume a similar importance tomorrow.

Alexis Sanchez has four goals in two games and the prospect of facing a makeshift right-back, whether Antonio Valencia, who handed Arsenal victory at Old Trafford in the FA Cup in March with a dreadful back pass, or Ashley Young, who has never begun a first-team game there.

Yet in a game where both should field 4-2-3-1 formations, United could also be looking to exploit space behind the full-backs.

Arsenal's capacity to get caught on the counter-attack means defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin again shoulders a huge burden for snuffing out danger.

It may help that his immediate opponent is an out-of-sorts Wayne Rooney but Martial's arrival gives United devastating pace on the break.

And Arsenal may fear the precedent. Ten months ago, they dominated against United but lost 1-2. Rooney scored, but the pivotal player was an inspired David de Gea.

Wenger has since acquired a similarly fine goalkeeper in Cech, but failed to observe the obvious and pick him every game.

Now Arsenal are under the greater pressure as United threaten a second smash-and-grab raid.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2015, with the headline 'MORE HEAT ON ARSENAL'. Subscribe