Johannesburg - On both sides of the fierce football divide, few believe Arsenal can beat Manchester United in Sunday afternoon’s league clash.
Indeed, José Mourinho is unbeaten in his 12 Premier League matches against Arsenal.
Former Red Devils hardman Roy Keane was the first to stick his boot in to a Gunners side that is looking increasingly unlikely to finish in the top four.
He told ITV: “Even a weak team would probably still beat Arsenal. They [United] can afford to field a weaker side.”
Very uncomfortable afternoon
While expecting no nonsense from Keane about an old rival, Arsenal legend Paul Merson did little to defend Arsène Wenger’s clearly flagging team.
He told Sky Sports: “As for Arsenal, they were embarrassing on Sunday [in the 2-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur]. They’ve got some tough games still, and they’re just not playing well enough to win them all, even if those above them slip up”.
Surprisingly, former Red Devils right-back Gary Neville was less scathing in his prediction, although he still expressed doubts about the Londoners’ chances.
“It’s weird down there at the moment. If United were to go in front, it would be a very uncomfortable afternoon for Wenger and his players,” he said.
Meanwhile, Wenger was more philosophical about the contest at the Emirates Stadium.
With speculation mounting about his future, he said: “You know, when you have been at a club for as long as I have, it is a little bit like when you have children – you want them to be happy. Even when you are not there any more, you want them to be happy. It means we focus on the same players. I take every competition seriously. The only thing I always did over the years was to use the League Cup to give chances to young players”.
In Arsenal’s favour is that United are hit with injuries to a raft of key players, including six defenders. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly are all out.
Cement their position
For the home team, midfielder Granit Xhaka is out injured, while defender Shkodran Mustafi has returned to training and goalkeeper David Ospina is fully fit. Lucas Pérez should also be available despite picking up a knock in training this week.
Sunday's other notable game will see Liverpool look to cement their position in the top four when they face mid-table Southampton at Anfield.
A boost for the Reds is that influential attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho is fit after recovering from a leg injury. Jordan Henderson could feature in Jürgen Klopp’s squad, and Adam Lallana may start after getting 75 minutes under his belt against Watford.
For the Saints, Virgil van Dijk is doubtful, although exciting 20-year-old winger Josh Sims could be thrown into the starting line-up by coach Claude Puel to give the away side a different dimension in attack. – TEAMtalk Media