Manchester United vs Arsenal Classic Clash: February 28, 2016

The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at a classic clash between Manchester United and Arsenal before the two teams clash at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Arsenal head to Old Trafford to face eternal enemies Manchester United on Sunday, with Mikel Arteta desperate to continue winning and keep their chances in the title race alive. The Gunners are under tremendous pressure coming into this one, mainly because of Manchester City’s form and their one game in hand heading into Gameweek 37.

It is a must-win game for the Gunners, and Arteta knows that, as well as the fact that Arsenal have not been good whenever they visit Old Trafford. The last time they secured a win there was during the 2020/21 season, and they last won here with the crowd present in 2006 when a late Emmanuel Adebayor goal settled the clash then.

While the Gunners continue to chase the title, Manchester United come into this clash in probably their worst form this season, having lost 4-0 away at Crystal Palace. There are multiple injury problems for Erik ten Hag to deal with. But the overall hunger and desire have been missing for some weeks now, and that result on Monday may have come as a sign this team has hit rock bottom.

Manchester United still have some sort of European qualification to play for, which would five them the added motivation to win such a big game. However, there is the hanging dilemma about laying the path for their arch-rivals Manchester City to lift a fourth Premier League title in a row, although on form, they might end up losing against Arsenal.

Laying the Setting

Trips to Old Trafford have ended up poorly for Arsenal over the years. Of course, they have those legacy games in 2002 when they won the title at this venue, and some other memorable clashes like the one where Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a late penalty, with the Gunners then going on to finish the season unbeaten.

The Gunners also have terrible memories of ending their 49-game unbeaten run and even the infamous 8-2 defeat in 2011. In the last two decades, Arsenal have suffered problems going to Old Trafford, and that might play into their minds heading there on Sunday.

The title race is in the last possible phase for Arsenal, and considering they have won all but one game this calendar year, there is little they can do to convince of their pedigree. Manchester City have been slightly better on numbers, and should they win both their remaining games, there is no stopping Pep Guardiola from lifting a fourth consecutive Premier League title.

As for Manchester United, they have to play for pride, although they have a chance to qualify for the UEFA Europa Conference League or the Europa League. Even if they win all their remaining games, including the Arsenal clash and the one against Newcastle United, the Red Devils might still struggle to make it to the Europa League, as they would still need results elsewhere to go their way.

What happened on 28th February 2016?

Arsenal were in the thick of a title race with Leicester City and Tottenham and headed to Old Trafford on the back of a UEFA Champions League defeat at the hands of Barcelona. Going there, Arsene Wenger’s side were the favourites, considering how Manchester United were performing and the key injury issues plaguing the club.

Louis van Gaal decided to name teenager Marcus Rashford in the lineup and give him his full debut to lead the line for the Red Devils. For those wondering, Rashford was not known at all beyond the Manchester United fanbase, and he did take Arsenal by surprise with two quickfire goals in the first half, to put Arsenal’s title challenge in jeopardy.

Those goals gave van Gaal the momentum to take the game to Arsenal, who had been dominating proceedings. Danny Welbeck did bring the Gunners back into the game before half-time. And at times, it looked like the away side would eventually find their equaliser.

Something Manchester United have done to Arsenal and many teams at Old Trafford looking for an equaliser is land an unexpected killer blow. In this game, Ander Herrera was on hand to do that as he extended Manchester United’s lead midway through the second half.

Mesut Ozil pulled one back, but to no avail, as Manchester United went on to collect three points, which landed a massive blow to Arsenal’s title hopes. The game, to date, is remembered as the one where Rashford burst onto the Premier League scene and has never looked back since.

The Aftermath

Manchester United had a dismal fifth-placed finish to their season, which was unprecedented given the quality they had in that squad. It was a bitter blow towards making it into the UEFA Champions League, considering they were still one of the giants of the continent.

Barring the 2022/23 season, many consider the 2015/16 season as a top opportunity for Arsenal to have won the Premier League in the last 15 years. They finished second behind Leicester City, while Tottenham also went backwards in their quest to challenge the Foxes, leading to a late collapse and a third-place finish.

Leicester City were the story of that season with their fairytale Premier League triumph, where losing only three games in that entire season, including two against Arsenal. That game at Old Trafford did have a telling effect on the Gunners’ season and their quest for the championship.

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