Arsene Wenger believes the Manchester United team who will head to the Emirates Stadium this evening are now a true Jose Mourinho outfit.
And while he accepts the Arsenal-United rivalry is no longer a defining joust at the top of English football, Wenger still believes in its importance.
Arsenal boss Wenger scored his first competitive win over Mourinho at the 16th time of asking when Arsenal won 2-0 in the corresponding fixture last season. That victory in May was against a United side with more than one eye on their forthcoming Europa League final.
But this season the Red Devils travel to north London focused only on staying as close as possible to Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.
Mourinho has seen his side lose just twice in the league this campaign and long-term rival Wenger feels the current United team now reflect the character of their Portuguese leader.
Asked whether United have the mark of Mourinho about them, the Frenchman said: “Yes, certainly he has had time to put his print on the team, he is now in his second year. They look to be a strong team. They have power, they have a lot of power up front. Every player has power. Romelu Lukaku, now (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic is back you can’t say this guy lacks power; Marcus Rashford, (Anthony) Martial.
“They all have power, so our defensive performance will be important when we don’t have the ball against them. I believe that they are a dangerous side, you look at their players and they can be dangerous everywhere.”
In and around the turn of the century, Alex Ferguson’s United and Wenger’s Gunners were the teams to beat in England and took nine consecutive titles between them from 1996 to 2004.
These days meetings between United and Arsenal are no longer pivotal in deciding the destination of the trophy.
“We have six or seven teams that fight at the top, but it is still a very big game and a very important one,” says Wenger. “It (the history of the fixture) plays a little part because it is two big clubs and that always creates a big game and players know a lot will be said before and after the game. Of course it has an influence.”
Arsenal have won their last 12 Premier League home games and have moved into the top four. Despite their good run, Arsenal are 12 points behind leaders City who have won all but one of their opening 14 league games.
Wenger feels Pep Guardiola’s side have had some luck along the way to remaining unbeaten at this stage of the season.
“I think they were a little bit lucky a few times this year and overall we have just to focus on our results and not focus on City,” he added.
Arsenal will be without club-record signing Alexandre Lacazette for the United game after the striker injured his groin in Wednesday’s 5-0 victory over Huddersfield.
Alexis Sanchez was forced off in the same game with a hamstring issue but Wenger remains hopeful that the Chile forward will be available against Mourinho’s men.
Olivier Giroud could be handed his first Premier League start of the campaign.
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