Unai Emery, you get the feeling, is the sort of manager who would pin an article disparaging to the side on the dressing room wall. He’d point to it and tell the players, “This is how we will prove them wrong…“. And when it doesn’t work in the first 45 minutes, the half-time team talk is “Hang on, lads; I’ve got a great idea.“
So, to Old Trafford we go.
Sunday laid to rest a demon with the fightback to claim a victory which merited no sense of humility given the
Which is relevant given the manager of tonight’s opponents. If there is a coach who is willing to look at the dark arts and consider them too lightweight, it is Mourinho. His third season implosion is playing out publicly with the sanctity of the dressing room gone. Every word he says is betrayed, published in the dailies as they begin to scent blood.
Tonight’s excuses are already written. United, the narrative goes, are struggling to find a centre-back worthy of the name due to injury. They struggle to find a centre-back worthy of the name when everyone’s fit so this is nothing new. But Jose will bemoan his lack of good fortune, you can be sure of that.
And for us, it’s an uncomfortable reminder of the past. When United previously suffered poor form or injury crises, we made them look world-beaters. Even when we put out good sides. Old Trafford, even before Arsene, was a graveyard of dreams more than once or twice.
Throwing Down The Gauntlet
None of this weighs heavily on Unai Emery’s mind. He knows we’ve suffered in the past but is plotting his own course. Which currently sees Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as its’ focal point. Top scorer in the Premier League and a ridiculous 100% record for his last ten shots on target. Quite literally, he shoots, he scores.
But that isn’t enough for Emery:
I want him to continue improving, and his challenge is also collective and individual. I want his challenge to be that he has the opportunity to be the best scorer in the Premier League. We want to help him achieve this and that is because, if he is scoring, he is helping us.
A challenge laid down yet finished with unspoken menace: if he isn’t scoring, he’s no good to me…
The striker’s versatility isn’t lost on Emery – “he has played as a winger on the right, on the left and like a striker” – but so is the part confidence plays:
I want to say to him and also to everyone: ‘Don’t stop, continue with this commitment every match.’ It is also important that he takes confidence from matches like [Tottenham], not only from scoring but also from helping with pressing against them and [competing] well with the head against them. Now is the moment to say to him: ‘Don’t stop’.
Indeed. Emery inherited two world-class finishers who are equally adept at playing solo or as a duo. Fitting them into the same team has been his biggest headache; Sunday gave him the answer. The question is whether they both play tonight or is there a shot at redemption for Mkhitaryan and/or Iwobi.
Emery’s thinking is clouded by Granit Xhaka’s suspension. Presumably, Mateo Guendouzi fills that void with Aaron Ramsey taking the #10 role. Has Sunday’s Plan B become Plan A?
Not Another Test…!
It would be adventurous to start with both Lacazette and Aubameyang, especially if he sticks with 3 – 4 – 3. United’s full-backs like to push forward so there is the vulnerability of Kolasinac to consider – and to a lesser extent, Bellerin. Iwobi and Mkhitaryan were ineffective as the first half wore on but worked hard defensively as we imposed ourselves on the game in the opening 30 minutes.
In all honesty, I expect the starting line-up tonight to be similar to Sunday:
Leno; Mustafi, Holding, Sokratis; Bellerin, Torreira, Guendouzi, Kolasinac; Mkhitaryan, Iwobi; Aubameyang
If we start with the XI which finished, more or less, we need the same intensity for it to be effective. While we have faced top six teams at home, this is our first big away game since the lunacy at Stamford Bridge. As ever, tonight will tell us how much we really have improved.
We were strong at home last season and are proving the same again this time around. However, our durability on the road is improving. It’s time to test that in a big match, to see what we have really learned in the past 19 games.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.