Manchester United's woefully inconsistent form under Jose Mourinho this term would appear to hand Arsene Wenger his best chance to date of ending his winless run in the league against his old nemesis.
Ahead of their lunch-time meeting at Old Trafford on Saturday (19 November), United have won just three of their last nine Premier League games. What could hand the Arsenal boss another advantage is the near-crippling list of absentees that could play havoc with Mourinho's selection plans.
Manchester United's annual defensive crisis has arrived right on time this year. Eric Bailly is facing another five weeks on the sidelines following his knee ligament injury suffered against Chelsea while Chris Smalling is nursing a toe injury, having been left out of Gareth Southgate's recent England squad. Having come through unscathed after starting his first game since 2 January against Swansea City, Phil Jones is expected to continue at the heart of defence. Elsewhere, while Marcos Rojo's performances at left-back have ranged from below average to astoundingly dismal, the Argentina international looked at ease at centre-half against Burnley and Swansea City.
Despite fracturing his arm just three weeks ago, reports have suggested Antonio Valencia could make a surprise return to the starting XI on Saturday afternoon. Matteo Darmian's able performances at both right-back and left-back in recent weeks mean he could be a safer option, however. Where exactly Luke Shaw stands in the current United team remains a mystery following Mourinho's public criticism of the left-back and his absence against Swansea prior to the international break means the fit-again Daley Blind – who has already been preferred at left-back at times this season – could step in.
Possible Manchester United team to face Arsenal:
GK: David de Gea
RB: Matteo Darmian
CB: Phil Jones
CB: Marcos Rojo
LB: Daley Blind
CM: Michael Carrick
CM: Ander Herrera
CM: Paul Pogba
RW: Juan Mata
LW: Wayne Rooney
FW: Marcus Rashford
The importance of the evergreen Michael Carrick has been underlined in his four starting appearances for the club this term. After his influential performance against Swansea, the 35-year-old should be sufficiently rested for Saturday. Ander Herrera is once again back in contention after serving his one-match suspension, while Paul Pogba's starting berth is a given. The only likely dilemma for Mourinho is whether Marouane Fellaini's presence is required for a potentially explosive midfield battle with Granit Xhaka. But the trio of Carrick-Herrera-Pogba proved effective in the EFL Cup success over Manchester City – a decent barometer for success.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's suspension creates another big problem. United will be without the focal point they have looked to throughout the 2016-17 season. But his absence has had many clamouring for Marcus Rashford's inclusion at centre-forward. Having been marooned out wide recent weeks, Mourinho need only refer to the player's explosive Premier League debut against the Gunners last February as testament to how he can embrace the responsibility of leading the line.
Wayne Rooney provided perhaps his most accomplished performance of the season to date against Swansea. While the furore to emerge from his night at the hotel bar last Saturday has provided an unnecessary distraction, he is likely to start should he recover from a minor knee injury. That could come at the expense of Anthony Martial, who has not started a league game since September.