EPL: A test of Arsenal's mental fortitude

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger gestures during their English Premier League soccer match against Crystal Palace at the Emirates stadium in London, February 2, 2014.

Our analyst tells SHAMIR OSMAN that a gutsy show against Man United is critical for Gunners not to implode

Over the years, a game between Arsenal and Manchester United has almost always been of great significance, and Thursday morning's (Singapore time) encounter at the Emirates Stadium will be no different.

After the massacre at Anfield, Arsenal have been reminded of how they've imploded at around this time in seasons past.

Obviously, with so many big games ahead of them over the next few weeks, this period is absolutely critical to their current campaign.

Their early season form has put them in a position to attack the title but, if they lose to United, their league hopes will hang in the balance.

If they suffer another reverse to Liverpool in the FA Cup on Sunday, then Arsenal fans will fear the worst for the rest of the season, because they will not be looking forward to the first leg of their Champions League last-16 fixture against Bayern Munich three days after that.

The game against United will show what Arsenal are made of.

We will see if they have the mentality and character to come back from that harrowing 5-1 loss to Liverpool.

Let's be honest - quick thinking and quick passing are things that Arsenal just don't have.

It was evident last Saturday, but I watched their two games before the Liverpool meeting and the Gunners were due a thumping.

In that 2-2 draw with Southampton on Jan 28, they were awful.

While the defence did okay, the Gunners were slow and the passing was not good - they are a team running out of legs, a team that just have no energy.

Against Crystal Palace on Feb 2, even though they won 2-0, they were devoid of ideas.

If Southampton had more quality, there would have been five goals against Arsenal in that game - all it took was a really good team.

I really hope Arsenal's season doesn't come undone in this game against United.

I'm a huge fan of Arsene Wenger and the way he lines his team up and I like to see sides rewarded for the good football they play.

FRAIL

But Arsenal are once again showing signs of frailty and there are huge questions marks appearing over Wenger's strategy during the January transfer window when he brought in only Kim Kallstrom, who is now injured.

Jack Wilshere isn't the quickest of players, Mesut Oezil hasn't hit the kind of form that people expect of him, and Santi Carzola flits in and out of games.

I hope that Arsenal's reaction against United will be a positive one.

The game has huge implications for United as well.

They need to start winning, and there's a lot of pressure on David Moyes.

They are in a bit of a quandary - if they beat Arsenal, it puts them in with a shout of finishing in the top four, but they would hate to see that result help their neighbours Manchester City win the league.

This has often been a big game in the Premier League.

Normally it is United chasing the title, with Arsenal fighting for a spot in the top four.

Now United are in Arsenal's position, and I'm really keen to see how Arsenal handle themselves.

Ray Houghton is a former Liverpool midfielder who played for the Reds from 1987 to 1992, winning two league titles and two FA Cup trophies. He is now an ambassador for the Football Association of Ireland and also works as a co-presenter on UK radio station talkSPORT.


Get The New Paper for more stories.