Big Weekend: Arsenal, Man Utd, Lacazette, Moyes

Date published: Friday 17th November 2017 7:46

Game to watch – Arsenal v Tottenham
At first glance, this is a meeting between two managerial equals. Arsene Wenger and Mauricio Pochettino have shaken hands and shared niceties before and shared a glass of wine after a game on nine occasions, drawing five and winning two each. The aggregate score is 12-12.

But the two have rarely fought on level footing. Pochettino was Southampton manager when they pushed Arsenal to their limits in late 2013 and early 2014, while he has overseen Tottenham’s rise from also-rans to front-runners, never losing to the Gunners in the Premier League since his 2014 appointment. The Argentinean has all too often brought a knife to a gun fight, yet he regularly emerges having done the most damage.

If the last north London derby was anything to go by, Tottenham will have no difficulty in asserting their dominance over their neighbours. Dele Alli and Harry Kane struck in White Hart Lane’s penultimate game as Arsenal were thoroughly humbled in April. “Spurs deserved to win, we have to accept that and analyse it,” Wenger said post-match.

Yet Wenger does have cause for cautious optimism. Arsenal have not lost at home to Tottenham in any competition since November 2010, when a late goal from Younès Kaboul sealed a comeback victory for Harry Redknapp’s side. The Gunners have also not lost at home to any opponent since their 5-1 humbling against Bayern Munich in March, and have won each of their last ten Premier League games at the Emirates Stadium.

Spurs ought to be well-rested, with England trio Harry Kane, Harry Winks and Dele Alli recovering from their life-threatening, internationals-ruining injuries. Hugo Lloris should also be fit, but Paulo Gazzaniga has kept a clean sheet in all one of his Tottenham appearances if not. Arsenal, on the other hand, had a number of players feature for their countries over the past week, and will perhaps not be as fresh.

There are few guarantees in life, but a score draw in Saturday’s early kick-off might well be one of them. This is not only the highest-scoring fixture (141 goals) in Premier League history, but also the one that has seen the most draws (21). Considering Wenger and Pochettino’s record against one another, a stalemate looks the most likely outcome.

 

Player to watch – Alexandre Lacazette
“It was my best match for France – there is no argument about that. The coach told me that it was good. Just before going out, he told me a little joke which will stay between us.”

Perhaps Didier Deschamps told Alexandre Lacazette that he had a chance of starting against Tottenham on Saturday. The Arsenal striker struck twice in midweek for France against Germany, strengthening his case to become Les Bleus’ regular centre-forward. With Olivier Giroud’s injury this week, that extends to his standing at club level.

The 26-year-old can hardly question Wenger over his lack of playing time at Arsenal since joining as a club-record signing. He has played every game and started in all but two, with only five outfielders being handed more minutes. He has featured regularly, if not always.

But while his agent insists it is “not worrying”, Lacazette must be hoping for a show of trust in a big game. The Frenchman was on the bench against Liverpool in August and Manchester City earlier this month, scoring in the latter game when introduced as a second-half substitute. That, combined with his double against Germany, is surely enough to persuade Wenger that his compatriot is ready for a grander stage. Now for Lacazette to grasp the potential opportunity.

 

Team to watch – Manchester United
In a Premier League form table over the last six matches, Manchester United can be found in eighth. Their five fellow title contenders reside in the top five positions, while Brighton and Burnley sit sixth and seventh. Leicester are one place below in ninth.

This is not the sort of company they have grown accustomed to. United are top of their Champions League group and almost assured of qualification to the knock-out stages, while they face Championship opposition in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals. Their progress in two competitions has met no obstacles, but the Premier League path has been littered with roadblocks.

Chief among the current problems plaguing a title challenge is a sludgy, stodgy attack. United scored four goals in four of their opening seven league games, but have not scored more than once in each of the subsequent four fixtures. Romelu Lukaku has not scored in his last seven club games in all competitions, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is proving as useful as a blind guide dog, and Paul Pogba’s absence through injury has halted momentum.

News that both Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic could return to the matchday squad at Old Trafford on Saturday might inspire some sort of performance; it surely has to. But neither will start at the weekend, and so the responsibility to break down a staunch Newcastle defence falls on the shoulders of those who have struggled over the past few weeks. It is time to step up.

Three of United’s four league games before the international break were against Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea. Their next three games are against Newcastle, Brighton and Watford. With the gap to Manchester City already standing at eight points after 11 games, they can seldom afford to drop anymore, particularly against such presentable opponents.

 

Manager to watch – David Moyes
‘There is nothing more dangerous than a man with something to prove.’ And David Moyes is not short of critics to quench or detractors to denounce. An animal wounded from his last three managerial stints takes charge of his latest club on Sunday.

Both Moyes and West Ham surely expected the backlash when announcing his appointment as the replacement for Slaven Bilic. Here is an individual who has been sacked from his last three jobs, and lost his most recent battle for Premier League safety in a thoroughly embarrassing fashion.

But there is a belief in some quarters that the London Stadium could play host not to the Moyes of Sunderland, Real Sociedad and Manchester United, but the one of Everton, which feels like a lifetime ago. The Scot once made a habit of defying the odds with each passing season, forging a coherent team from a disjointed group of individuals and misfits.

That his first fixture in charge comes against Watford is fitting. Moyes is the flagbearer for the supposedly persecuted generation: the British manager constantly overlooked for the bigger jobs. His opponent on Sunday, Marco Silva, is their supposed arch-nemesis: the foreign fancy with the sort of name a chairman swoons for. This is Moyes’ chance to fight not only his battle, but that of Lieutenant Allardyce, Corporal Dyche and Sergeant Redknapp.

Moyes has won the fourth-most, drawn the third-most and lost the third-most games as a manager in Premier League history. Lord only knows which iteration will turn up in east London.

 

One-on-one battle to watch – Roberto Firmino v Virgil van Dijk
Jurgen Klopp has written the script and secured the financial backing, and is now in the process of casting actors in the lead roles. Virgil van Dijk is in the rather unique position of knowing the character was designed specifically for him, yet he must still provide an eye-catching performance.

Had Liverpool had a little more patience and tact in the summer, Van Dijk would be facing his former club at his Anfield home on Saturday. As it is, he is tasked with attempting to thwart his probable future employers against his current ones. It is a difficult situation, but one entirely of his and Liverpool’s own doing.

Mauricio Pellegrino insists the centre-half is “100% focused” on Southampton, and he will have to hope there is conviction in that message this weekend. Van Dijk requested to leave the club for Liverpool in the summer, and has only recently returned to the Saints first team. His performances have left a little to be desired, although this is a return from a long-term injury.

Roberto Firmino provides a different kind of test. Not a physical presence nor a particularly fast forward, the Brazilian offers a focal point to a flowing attack. But a record of just one goal in his last eight Premier League games is cause for concern, and Klopp will have taken note. His eyes will be firmly fixed on this clash between two players he thinks highly of.

 

Football League game to watch – Leeds v Middlesbrough
Having guided Leeds to seventh in the Championship, one place outside the play-offs in his first season, many viewed Garry Monk’s decision to leave in the summer as a shock. Andrea Radrizzani, who took over ownership of the club just two days prior, used that very term to describe an exit few saw coming.

The 38-year-old will make his way to the Elland Road dug-out once more on Sunday, but as an outsider. His Middlesbrough side make the short trip south as they attempt to strengthen their promotion prospects, while simultaneously denting those of Leeds.

The circumstances surrounding Monk’s exit are murky. Leeds fans consider him a traitor for leaving the club and then, within a fortnight, being appointed as Middlesbrough manager. It was seen as dishonest, misleading and treacherous, and their thoughts will be made clear at the weekend.

But Monk was initially appointed at Leeds on a rolling one-year deal, which the club were thought to be keen on activating again instead of offering a longer-term contract.

The end result is that both parties feel wronged in some way, which adds a particular spice to this fixture. It should be a bit tasty.

 

European game to watch – Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid
Two of La Liga’s three pre-season title contenders could have expected to be level on points after 11 games, but not in these circumstances. Real and Atletico Madrid are third and fourth respectively, but four points behind Valencia and a further four off the pace set by leaders Barcelona. The capital clubs are struggling.

It is a must-win game for Real, whose defence of their league title is already in jeopardy, while they sit second in their Champions League group. With Cristiano Ronaldo misfiring, scoring with just one of his 48 La Liga shots, Zinedine Zidane’s side have had no-one to lead by example.

Atletico have lost just once in 16 games in all competitions this season, but have drawn more often than they have won. Diego Simeone’s side have been hoist by their own petard, a side difficult to beat struggling to win themselves.

It is not often that both sides are so vulnerable, but in that vulnerability comes intrigue. Neither side can particularly afford to settle for a draw if they have designs on the title, yet both will be petrified of losing.

 

Writer to watch – Matt Stead

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