MANCHESTER UNITED play Arsenal tonight in the last Premier League game of the weekend, and one that is already being billed as a “must win” one for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Red Devils had a solid if unspectacular pre-season, and started the league campaign in fine fashion, beating Chelsea 4-0 on the opening weekend.
4 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows his Manchester United side have to beat Arsenal at Old TraffordCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Since then though, and the 1-1 draw at Wolves – a game United should probably have won – the style and intensity Solskjaer had instilled over pre-season has deserted them, and they head into the game against Arsenal short on confidence, short on players, and with an increasingly concerned fan base.
To make matters worse, Solskjaer had to spend part of his pre-match media gathering on Friday explaining why Paul Pogba is a doubt for the match with a swollen ankle.
The Frenchman is likely to join Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in the treatment room for the foreseeable future.
The obvious question to ask Solskjaer though is why he decided to persist with Pogba for so long in midweek against Rochdale in the Carabao Cup.
Pogba had been out since he returned from international duty earlier in the month, but such is United’s reliance on him, the sensible option might have been to withdraw him after an hour, rather than give him the full 90 minutes.
Having been part of Monday's fixture as a player, Solskjaer knows all about its history and importance.
4 The Red Devils currently sit in 11th spot in the Premier League after picking up eight points from six gamesCredit: Getty – Contributor
4 World Cup winner Paul Pogba is a doubt to face the Gunners due to a swollen ankleCredit: Getty – Contributor
But, what was once a shootout between the two best sides in the country is now a battle for top four, and that’s being generous.
Another defeat for United at this stage of the campaign and they’ll do well to qualify for the Europa League again never mind European football’s elite competition, a further indication of how far they’ve fallen.
Alexandre Lacazette, a scorer in this fixture at Old Trafford last season, will miss the game, which is a blessing for United.
But Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the hero of Arsenal’s comeback against Aston Villa last weekend, is in fine form and will fancy his chances against a depleted United side.
United supporters and pundits alike have talked this week about the need to give Solskjaer time, and that may be the case, but the best way for him to get more time in the bank is to win football matches, starting with Arsenal on Monday evening.
Ed Woodward told investors in midweek that the rebuild is ongoing but what we’re seeing on the pitch feels slightly different.
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And the laboured approach in the defeat to West Ham United last Sunday, and then again against Rochdale in midweek, means that the pressure is well and truly on the Norwegian to at least look like he’s steadying the ship.
It was around this time 12 months ago that the wheels started to fall off on the pitch for Jose Mourinho.
Solskjaer knows the only way to stop history repeating itself is for a much-needed three points on Monday night.