Arsenal vs. Man. United Headline Matchday 12 in Premier League

Mourinho and Wenger renew their personal rivalry: Manchester United vs Arsenal (Nov. 19) 7:30 a.m.

The meeting between Arsenal and Manchester United is already good enough as it is. These two teams are the most successful in the Premier League era, with United winning 13 titles in the Premier League era, while Arsenal have won three. It also helps that the matchup in the dugout is just as interesting as the matches on the field. Arsenal’s manager, Arsene Wenger, is historically bad against Manchester United’s current manager, Jose Mourinho. Wenger has only managed to defeat Mourinho once in his entire career, and that win only came during a FA Community Shield match, and not in the league.

On the field, both teams are struggling with injuries to key players. Arsenal’s prolific forward, Alexis Sanchez, suffered a minor calf injury while on international duty with Chile last week, and is currently a game-time decision. Also, Arsenal’s starting right-back, Hector Bellerin, was ruled out for four weeks because of an ankle injury. This is a huge blow for the Gunners because Bellerin has been one of the most consistent players for the team, and is an important player on both ends of the field.

With the possibility of Sanchez being out, Arsenal will be hoping for a world-class performance from attacking-midfielder Mesut Özil. Özil is capable of being the star man on the field, but there are some matches when he tends to go missing and fails to influence the match. Also, if Sanchez is unable to play then that would put even more pressure on whoever Wenger decides to put up top as the striker. Olivier Giroud does not have the best record against big clubs like Manchester United. The other option, Theo Walcott, is not technically a striker, and he misses a lot of easy scoring chances that would be put away by a more natural striker.

Manchester United is dealing with injuries to their starting center-backs Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly. Bailly is still dealing with an ankle injury, while Smalling injured his toe. But the biggest absence for Manchester United this Saturday has to be their star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big Swede earned himself a red card in matchday 11 and will be unavailable for this weekends game.

The replacements for Bailly and Smalling would likely be Phil Jones and Daley Blind.  Blind has deputized as a center-back this year before and is a solid option for Mourinho. Naturally a defensive-midfielder, Blind is very composed when the ball is at his feet and can be useful for Manchester United’s back line because of his range of passing. The other center back option for Manchester United is Phil Jones. Jones has not seen much first-team play this year, and throwing him on for a big game like this could be a risk. Replacing Ibrahimovic should not be a problem for Mourinho. Both Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford can fill in for Ibra. Fans have been calling for Rashford to be played down the middle instead of being employed out wide, and this will be an opportunity for him to show his worth as a number nine.

Six point swing at the bottom of the table: Sunderland vs Hull City (Nov. 19) 10 a.m.

The battle at the bottom of the table picks back up again this Saturday with an important six point swing for Sunderland and Hull City. Both teams earned a huge three points before the international break two weeks ago. Hull currently have 11 points and are in 18th place, while Sunderland are in dead last and only have five points.

Hull stunned Southampton with a 2-1 victory over the Saints in their last match. With a win and some favorable results from other matches in the Premier League, Hull can climb out of the relegation zone. It will be difficult because striker Will Keane suffered a season ending knee injury and will be out for 12 months. The only striker that Hull can turn to now is Dieumerci Mbokani because Abel Hernandez is already injured and Adama Diomande is suspended. Manager Mike Phelan already has a squad that lacks depth in almost every position. This is not the news that Hull City needed to hear going into an important relegation match this weekend. It would not be the end of the world for Hull if they were to lose. They could pick up a win in their next two games in the league. They host West Brom before they play at Middlesborough.

Sunderland won their first game of the season two weeks ago. It was an improbable come from behind 2-1 victory over Bournemouth in a match where Sunderland was reduced to 10 men.  Winning a game like that is a great confidence builder, especially for a young team like Sunderland. Manager David Moyes is putting faith in his youth players like Duncan Watmore and Lynden Gooch who have added a spark to Sunderland that was not previously there. Now Sunderland will be looking to win their second game in a row in an effort to claw their way out of the relegation zone. This game is made even more crucial because Sunderland must then travel to Anfield to play Liverpool on Nov. 26, and then host the champions Leicester City Dec. 3.

Possible goal-fest at St. Mary’s: Southampton vs Liverpool (Nov. 19) 10 a.m.

First place Liverpool travel to the south coast of England this Saturday to play a very talented Southampton team. Liverpool have not been in first place since their exciting 2013/14 campaign where they finished in second place.

Jargon Klopp’s men have the most prolific attack in the Premier League. They have scored 30 goals by 10 different players in the league this season. The front three of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have been on fire this season. The only injury worry for Liverpool is whether  talismanic midfielder Adam Lallana is healthy to play. Lallana, who has been a revelation this season under Klopp, picked up an injury while playing for England this past Tuesday. If Lallana is unable to play he will be missed. His non-stop pressing and creative presence adds another weapon to Liverpool’s attack. Midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum will have to replicate Lallana’s infectious energy if Liverpool want to dominate this game like they have for most of this season.

Southampton might be in tenth place, but they can beat any team they want when they are playing their best. The Saints have their own attacking trio that can terrorize defenses. Nathan Redmond has been transformed by coach Claude Puel, who allows the attacker to play a free-roaming role up front. Striker Charlie Austin adds plenty of physical strength to compliment Redmond’s pace and direct approach. Pulling the strings behind Redmond and Austin is Dusan Tadic. Tadic is hopeful that he will play this Saturday after breaking his nose on international duty with Serbia.

The reason why this match could be a goal-fest is because of Liverpool’s poor defense. There is no questioning that Liverpool can score goals. The only question mark that causes people to pause when asked if Liverpool is a title contender is their defense. Joel Matip has been a great pickup for the Reds and Nathaniel Clyne is one of the most consistent fullbacks in the league, but it is the other two defenders that are the problem. Dejan Lovren has played well this season, but he is prone to lapses in concentration as seen when Liverpool played Crystal Palace. Then there is James Milner, who has had to deputize as a left-back this season, and he has done an admirable job. But Milner is not naturally a left-back and that shows sometimes when he is making tackles. It will be Southampton’s job to try and exploit Liverpool’s weakness in defense. To do this, Southampton must match Liverpool’s energy and pressing in midfield to have a chance. If the Saints cannot do that, then Liverpool’s creative players will have no problem putting the ball in the back of their net.