Big Match Focus: Arsenal vs Manchester United

Arsene Wenger finally tasted Premier League victory over Jose Mourinho the last time Manchester United visited Arsenal at Emirates Stadium.

Mesut Ozil Arsenal

Arsenal ran out 2-0 winner when it faced Manchester United in its previous encounter in the Premier League.   -  AFP

Two of the Premier League's oldest rivals renew acquaintances at Emirates Stadium on Saturday, when Arsenal hosts Manchester United.

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But there is more at stake this weekend than the latest chapter in the feud between Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger, one that simmers a little more gently than it once did.

Arsenal has won five out of its last six league games, with a defeat to leader Manchester City its only blot during that period.

Another victory would move it to within a point of second-place United, which can ill afford to lose further ground on City – eight points to the good at the summit a week ahead of the Manchester derby.

FORM GUIDE

Arsenal is in the midst of an imperious run at home, with Wednesday's 5-0 win over Huddersfield Town their 12th in succession at Emirate Stadium. The Gunners have not won as many consecutively on their own patch since a streak of 13 at Highbury between February and November 2005.

United was in similarly eye-catching midweek form as it survived a second-half rally to see off Watford 4-2. However, Mourinho's men has not won back-to-back Premier League away games since a run of four in April.

A wider concern for the Portuguese is his recent form on the road against fellow opponents from the division's "big six". His last victory in such a fixture came when Chelsea beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield in November 2014. He has since drawn five and lost six, with his teams scoring once in the past 10.

PLAYER HEAD-TO-HEAD (Laurent Koscielny v Chris Smalling)

The possibility of a cagey contest places significant focus on both defences and Koscielny and Smalling have been mainstays at centre-back for Arsenal and United over recent seasons.

Recently cut from Gareth Southgate's England squad, Smalling faces greater competition for places at United when compared to Koscielny. If Arsenal's France defender is fit, he plays.

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Koscielny has played 11 Premier League games this season versus Smalling's nine and has certainly had greater demands placed upon his time, with 20 tackles made compared to his colleague's eight. However, Smalling's tackle success rate of 62.5 per cent is better than Koscielny's 45 per cent.

The 32-year-old former Lorient man has made 28 interceptions, with Smalling on 13, while the ex-Fulham defender is on six blocks set against his opponent's seven.

It is a similar story in terms of aerial challenges, with Koscielny making 61 to 35, although again the United man's success percentage of 77.1 is better.

Smalling, 28, had his ability to build play from deep questioned by Southgate. Although he has made fewer passes than Koscielny (332 to 771), his passing accuracy is marginally better at 88.6 per cent.

Perhaps the most telling statistic of all is neither man has made an error leading to a goal or a shot against their side in 2017-18.

WENGER v MOURINHO

Arsene Wenger Jose Mourinho

Arsene Wenger has only one win over Jose Mourinho's side in 13 attempts in the Premier League.   -  Getty Images

 

A tempestuous feud between two contrasting personalities was quickly established during Mourinho's first spell in charge of Chelsea and, with positions entrenched, it has often been a painful experience for Wenger.

Arsenal's 2-0 win at the end of last season, over a United XI selected with their bid for Europa League glory in mind, was the Frenchman's first Premier League victory versus his foe in 13 attempts.

The 2015 Community Shield stands as Wenger's only other competitive win against Mourinho, who boasts eight victories. Seven draws show the tussle has not been quite as one-sided as is sometimes assumed.

HISTORY SAYS

Arsenal has lost only once in its five Premier League home games against United (W2 D2), winning each of the last two without conceding a goal. You have to go back to May 1991 for the last time the Gunners won three successive home games against the Red Devils.

On the other hand, no side has won more Premier League away games at Arsenal than United, whose seven wins are matched by Liverpool. Chelsea (4) are the only club to better their three wins at Emirates Stadium.

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