And the end of the road isn’t so far now. It was barely a week ago that Arsene Wenger announced that this season would be his last at the club, and from the next campaign, for the first time in 22 years, the answer to the question ‘who’s Arsenal’s manager?’ wouldn’t be the Frenchman. As expected, the inevitable praises and reminiscing over his time at the club have been pouring in. From journalists, fellow managers, current and former players, both for and against. Not least of them a tweet from ex-Manchester United man Gary Neville, who mentioned facing Arsenal in the Wenger era and the difficulty that posed.

And so, in a way, it’s quite fitting that one of Le Professeur’s final games before he walks off to the sunset would be at Old Trafford, and, as destiny would have it, against Jose Mourinho. The old adversary will be the last manager Wenger faces in the Old Trafford dugout before calling time on his, however sour the latter of part seems to have been, illustrious adventure with the Gunners, a ground that has held a few unforgettable memories for the 68-year-old.

It was at Old Trafford that Wenger suffered that infamous 8-2 defeat in August of 2011; at Old Trafford that he watched United become champions in 2009, seven years after he and his Arsenal team were also confirmed kings of the land at the Theatre of Dreams. It was at the same stadium he stood in the stands, arms aloft in a fit of ‘it’s just me’ almost a decade ago; where that famous pizza-gate incident happened in 2005, where his team were trampled 6-1 in 2000, and where Arsenal won to take momentum on their way to title triumph in 1998.

The Arsenal v United games, especially between the late ‘90s and 2005, were as pivotal as they were fiercely-contested. From the touchline squabble between Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, the dressing room and pitch tussles between players (yes, this is you, Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira), to the silverware on offer, it was the quite the series. But even after everything changed, the players, even the stadium, even when Fergie himself retired, there was still a constant in the fixture. Now that constant is about to change.

There isn’t much, in terms of the league, riding on this game; United can’t be champions and can’t dropout of the top four, while Arsenal, with the top four a bridge too far, are more interested in their Europa League affairs, where they have a second leg at Atletico waiting four days after this game. So the focus is likely to be on Wenger. How would the home fans welcome the Frenchman? What would the exchange between he and Mourinho be like? Would he finally win away at a Mourinho team before bowing out? With the likelihood of a reshuffled side as a result of their European commitments, that last part might seem unlikely, but this is a fixture that hasn’t wanted for twists and turns, one of this weekend’s being Alexis Sanchez hosting his former club.

And with that point it is worth noting that there will be more plot twists and drama in this fixture for years to come, the trend has already been set. But when the final whistle goes on Sunday, when Wenger walks down that path for the last time and into the tunnel, one of the men who have helped set the tone for this glamorous story between these rivals will be bidding it goodbye. Before that, though, he still has another chapter to star in.

Elsewhere:

  • It’s gone from ‘win or bust’ stage to ‘win-but-even-that-might-not-be-enough-because-you-left-it-late’ stage for Stoke, as the Potters know the water is hastily running dry as they seek to swim to the other side of the dotted line. Paul Lambert’s side will just about need to win the rest of their remaining fixtures to have a chance of survival. First, a trip to Anfield, where they haven’t won in 54 top-flight fixtures, and are bound to be up against probably the deadliest front three in Europe right now. Good luck with that one.
  • Speaking of last chance saloon, Southampton are in a not-so dissimilar situation. The past few weeks have been plaudits-not-points for the Saints, who are running out of time and games. The upcoming South Coast derby is a definite must-win, perhaps it’s time for some more attacking displays.
  • It’s shades of Southampton again for Claude Puel: the results are drying up, the boos are ringing, complaints have come about his training sessions, and the board are considering replacing him in the summer. He and Leicester need three points at Crystal Palace, or, with games against Tottenham and Arsenal to come, their season might just peter out, and someone might just be ringing Mauricio Pellegrino.
  • And Burnley can cement a European place with as much as a point at home to Brighton. Nine months on, and it’s still incredible.

Fixtures

Manchester United v Arsenal

Tottenham v Watford

Swansea v Chelsea

Liverpool v Stoke

Southampton v Bournemouth

Huddersfield v Everton

Burnley v Brighton

West Ham v Manchester City

Newcastle v West Brom

Crystal Palace v Leicester

Published in International Watch

Ferdinand backs Lukaku after an absymal display against City on Sunday

The Belgian forward was again at the centre of criticism after an abysmal outing against Manchester City on Sunday but Ferdnand believes the way United was set up made the day difficult for Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku has been criticised by fans for his underwhelming returns in front of goal for the Reds of late and some sections of the United fans have called manager Jose Mourinho to drop the Belgian forward from the starting 11.

Last month, in defense of Lukaku’s shambolic performance that has saw him netting just once in 11 games (now 12), Mourinho jokingly said the striker needed a change of boots to get back to his scoring form.

On Sunday, the striker was involved in the two goals the Reds conceded to their rival Man City, and also missed a glorious chance to ensure the two sides share the spoils.

Rio Ferdinand took to Twitter @rioferdy5 to defend Lukaku’s bad outing against City on Sunday-saying Mourinho’s tactics on Sunday was the reason why Lukaku fared badly in the derby loss.

According to the former Manchester United defender, no striker would fared well the way Manchester United played on Sunday.

Ferdinand wrote on Twitter @rioferdy5: “Not a good day for Rom…. Involved in 2 goals conceded n (and) misses a chance he should score….

“The way UTD played 2day (today and referring to Sunday) makes it difficult for any striker up there.

 “Needs runners closer to him to see any joy. #MCFC suffocated #mufc today (Sunday) put into a sleeper hold from minute 1.”

 

 

LVG - United More Boring under Mourinho

 

Louis Van Gael has said that Manchester United under Mourinho were more boring than they were under him.

The Dutch man was heavily condemned when he was at the helm of affairs at Old Trafford for his negative approach but LVG has claimed English people were alien to his style of play.

“If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under, LVG, as quoted by goal.

 “We played football that was quite alright. But it's not football that is appreciated in England. 

“And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it's far more boring football
“What United produce now is defensive football.

“I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus.

“They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive

 

Published in International Watch