The hectic month of December will see Manchester United’s title credentials severely tested, as they face a gruelling nine fixtures in all competitions within the next 30 days, starting with a visit to rivals Arsenal on Saturday evening.
Jose Mourinho’s side go into the match on the back of a 4-2 victory away to Watford on Tuesday night, although it was far from plain sailing for the Red Devils. United raced into a 3-0 lead at half-time following two stunning Ashley Young strikes and a composed Anthony Martial finish, only for the Hornets to pull two goals back towards the end of the second half, leaving the visitors on the ropes. However, a stunning solo goal from Jesse Lingard shortly after sealed the points for United, leaving them in second place, trailing leaders Manchester City by eight points.
Tuesday’s clash at Vicarage Road saw United talisman Nemanja Matic limp off with what looked like a muscle injury, casting doubt over whether he will be available to take on Arsene Wenger’s men. Club captain Michael Carrick, who recently underwent a heart procedure, is working his way back to full fitness, although Saturday’s clash may come a bit too soon for the former England international.
Central midfielder Marouane Fellaini is also a doubt, having missed the Watford clash through injury. United, with the most watertight defence in the top flight having conceded just eight goals all season, were uncharacteristically lax at the back on Tuesday night, allowing the Hornets back in the game with two quick-fire goals.
Having said that, summer signing Victor Lindelof put in another excellent performance as part of Mourinho’s back-three, and should Phil Jones or Eric Bailly fail to recover from their respective injuries in time for Saturday, the Swede should take his place alongside Chris Smalling in front of the ever-impressive David de Gea.
Up front, Romelu Lukaku has something of a point to prove having lost his goalscoring touch in recent weeks and looked a little short of confidence against Watford, missing a gilt-edged opportunity following great work from substitute Marcus Rashford.
Arsenal, meanwhile, put in a commanding performance on Wednesday night, thrashing Huddersfield Town 5-0 at the Emirates Stadium, a win that leaves them four points behind United, in fourth place. The Gunners, however, will have to make do without £52.7 million man Alexandre Lacazette, who suffered a groin strain against the Terriers, having opened the scoring after just three minutes.
His deputy, Olivier Giroud, replaced the Frenchman at half-time before going on to bag himself a brace, and will no doubt be a handful for United’s defence. Arsene Wenger’s men have been in imperious form at home of late, winning their last 12 consecutive league matches at the Emirates.
With City facing a beleaguered West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday afternoon, United will be well aware that three points will be an absolute must if they are to remain on Pep Guardiola’s side’s tail. United are due a win at the Emirates, having failed to pick up three league points there since November 2014, when Louis van Gaal was at the helm. Mourinho will be well aware that victory for his side on Saturday will set United up nicely ahead of the crunch Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, on Sunday week.
Even at this stage of the season, the next couple of league matches for the Red Devils could well and truly decide who will end the campaign as champions of England.