Under-fire 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-place 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.
“We have just come from a big win at Leicester and we want to continue our run. We are the only team who has beaten (Leicester), so I don’t see why we should not believe we can beat Manchester United.”
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.
“Not only in the Netherlands, but after that in Spain and after that in Germany, and after that in England. That’s my ambition. I am not that type. I like to win a lot.”
Michael Carrick is available for United after missing the Wolfsburg game with what Van Gaal described as “tiredness”, but it is not known if his fellow midfielder Ander Herrera, who also sat out that match, is fit.
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.
Last season United won 2-1 at the Emirates, where they have lost just once in seven visits, and Van Gaal believes another victory would fuel belief that his team can maintain their position until the end of the campaign.
“I think you have to believe always in this (winning the title) and I think the balance in our selection is much better than last year,” he said.
“And last year we also had the chance, so I believe in that, but the most important thing is not only that I believe, but that the players are believing in that.
“And when we win at Arsenal, then the belief shall rise a lot.”