The fixture will also mark Robin van Persie’s first return to his former club where he spent 8 years of his career under Gunners boss Arsene Wenger.
Whilst the hysteria and hype over his return will likely steal the limelight in the build-up to Sunday’s clash, the headlines the next day may very well be a shock defeat for the newly crowned champions.
Obviously that is what Arsenal fans will be hoping for but I’m willing to go out on a limb here and assert my belief that it’s actually more realistic an outcome that Arsenal will take all three points from the game.
Firstly, United have been celebrating all week long since their emphatic 3-0 victory over Aston Villa on Monday night – the players have been on ‘all-night benders’, reveling all hours of the day and night and will surely have some sort of euphoric hangover come Sunday.
It’s not exactly the best preparation for a game against another top-four team, yet Arsenal will have been preparing for the game all week long – mentally, physically, and emotionally for the return of Van Persie and the challenge of the champions. United, however, have been distracted.
2) Van Persie return
Whilst the media will anticipate a Van Persie goal and debate about his potential non-celebration, Arsenal will have been galvanized. It will have hurt to see their former main-man win the title with United and bring it back down to North London to rub it in. The fact the Gunners now have to perform a guard of honour will only add insult to injury.
They will be baying for blood by the time the game kicks off – Van Persie left a void in the team and big hole in their heart and it’ll be filled with fire come Sunday. The fact he returns as a title-winner will only add more fuel.
3) Pressure off United
Meanwhile, as United have been celebrating and basking in their glory all week, the pressure is completely off.
Yes, the official website is running stories about their ambition and determination to break Chelsea’s points record but the photos of key players stumbling out of nightclubs all week would suggest otherwise.
If the pressure is off, Sir Alex Ferguson might have a mountain to climb to prevent complacency from setting in. Players who win titles thrive under pressure and are motivated by challenge. United have reclaimed the title from City in sensational style, I might add, and they’ll likely take their eyes off the ball – literally.
4) Pressure on Arsenal
Arsenal, however, are still chasing a top four spot and can’t afford to drop points – this is a must-win game for the Gunners if they want to secure Champions League football next season.
They’re on a sensation run themselves, Arsenal – in fact their form reads exactly the same as United’s over the past 10 games – both teams have lost only one game (co-incidentally, both against their archrivals in derby games) drawn just one and won an incredible 8 games.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 6 and need to continue with that form if they are to maintain their record of 16 consecutive seasons in the Champions League. The pressure is very much still on.
5) No Giroud
Finally, due to Olivier Giroud’s suspension, Wenger has a selection headache up front. I have an inkling he will opt for Lukas Podolski as his centre-forward and, if he does, it’ll be the German’s first real opportunity to play as an out-and-out striker this term.
He’s been a peripheral figure – on the bench or on the left wing but is easily the most clinical and gifted finisher of anyone in Arsenal’s ranks. In fact, his finishing record (44 goals for Germany) is superior to both Wayne Rooney’s for England and Van Persie’s for the Netherlands.
He’s netted 14 goals and made 11 assists for Arsenal this term, despite playing only 4 full 90-minute games. He’s been substituted on or off in 34 of 38 appearances this term for Arsenal. He’ll certainly be hungry, to say the least.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald