Manchester United must beat Arsenal to keep top-four chances alive

Manchester United's Antonio Valencia in action with Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez. © Carl Recine
Manchester United is set to play its most important Premier League game of the season on Sunday, with perennial foes Arsenal travelling to Old Trafford for a mouth-watering clash.

The hosts have fallen out of the top four in recent months due to inconsistent domestic form, which has seen Louis van Gaal come under increasing pressure to turn the tide.

Before this weekend’s action, United are six points adrift of the Champions League qualification berths and can ill-afford to let this deficit increase.

Participation in Europe’s top tournament is essential for the Red Devils to get back to their glory days and, as such, a win against Arsenal looks like a pre-requisite.

United has had a strange ten days, with a defeat against Danish minnows FC Midtjylland last week arguably the club’s worst performance and result of the campaign.

Since then Van Gaal’s charges have put things right to some degree, progressing in the FA Cup courtesy of a 3-0 victory over Shrewsbury before winning the Europa League second leg 5-1 at home to set up a sensational last 16 clash against Liverpool.

Arsenal have high hopes of winning the Premier League this season, with 2015-16 offering up a fantastic chance for the North Londoners to become English champions for the first time since 2004.

The Gunners are two points behind division leaders Leicester City and will know that a victory at United would be a massive morale boost going into the business end of the campaign.

Arsene Wenger’s men were beaten 2-0 by Barcelona in the Champions League in midweek, but have had two more days to prepare for the Old Trafford clash than Van Gaal’s side.

United is struggling with a plethora of injuries, with star players such as Wayne Rooney unavailable for the fixture. With Anthony Martial a doubt, youngster Marcus Rashford could well start in attack for the hosts, while keeper David De Gea and senior central defender Chris Smalling may be unavailable too.

Arsenal looks closer to full strength, but has been rocked by news that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will miss the game after a new injury. Former Red Devil Danny Welbeck will return to Old Trafford for the visitors.

United have largely dominated meetings between the sides in recent times, but lost 3-0 at Emirates Stadium in the reverse fixture earlier this season.

The Gunners have found points hard to come by in Manchester however, not winning in their last eight visits to Old Trafford and losing six of those games. Their last victory came back in 2006.

Both sides will be desperate for three points on Sunday, but for United anything less than victory could well represent a decisive blow in their hopes of a top-four finish this season.

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