Arsenal play host to Manchester United in the Premier League on Saturday Night Football with both teams looking to kick-start their seasons in the standout fixture of the weekend.
The north Londoners and the Red Devils enter this mouthwatering encounter languishing down in sixth and seventh respectively in the table after the opening 11 games of the campaign.
With league leaders Chelsea having made an unbeaten start to the season, these two heavyweights know that nothing short of three points at the Emirates will do if they are to retain any hope of being crowned champions next May.
And with a number of eye-catching sub-plots also underlying this clash, in particular opposing strikers Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie each facing their former clubs, there is much to look forward to in the capital this weekend.
However, if the home team are to get the victory to keep them in touch with their London rivals at the summit of the Premier League, then they are going to need to beat a side in the top half of the table for the first time this season.
Meanwhile, the visitors go into this contest looking to maintain an impressive recent run against Arsene Wenger’s men that has seen them lose just once in their previous 14 games in all competitions.
Arsenal welcome back striker Olivier Giroud for the match after the France international recovered a month ahead of schedule from the broken leg he suffered at Everton in August.
“He is three or four weeks ahead of schedule,” Wenger confirmed in his pre-match press conference. The Gunners have also been boosted by the return of captain Mikel Arteta from a hamstring problem.
“Giroud and Arteta are both available. It is just a question of how ready they are, but they are available,” added Wenger. “Originally we planned to have Giroud back for competition at the beginning of next year. So he’s one month ahead.”
However, this game has come too soon for the likes of Theo Walcott (knee) and defenders Laurent Koscielny (Achilles) and Mathieu Debuchy (ankle), with the latter pair still about “three weeks away from full group training”.
Both club-record signing Mesut Ozil (knee) and reserve goalkeeper David Ospina (thigh) remain on the sidelines with long-term injuries, with Wenger confirming: “Ozil is doing well but he will not be ready before the start of 2015.”
As for United, Louis van Gaal confirmed that the knee injury picked up by recent signing Daley Blind on international duty with the Netherlands on Sunday was not as bad as first feared.
“It’s not as bad as the doctors thought after the match but it shall be a long story I believe, but not six months or so,” the Dutchman said in his pre-match press conference.
And there was also more good news for Red Devils fans as Van Gaal revealed that both British record signing Angel di Maria and Spain goalkeeper David de Gea will be fit to feature at the Emirates on Saturday evening after picking up knocks while away with their countries on international duty.
But both left-back Luke Shaw and midfielder Michael Carrick remain doubts to face Arsenal after sustaining hamstring and groin injuries respectively with England.
“Di Maria has trained today normally so I don’t think there is a question mark, De Gea is good – no problem,” said Van Gaal. “Luke Shaw, who felt a tight hamstring, is also a question mark. I have to wait for how he (Carrick) reacts (at the) training sessions tomorrow (Friday), but I expect that he is also ready to play.”
Meanwhile, this match also looks like coming too soon for the likes of Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Jonny Evans, Rafael and Radamel Falcao, who were all absent with injury from United’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace two weeks ago.
PAUL MERSON’S PREDICTION: 2-1
“This is a big game. It could end up being a shootout if I’m being honest. Both sets of forwards will be licking their lips and will fancy scoring and both teams going forward are as good as anybody in the Premier League. It’s at the back where the game will be decided.
“There’s been a lot of talk about whether Jack Wilshere should be playing defensive midfield like he does for England, but I think he’s a bit lost at Arsenal. He plays in a midfield where Aaron Ramsey will be in front of him, and Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta will be behind him, and he’ll be in the middle. He should be the one who’s playing a bit further forward instead of Ramsey. But he’s getting better again, he’s getting fitter again and, when he does, he’s a player.
“I think Arsenal will just win this one 2-1. I think they have to win. With United being away from home and having a lot more injuries I think it’s more important that Arsenal win this game.”