By David Hastings
This weekend will see reigning Premier League champions Manchester United visit Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. The match offers the home side a chance to partly extinguish memories of the worst day in Arsène Wenger’s time in charge of The Gunners, when they were humiliated 8-2 at Old Trafford last August.
The ruthlessness with which United tore the visitors apart in that game will live long in the memory of players, fans and anyone else connected with the club. Arsenal will be desperate for victory on Sunday to restore some pride, but if they become obsessed with the idea of revenge, they will open themselves up for more pain and embarrassment.
When the home side play to their strengths, they are a match for anyone domestically and in Europe. In full flow, Arsenal’s passing and movement as well as innovation in attack is a joy to watch. Unfortunately, the panache and verve in which football spectators across Europe have become accustomed to when watching Arsène Wenger’s team has been all too rare in the past year.
But quite often, form can go out of the window when playing in the big fixtures. The encounter between the two at the Emirates in November 2008 shows this, when Arsenal, having suffered two poor results previous to the game, defeated United 2-1 in what turned out to be a thrilling match. The Gunners played their way that day, and even though they required some luck, secured a superb, well-deserved victory.
It’s almost certain that the word ‘revenge’ will be heard an innumerable amount of times in the build up to the match on Sunday. But Arsène Wenger should ban all use of the word from his players and staff. Anyone who says this should be the Gunner’s motivation for victory are wrong. Arsenal and Manchester United shouldn’t need any extra reason to want to beat one another. There is a chance that if the home side become too pre-occupied with ‘getting one back’ for what happened last August, it’ll put the team off their game and United will take advantage of this. Desperation could set in, mistakes will be made, and United, with the wealth of class in their team, will make Arsenal pay, and in turn increase the misery felt by the players and fans.
Both sides have suffered poor form recently. Before beating Bolton last weekend, United had lost their two previous league games, at home to Blackburn and away to Newcastle. Arsenal in the meantime, have lost to both Fulham and Swansea. Because of these inconsistencies, both managers may be intent on avoiding defeat on Sunday, instead of going for victory.
Arsenal shouldn’t be desperate for revenge on Sunday. They should be aiming to give United the match they failed to offer last August. If Arsenal remain patient, play their way, and get the Emirates crowd behind them, then memories of that 8-2 defeat will become that little bit more distant.