Wenger vs. Mourinho: Which manager will be victorious on Saturday?
Old foes are reunited as Arsenal take on Manchester United this Saturday. The two big rivals in Premier League title races gone by may have fallen from grace in recent years but the match remains one of the big battles in a Premier League season.
Add to that the Arsene Wenger vs. Jose Mourinho dynamic and Saturday promises to be feisty. Tom Adams (Arsenal) and Scott Patterson (Manchester United) look ahead to the Emirates showdown.
What's at stake here?
Tom Adams: Arsenal vs. United still has a certain frisson to it, even if it is no longer the biggest match in the Premier League and certainly not the biggest match for either side. This fixture has lost a bit of the intensity that made it so special but any meeting of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho is a meaningful one. This matters.
For Arsenal, it's a chance to continue an upturn in form which has seen them clamber up the table. A win would put them just a point behind United, a team widely tipped to challenge for the title this season, and possibly above Chelsea into third. This season has had its ups and downs but there is a growing confidence about Arsenal of late and a victory over a team like United would be significant.
Scott Patterson: Aside from the obvious, the three points that both teams need to keep in contention with Manchester City, Mourinho needs to get a win against a big team away from home. His record on the road against the top sides has been poor since he joined United.
As much as they will argue the contrary, these two managers love getting one over on each other, so their pride is at stake here too.
Who has played the better football so far?
TA: Arsenal haven't been able to claim the moral victory of playing the best football in the land for a while now but if by "best" you mean "most pleasing on the eye," Wenger will always trump Mourinho. Some of the interplay in the final third in the 5-0 win over Huddersfield on Wednesday was sublime and Arsenal are capable of hitting aesthetic heights that United simply cannot reach -- not with Mourinho in charge.
But if by "best" you mean "most effective," then it's United. They have scored four more goals than Arsenal and have conceded eight fewer. They played some fairly ordinary stuff when Paul Pogba was absent but he is back and it's not uncommon to see them rattle in four or five when the France midfielder is orchestrating things. That's good football.
SP: So much was made of United's tactics against Liverpool and Chelsea, everyone seemingly forgot how many times United had blown their opposition out of the water. United have scored four goals in eight games this season: double the times Arsenal have scored four or more. Does that mean they've played better football? I'd say scoring more and conceding less probably means United edge this one.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are among the most exciting players to watch in the league, while Pogba does incredible things with the ball at his feet. I'm biased but I'd rather watch those three over anyone in the Arsenal side, maybe with Alexis Sanchez as the exception.
What, in your view, does your rival need to challenge properly once again?
TA: Change their manager. That's not intended as a gratuitous dig at Mourinho, whose record over the past decade dwarfs Wenger's, but for United, challenging properly means winning league titles and Champions Leagues. They will struggle to do that with Mourinho in charge because his brand of football is past its sell-by date.
If you look at the level of play from Manchester City, there is no comparison whatsoever. The two managers have both spent hundreds of millions but only one is playing truly cutting-edge football. Mourinho will take you so far and is a vast improvement on Louis van Gaal, but to really reassert themselves at the top level of the game United might need someone with a bit more vision.
SP: If not Mourinho, who? Is Mauricio Pochettino still flavour of the month or has that ship sailed now that his team are mid-table?
As for Arsenal, what they're missing now is the same thing they've needed for the past decade or more: bottle and fight. It's become too much of an obvious criticism, with Troy Deeney explaining their issues pretty well last month, but that doesn't make it any less true. Arsenal are soft and they don't seem to have players with the right mentality. They will surprise you every now and again with a result you weren't expecting but, more often than not, when the going gets tough, Arsenal go missing.
From William Gallas' meltdown at Birmingham in 2008 to Mesut Ozil disappearing for almost every big game, Arsenal have repeatedly proved themselves to be a team with plenty of talent but not enough spirit.
Ozil or Mkhitaryan: Who would you rather have?
TA: After two months of the season the answer might have been different but as things stand, Ozil. Mkhitaryan's drop-off in form has been quite alarming and he looks ill-equipped to impose himself on games at the moment. It's a complaint that has been made about Ozil at times but his performances have definitely improved of late.
Recent displays against Everton, Tottenham and then Huddersfield in midweek have shown Ozil at his best and when he plays to the very top of his ability, there are few playmakers who can match him. A cynic might suggest he is just playing himself into form for a summer free transfer to United, though.
SP: Ozil. Even when Mkhitaryan was assisting all those goals in the first month of the season, they largely came in games when he had been fairly anonymous for the rest of the time leading up to those moments of creativity. We may well have another Kagawa on our hands here. Mkhitaryan is clearly really talented but he just can't maintain good form. Mourinho has given him more than his fair share of chances this season too and it just isn't working.
Ozil may well go under the radar in the bigger games but that's better than going AWOL in every game, which is what Mkhitaryan has done for most of this season.
TA: Alexis Sanchez. With Alexandre Lacazette missing due to injury, there will be more impetus on Sanchez to shine and after a stop-start season, he's maybe due for a big performance.
SP: Pogba. The drop in class between United's performances without him compared to with him is huge.
TA: Granit Xhaka vs. Pogba. Both will be occupying the same spaces in midfield and both can get an attack going with a judiciously forward pass. Xhaka will see more of the ball but Pogba is more dangerous with it. Whoever dominates the middle of the park can set the tempo for their team.
SP: Marcus Rashford/Anthony Martial vs. Hector Bellerin. Mourinho will start one or the other of them on the left and Bellerin will have his hands full trying to keep them out.
TA: Arsenal 2-1 Man United. I don't expect United to come and park the bus so Arsenal should have some space to operate in. The 100 percent home record will continue.
SP: 1-1. If there was any manager Mourinho could get a win against it is Wenger, but with Romelu Lukaku in a drought and Matic possibly absent, there will be even fewer risks than normal for United.