Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal claimed the players in his squad are the most confident they’ve been during his time in charge on Friday.
The Red Devils have endured a difficult campaign, although the team's 5-1 win over FC Midtjylland in the UEFA Europa League at Old Trafford did lift some spirits on Thursday. Ahead of Sunday's crunch clash with Arsenal in the Premier League, the Dutchman commented on the positive atmosphere in the camp, per Kris Voakes of Goal:
I have seen the dressing room never like this on Thursday. Not only the players who played, not only the bench, but also the players who are injured.
They were all there and they were all laughing and talking with each other and were happy.
Normally I would expect this to give a lot of confidence but we have to play against one of the best teams in the Premier League, I have said that already a lot of times.
It was an uplifting display from United in midweek. Granted, it wasn't against a high-quality opponent, but local lad Marcus Rashford made his debut, netting twice, while Memphis Depay turned in a dazzling performance on the left flank.
The football on show was enterprising and entertaining, too, a far cry from the stagnant, slow-paced play that has left supporters frustrated this term. However, as Ian Darke of BT Sport noted, the challenge for the team and the likes of Depay is reproducing this kind of football when a Premier League side come to town:
Ian Darke @IanDarke
Have to say Memphis Depay was scintillating for Man Utd last night. But can he do it in Premier League now ?2016-2-26 19:26:21
Arsenal will be a difficult test, too, although Van Gaal thinks the players will be recovered for the visit of the title hopefuls.
“It’s a challenge on Sunday, more than a challenge, because we have to play within two days [of the Midtjylland win] and that’s also difficult, but I think the recovery shall go better than ever,” the upbeat Dutchman said, per Voakes.
The Gunners had a midweek clash to negotiate as well, welcoming Barcelona to the Emirates Stadium and losing 2-0. And although they’ve had two more days to recover, going up against the likes of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi is more taxing than facing the calibre of opponent the Red Devils faced.
Old Trafford has not been particularly profitable for the Gunners, either, per Sky Sports News HQ:
Sky Sports News HQ @SkySportsNewsHQ
Arsenal won at Old Trafford in FA cup last season but they haven't won away at United in league since 2006 #SSNHQ https://t.co/2dfe0f6mFs2016-2-26 14:32:25
Van Gaal also offered an update on the club’s spate of injuries, insisting Anthony Martial (hamstring) could be fit enough to feature on Sunday, per Voakes:
[Martial’s injury] is not so heavy as everybody thinks, but you never know. Rashford will be an option if he is recovered. I don’t know if he will, because it was his first game, so it’s not so easy.
Also Valencia is coming back, Fellaini is coming back, and in the month of March a lot of players are coming back and then we’ll have a strong selection again. Therefore, this match is very important for a lot of players.
Marcos Rojo shall not play, coming off the bench maybe, but I cannot risk him. I am a long-term coach.
Matches between these two juggernauts have lit up the top flight down the years, and with plenty at stake, Sunday should be no different. Bleacher Report’s Dean Jones selected a combined XI consisting of players from both teams from 2000 onward:
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While United fans will be encouraged to hear the players are in a positive mindset ahead of one of their biggest games of the season, there’ll still be concerns. There have been a number of occasions when Van Gaal has seemed to have turned a corner with this side before one poor result has undone all the good work.
A win over Arsenal on Sunday would move the Red Devils to within three points of local rivals Manchester City, who are in fourth place. That’s the kind of incentive everyone at the club needs to keep spirits high and why three points this weekend are vital.