Both Arsenal and Manchester United have an awful lot to prove after their last Premier League fixtures.
The Gunners, who have ridden so high for most of the season, suffered an embarrassing 5-1 defeat against Liverpool on Saturday. Arsene Wenger's men are now one point behind Chelsea in second, while their upcoming opponents are nowhere to be seen in the title race.
United, if you haven't heard, are 15 points off the Premier League summit. After the Red Devils' recent 2-2 draw with Fulham—another match that saw David Moyes' side throw away points by conceding a late goal—seventh is looking generous.
As this season has proven, anything can happen when Arsenal meet United at the Emirates on Feb. 12. Let's take a look at the latest quotes, key battles and try to predict who will come out on top.
Mikel Arteta described Wenger's reaction in a post-match interview after the Liverpool thrashing, highlighting the Frenchman's anger, per Andy Hunter of The Guardian:
"The manager was really upset at half-time, that's normal because it wasn't good enough for this football club. It was the angriest I have seen him," said the Gunners vice-captain.
Wenger can rightfully expect a response and needs his team to grab three points if they are to remain serious title contenders. The boss took little positives from the Anfield defeat, reported by Sky Sports:
"What is important is that we respond to that result, especially respond with a different performance because our performance overall was poor," said the Arsenal manager.
Juan Mata led the charge from United's point of view. The newly acquired Spaniard suggests togetherness will get the failing squad through these difficult times:
Undoubtedly the most striking statistic of recent times saw United flood Fulham's box with 81 crosses during the 2-2 draw, per OptaJoe:
18 - Just 18 of Manchester United's 81 crosses against Fulham found a teammate. Fruitless.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 9, 2014
While this unimaginative tactic failed to work, Moyes' team have showed little creativity in other areas and are likely to try and exploit Arsenal's recent lack of effectiveness when dealing with balls from the flank.
Martin Skrtel outwitted Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny to score twice during the Liverpool game, suggesting United's best route to goal could be through the strategy that has caused many fans to despair across the last few days.
There's also the small matter that Robin van Persie nodded home the only goal of the game when these two teams met in November. Mertesacker wasn't planted in the middle of defence that day, suggesting it could be more difficult this time round.
Arsenal's central midfield will look to dominate this game and if they hit full flow, they will easily brush through United's struggling legs.
Wenger's players need to employ an energetic, busy sense of play and keep the ball moving quickly. Not only will this stop the opposition from entering any kind of rhythm, it will give the home side assurance after a difficult week.
Despite their Merseyside misery, it's difficult to look beyond Arsenal for this one. The Gunners have lost just one of their 12 home matches this season—the opening day 3-1 loss to Aston Villa back in August—and they will be fired up to provide supporters with hope ahead of a crucial few weeks.
Which team will win this match?
United have suffered defeat in their last two away matches, but they will be pleased to spend some time away from Old Trafford. The Theatre of Dreams has become a cauldron of pressure for the Premier League champions, who have won just two of their last six domestic games.
Moyes' squad have shown nothing to highlight they will turn this around. Fourth spot is looking extremely unlikely, as United will have to prepare for next season's absence from the Champions League. Arsenal can confirm this with a win, while also placing their title charge firmly back on track.
One other thing: expect a hostile reaction for RVP, who celebrated wildly when he scored against his former club in this season's earlier clash. The Dutchman has netted in all three games vs. Arsenal since joining United but don't expect him to do the same this time round.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Manchester United