Unai Emery has challenged Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to maintain the hot streak which has turned him into the Premier League’s hottest property.
Aubameyang scored a brace in Arsenal’s 4-2 victory against Tottenham to become the first player to reach double figures in the league this season.
The Gabon international has an impressive hit rate, netting with 10 of his 13 shots on target, and averaging one goal every 104 minutes.
He is set to spearhead Arsenal’s attack when they head to Manchester United on Wednesday, bidding to extend their unbeaten streak to 20 matches, as well as claiming the club’s first Premier League victory at Old Trafford in a dozen years.
“To me, his challenge is that he has the possibility to be the best scorer in the Premier League,” said Emery of the former Borussia Dortmund player. “We want to help him achieve this, because if he is scoring he is helping us.
“It is also important for him that he takes confidence from matches like Tottenham, not only from scoring, but helping with the pressing against them, too.
“It is also the moment to say to him ‘don’t stop’. I want him to continue to improve, and his challenge is collective as well as individual.”
Emmanuel Adebayor scored the winner in Arsenal’s last win at United in September, 2006.
Although the fixture will mark the first time Emery has taken an Arsenal team to Old Trafford, it will be his second as a manager, following Valencia’s 1-1 draw against Sir Alex Ferguson’s United in the group stages of the Champions League eight years ago.
Spaniard Emery has enjoyed a promising start to his Arsenal tenure, and was praised for his half-time double substitution against Tottenham, changing his side’s shape with the introductions of Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey at the interval. Lacazette put Arsenal back ahead, while Ramsey laid on Aubameyang’s second.
Indeed, Emery’s substitutes have been involved in 15 goals this season, four more strikes than any other team.
“It is lucky,” added a jovial Emery. “At Real Sociedad, my coach Javier Irureta said to us ‘when I make a change, it is because I want some change. Maybe it is positive, and maybe it is negative.’
“In other teams I have coached, I have been criticised for making changes very late. So, it depends on the moment, and how the match is going.”
Manchester United had considerable worries in terms of their defence ahead of Wednesday’s Premier League home clash with Arsenal, with it possible they could have seven back-line options unavailable.
United boss Jose Mourinho said on Tuesday that Phil Jones, Chris Smalling (foot), Eric Bailly and Antonio Valencia were not looking ready to play.
Ashley Young (suspension) and Victor Lindelof (muscular injury) are definitely ruled out, and while Matteo Darmian is fit to return, Luke Shaw is a doubt after coming off with a knock in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Southampton.
Smalling, Bailly, Valencia and Darmian were all missing from the matchday squad at St Mary’s, where Mourinho opted to put midfielders Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay in defence alongside Jones, who played the full duration. Marcos Rojo was back on the bench after injury but left as an unused substitute.
Mourinho said on Tuesday morning: “Look, against Southampton, three hours before the game, I don’t know the team that is going to play.
“Nobody knew it – the team, and ourselves, we didn’t know yet.
“We were waiting and waiting and waiting to see who could, who couldn’t, and I think we are going to be in a very similar situation this time.
“If you ask me, if the game is now, at 11 o’clock, I would say Smalling is not playing, Bailly is not playing, Jones is not playing.
“Of course Lindelof is out of the question. But we have to wait.”
He added: “Valencia is not playing, Shaw is a doubt, Darmian is back. But I have to wait.
“I have to select probably everybody again and I have to take everybody and maybe tomorrow we have to decide like in the last match with a couple of hours before the game.”
Two others taken off in the Southampton match were forwards Romelu Lukaku (knock) and Marcus Rashford, and there is a question mark over the former.
Rashford was backed after the game by Mourinho to be fit for this contest, while Alexis Sanchez (hamstring) remains sidelined.
The Gunners are firing on all cylinders at the moment, riding a 19-game unbeaten run and coming off the back of a stunning 4-2 win in Sunday’s North London derby against Tottenham.
But while Arsenal’s players are riding high on confidence, United’s are struggling, which will make life difficult for the home side in this encounter.
Here’s a look at the key player battles ahead of Wednesday’s game.
Romelu Lukaku vs Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Romelu Lukaku finally ended his goal drought on Saturday. By the end of the game, however, the defining memory of the striker was how he nearly injured himself with a poor first touch. Coming as it did after strong words from the Belgian about how the criticism of his first touch was unfair, and how he was constantly trying to improve in that regard, the moment went down in instant Twitter infamy.
He’s scored only three goals in 14 appearances against Arsenal, though he did have a good performance against them in United’s 3-1 away win last season, despite not scoring.
Not scoring is not a problem Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has to deal with at the moment. He leads the league’s scoring charts as the only player in double figures at the moment, and given United’s defensive frailties, he’ll be relishing the chance to add to his tally.
The Gabon striker’s finishing is deadly, but what’s just as lethal is his movement. His ability to drag defenders out of position, and peel off to find the inches of space he needs to strike, make him a fearsome proposition for any defender. United’s back line will need a big improvement to contain Arsenal’s danger man.
Ander Herrera vs Lucas Torreira
It’s not quite certain who will start in midfield for United at the moment. Fred is out of favour and Paul Pogba may be heading the same way, after the reported dressing-down he received from Mourinho on Saturday. But Ander Herrera should get the start, having scored a wonderful equaliser against Southampton.
His positional play will help United break up Arsenal’s attacks, and he’ll be a help to his defence in dealing with the visitors’ pressing game as well. Plus, he embodies the “mad dog” spirit Mourinho is looking for from his players, probably more than anyone else United have.
And speaking of players with “mad dog” spirit, Lucas Torreira is Arsenal’s very own example. The Uruguayan is coming off of a man-of-the-match display in Sunday’s derby, in which he nullified Tottenham’s attacking play – proving a nuisance for Dele Alli in particular – and capped off a superlative performance with the clinching goal, his first in England.
Torreira is looking like the answer to Arsenal’s long-unsolved search for a defensive midfielder. He’s very much in the Herrera mould, which would make for a fascinating duel, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the youngster comes out on top.
💪🏾 Lucas Torreira 💪🏾— ARSENAL (@tomgunner14) December 4, 2018
His impact on the side has been extraordinary.
In the 965 minutes he has played, Arsenal have scored 28 and conceded 11. In the 295 he has not, they have scored four and conceded nine.
Arsenal are yet to lose a game Torreira has started. 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/6JOrmpOXmH
David De Gea vs Bernd Leno
David De Gea’s performance against Arsenal away last season is one of the best displays by a goalkeeper, ever. The United stopper set a new record for saves in a Premier League match with 14, and it’s quite possible that he’ll have to do something similar to keep the Gunners at bay on Wednesday.
He hasn’t quite hit the same form this season, though he’s still produced some astonishing saves. United’s defensive shakiness hasn’t helped, as De Gea is left exposed too often. But he’ll be desperate to make a mark in a game this big. Don’t bet against it happening.
Bernd Leno was a relieved man on Sunday. His shocking error for Tottenham’s first goal allowed them to mount a comeback, and it was only thanks to second-half improvement from the rest of the team that the German wasn’t the centre of attention at full-time.
Though a highly regarded keeper, Leno is prone to the occasional howler, and a gifted goal would be a huge boost to United’s confidence given how toothless their attack can be. With Lukaku back among the goals and Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in good nick, any slip-ups from Leno would make a United return to form far more likely.