Two traditional titans of the Premier League meet at Emirates Stadium as Arsenal host Manchester United on Sunday, with the result of their last meeting still fresh in both clubs' memories.
Back on Aug. 28, Manchester United gave injury-plauged Arsenal a historic thumping, 8-2, at Old Trafford, and it would be almost impossible for either club to forget the carnage. The Red Devils scored five times in the final half-hour, and the normally reliable Robin van Persie made a mess out of first-half penalty kick for an overall dreadful day for the Gunners.
The match was so devastating for Arsenal that there was pressure from supporters to sack manager Arsene Wenger. Cooler heads prevailed and Wenger weathered the storm, but the club was so under-manned and out-classed in the match that the humiliation seemed to require swift action.
Due to injuries and suspensions, Wenger had the likes of Armand Traore and Henri Lansbury on the pitch, while Gilles Sunu, Ignasi Miquel and Oguzhan Ozyakup were on the bench. This was not the type of line-up that Wenger would send out in a Carling Cup match, let alone against a top rival.
The Gunners would eventually get their season back on track after the poor start with some strong showings, which included a 5-3 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The additions of Gervinho and Mikel Arteta, as well as the improvement of Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny, helped restore order at Emirates. The main contributor has been van Persie, who might be the best striker in the Premier League.
But Arsenal are back to another slump after recent defeats to Fulham and Swansea. Injuries, particularly at full back, have piled up and the club could use either a boost from the transfer market or at least some quality play from a reserve to regain the club's previous momentum.
Once again, Wenger will be without several key players for a match against Manchester United. Arteta has been ruled out with a calf injury, while Thierry Henry and Thomas Vermaelen are also nursing calf injuries, though their status this weekend is unclear.
According to Wenger, full backs Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, and Bacary Sagna should be sidelined for two-to-three weeks, while Andre Santos is expected to be out of action for two more months. Defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin might be available for the home match against Aston Villa on Jan. 29, while midfielder Abou Diaby is set to return to training next week.
Midfielder Jack Wilshere, who has not played a minute this season, is back to running, but isn't close to a return.
As the Gunners faltered in the beginning of the season, United thrived. Sir Alex Ferguson's squad was rolling through the competition at the start, and it seemed that the Red Devils would be on their way to another Premier League title.
Forward Danny Welbeck, midfielder Ashley Young, and defender Phil Jones easily transitioned into the club. The Red Devils weren't just defeating opponents, they were thrashing them.
But just as things seemed perfectly rosy at Old Trafford, problems began to accumulate as the season progressed. New goalkeeper David De Gea has struggled and Javier Hernandez has been inconsistent. Meanwhile Nemanja Vidic, Michael Owen Tom Cleverly, and Fabio Da Silva have been sidelined for quite some time, and several other players began faltering due to either injury or poor play.
Then there is Wayne Rooney. The most prominent player on perhaps the most prominent club in the world has had his slumps this season, like going eight-straight Premier League matches without a goal. At the same time, Rooney returned to making headlines for the wrong reasons.
The Red Devils went from looking unstoppable to actually looking quite vulnerable. Manchester United made an early exit from Champions League, and were trounced by Manchester City on Oct. 23, and then stumbled against Blackburn and Newcastle.
Still, Manchester United remain in the hunt for the Premier League title, and appear to be getting over a collection of injuries. In their last match, the Red Devils clobbered Bolton, 3-0.
Despite the long-term absentees, Ferguson will have a generally fit squad. Rio Ferdinand will be tested to see if he's fit following a concussion. Jones and Anderson are expected to be available after suffering knocks.
Manchester United will be aware that their hosts have revenge on their mind this weekend.
Arsenal should attack with Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott looking for van Persie. The Dutch forward, who has 18 goals in 21 league appearances this season, has been very consistent, and the United centre backs will need to pay extra focus on containing him.
While the Gunners offer a strong central attack, Manchester United should exploit Arsenal's full backs. Expect winger Nani and Valencia to play a pivotal role this weekend, as reserves Miquel and Johan Djourou should start the match.
Arsenal have only two home losses in all competitions this season. The first loss was to Liverpool in the home opener, and the other loss was a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City in the Carling Cup quarter-finals.
Manchester United have only one road loss this season.
In the last meeting between the two clubs on May 1, 2011, Arsenal defeated Manchester United on Ramsey's second-half goal, 1-0.
D: Miquel, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Djourou
M: Song, Rosicky, Ramsey
F: Walcott, Van Persie, Arshavin
D: Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra
M: Scholes, Carrick, Nani, Valencia
F: Rooney, Welbeck
PREDICTION: This should be an attacking game from the start. The Arsenal midfield will likely find plenty of opportunities for van Persie, and the Gunners can expect a strong start at home. Manchester United will get more chances to find the back of the net as Arsenal's fullbacks will likely falter to the pressure of Rooney and Welbeck. Expect a classic game as both clubs are playing with a chip on their shoulders at the moment, and the boisterous crowd at Emirates Stadium will ignite an exciting atmosphere on a Sunday afternoon.
PREDICTED SCORE: Arsenal 2 -2 Manchester United.