Contextually, Manchester United’s home clash with Arsenal bears little significance.
The Gunners are way off the top-four pace and have been for sometime, a clear indication of why it’s the right time for Arsene Wenger depart.
Conversely, United have practically sealed Champions League qualification but the chasm between themselves and champions Manchester City appeared long before the business end of the season.
So Sunday’s clash in theory matters little but the backdrop of Wenger’s final game at Old Trafford as Arsenal boss, added to the return of some familiar faces in different stripes, adds to the intrigue.
With that in mind, we examine the pivotal players for each side heading into a classic Premier League clash.
Romelu Lukaku v Alexandre Lacazette
* From the 2017/18 Premier League
Lacazette is proving himself quintessentially Arsenal in the sense that when he needed to perform he didn’t but with the pressure off, the goals have suddenly started to flow freely.
To his credit, the Frenchman has been in fine European form, scoring three in three including a crucial opener in the 1-1 Europa League semi-final first-leg clash with Atletico Madrid on Thursday.
That goalscoring touch has translated onto the domestic scene recently as well with the 26-year-old plundering four in his last four Premier League games.
Considering he only scored twice in the whole of December and January, it’s clear the summer signing from Lyon is finding his feet – albeit at the wrong time where the league is concerned.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will return to the starting XI having missed Thursday’s crucial clash through being cup-tied and so Lacazette may be forced to accommodate by shifting out wide or even starting on the bench with the second-leg in Madrid in mind.
However, one man who is certain to start on the other side is Lukaku. There has been plenty of noise surrounding the big Belgian this season but not much talk has centred on the fact he’s scored 26 goals in all competitions.
He’s been chastised for poor performances in the games against the top-six and having scored just three times in 13 clashes against the Gunners, he will hope to stretch that tally against a fragile backline.
OLD BOYS REUNION
Alexis Sanchez v Danny Welbeck
Danny Welbeck is one of the most peculiar forwards you’re likely to find. The 27-year-old’s negligence in front of goal can actually at times prove profitable for others (see a clip circulating recently of numerous aired strikes leading to finishes for a team-mate).
He is truly an infuriating talent, an athletic phenom of pace and power meshed with a brainless mush.
Undoubtedly, his career has been curtailed by injuries and ultimately his medical record forms part of the explanation for United’s decision to allow him to join Arsenal in 2014.
But there are splashes of brilliance from Welbeck – whatever Welbeck is – and his unique marriage of the winger/striker role could really torment his former employers.
On the other side will be a familiar face keen to exact misery of his own. Alexis Sanchez’s Arsenal career came to an end like a flatulent balloon – there was plenty of noise but in the end a flat mess was all that remained.
The Chilean finally got his wish and moved to United in January but his performances have been slightly underwhelming with only three goals in 14 games.
He was superb in the FA Cup semi-final clash with Tottenham, though, and he will be aiming to provide similar vigour as he attempts to get one over his former team-mates and employers.
Phil Jones v Shkodran Mustafi
If one player should be fearing for their Arsenal future when a new manager is appointed it is Shkodran Mustafi.
His slip in the preceding moments before Antoine Griezmann’s crucial equaliser on Thursday was a poetically tragic portrayal of his season.
Of course, he didn’t intend to fall over at the worst possible moment but even before that crucial mishap, the German centre-back was enduring one of the worst games of his career.
For a player who commanded Arsenal’s biggest fee for a defender two years ago, he has actually presided over a defensive record which has got worse over the last two seasons.
He was heavily linked with a move to Inter Milan in the summer and could still be shipped out but games like Sunday’s clash could provide the antidote after his personal nadir in midweek.
Similarly, his United counterpart Phil Jones has an uncertain future of his own.
While the England international is unlikely to be sold in the summer, Jones’ place in Jose Mourinho’s first XI is in serious jeopardy with the Red Devils boss likely to hit the summer market for a new partner alongside the tower of strength Eric Bailly.
Jones, like Mustafi, needs commanding performances from here until the season’s end.
The Frenchman was widely criticised for a lacklustre display in this month’s 1-0 home loss to West Bromwich Albion that handed the title to Manchester City – the latest in a long line of disappointing efforts from the former Juventus star since his move to United two years ago.
There was even talk that Mourinho had told United to put Pogba up for sale, just days after City manager Pep Guardiola said he had been offered the chance to sign the midfielder by his agent in January.
But the 25-year-old has produced some improved displays in recent weeks, including a man-of-the-match performance in the comeback win at City and is looking for more of the same when Arsenal visit on Sunday.
“It’s quite funny because we don’t judge me on the midfield part,” Pogba, who joined the club for a then world record fee of £89 million ($123 million), told Sky Sports.
“We judge me on assists and goals and that’s the truth. I can make an outstanding game, but if I don’t score or make an assist they will say, ‘that is normal’, or whatever.
“But if someone else does it, it is different. They will maybe be man of the match. I think I’m judged differently, but it’s good.”
The France international, who has scored five goals and made 10 assists in the Premier League this season, said he saw the criticism as a challenge and it helped him improve.
“I don’t take it in a bad way,” he said. “I’ll try to score and make assists and that’s it. I still want to do my job in midfield.
“If I can help the team in attack and defence and make a difference I will do it. If I can score and assist it is even better.”
Wenger last week announced he would be leaving Arsenal after 22 years in charge and takes the Gunners to Old Trafford for the final time on Sunday.
Mourinho and Wenger had a tempestuous rivalry during the Portuguese’s two spells at Chelsea, which became physical when the pair were involved in an altercation at Stamford Bridge in October 2014.
Mourinho told Sky Sports News: “If he respects me even 50 per cent of what I respect him we can even be friends in the future. I have lots of respect for him.
“But the reality is that he was at Arsenal, he was the champion and I came to the country in 2004 and wanted to steal his title. That’s football.
“But in the end I respect him a lot, I tried to show that in the past couple of years there were no more problems at a different stage of my career with a different profile.”
Wenger on Wednesday admitted the “timing was not really my decision” as the Frenchman prepares to leave the Emirates Stadium at the end of the season, 12 months into a two-year contract signed last summer.
Mourinho added: “I feel sorry that after Sir Alex Ferguson – but it was obviously Sir Alex’s decision (to leave after 27 years) – the next big one, the next iconic one is leaving the Premier League.”
United are second in the Premier League with four games to play, 16 points behind champions Manchester City, while Arsenal are sixth.
Mourinho is in his second season at Old Trafford, as the third boss to follow Ferguson after David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
Despite winning the League Cup and Europa League last season, plus the 2016 Community Shield, Mourinho has been criticised in some quarters of the style of play and results.
The 55-year-old again insisted he was making a success of life at United, which is a work in progress.
Mourinho, whose side play his former club Chelsea in next month’s FA Cup final, added: “I know that one thing is to go to a club that is prepared to win and you just need to arrive and to give the last touches and to give your personal quality, your personal knowledge. And the club is ready, just this last click.
“I knew that was not the case. In spite of this, three trophies, three finals, probably a second, third or fourth in the worst case scenario.”
Provided by Press Association Sport