One of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures in the Premier League calendar takes centre stage on Sunday afternoon when Arsenal host Manchester United at Emirates Stadium.

With the Gunners currently just three points behind leaders United, a victory for either side would represent a huge boost in their respective bids to produce strong title challenges. 

Arsenal

Arsene Wenger celebrated the 19th anniversary of becoming Arsenal manager this week, but instead of cakes and champagne, it has been a turbulent few days for the Frenchman, who appears to be in the middle of his annual tradition of coming in for criticism from all corners.

In truth, very few Arsenal supporters would suggest that Wenger does not deserve at least some of the criticism he has received.

After starting their Champions League campaign with a defeat to Dynamo Zagreb, the Gunners were beaten again in midweek as they twice fought back from behind before losing 3-2 to Olympiacos in North London.

It leaves Arsenal facing a mountain to reach the knockout stage, and most of the responses to the defeat have been centred on Wenger's team selection after he decided to leave Petr Cech on the bench to hand a start to David Ospina, whose mistake was key in handing the Greek visitors their first win on English soil.

Wenger was quick to come out in defence of his team selection, but his supporters were quiet this week as many questioned the decision to leave Cech out after the Gunners had waited so long to sign a dependable, world-class goalkeeper.

The Arsenal boss always seems to face at least one difficult spell in the season, but patience appears to be wearing thin after the summer optimism from supporters who believed that this squad was capable of challenging in all competitions for the first time in many years.

Despite the frustration which surrounds their Champions League campaign, Arsenal bounced back in the Premier League last weekend by thrashing Leicester City 5-2 thanks largely to a hat-trick from Alexis Sanchez, whose return to form could be crucial as Wenger looks to answer his critics once again.

Sitting three points behind the leaders after seven games is a respectable start, but with just one home league win to their name so far, the club's supporters are desperate to see a performance which will convince them that this squad is strong enough to challenge.

Recent form: WDWWLW

Recent form (all competitions): WLLWWL 

Manchester United

As Sunday's opponents deal with the fallout of another shock defeat in the Champions League, the feeling in the United camp is that confidence continues to grow as Louis van Gaal aims to return the club to the elite both at home and abroad.

Nothing less than a title challenge would be accepted by the club's army of supporters after Van Gaal steered the team back into the top four last season, and the early signs suggest that there is every reason to be cautiously optimistic about their chances climbing back to the top of English football.

A comfortable 3-0 win over Sunderland last weekend was enough to take United to the summit as Manchester City faltered once again, before they recovered from their own defeat on the opening Champions League matchday by beating Wolfsburg at Old Trafford in midweek.

Perhaps most surprising of all is the fact that United have managed to make such a promising start to their title pursuit with many onlookers claiming that they are not playing well, and although Van Gaal is unlikely to ever listen to the opinions of his critics, even he must believe that there is more to come from his squad.

A settled squad with strength in depth is certainly the difference this season, and after just one loss in their opening seven league games, the challenge is for United to prove their title credentials as they prepare to meet Arsenal, Everton, Man City and Crystal Palace in October.

Wayne Rooney ended his drought in the league last weekend, while Anthony Martial continues to impress in the early stages of his career, and scoring three goals in four of their last six games is further proof that the squad are beginning to click into the final third to add to the defensive resilience which Van Gaal is eager for his side to display every week.

Reaching the top of the table for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure in May 2013 is a good start, but Van Gaal knows that only success over this tricky period will prove the fans and his doubters that there is even bigger achievements to come.

Recent form: WDLWWW

Recent form (all competitions): WLWWWW 

Team News

The Gunners were dealt a blow this week with the news that Laurent Koscielny is set to be out for three weeks with a hamstring injury, which means that Per Mertesacker is set to return to partner Gabriel in the centre of defence.

Arsenal are also without Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini due to injuries, but Francis Coquelin is expected to shake off a knock to start in the centre of midfield.

The key selection issue for Wenger will be whether he chooses to recall Olivier Giroud or keep faith with Theo Walcott, who has netted 12 goals in his last 13 league starts.

Michael Carrick has recovered from the minor injury which kept him out of the midweek win over Wolfsburg, and Van Gaal must choose between him and Bastian Schweinsteiger to partner Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield.

Ander Herrera and Marcos Rojo remain doubts for the visitors, while Antonio Valencia is set to retain his spot at right-back

2015-10-02

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