2016: De Gea, Varela, Carrick, Blind, Rojo; Schneiderlin, Herrera; Lingard, Mata, Memphis; Rashford.
Who knows what sort of team Jose Mourinho will pick after he confirmed only three defenders – Marcos Rojo, Diogo Dalot and Matteo Darmian – are definitely fit for the visit of Unai Emery’s side tonight report the MEN.
Just as Mourinho waited a few hours before kick-off against Southampton to decide on his defensive line-up, expect him to take a similar approach on Wednesday with his depleted squad.
“Look, against Southampton, three hours before the game, I didn’t know the team I was going to play,” Mourinho told reporters. “So nobody knew the team and ourselves we didn’t know yet.
“We were waiting to see who could and couldn’t and I think we are going to be in a similar situation this time. If you asked me if the game is now at 11 o’clock (on Tuesday morning), I would say Smalling is not playing, Bailly is not playing, Jones is not playing. Of course, Lindelof is out of the question. But we have to wait.
“Valencia is not playing, Shaw is a doubt, Darmian is back but I have to wait and select everybody again and take everybody and maybe tomorrow we decide like the last match a couple of hours before the game.”
Ongoing conversations with United’s medical staff will have a big say on what happens – and who is fit to join up with the squad ahead of their pre-match meeting at the team hotel.
Mourinho may yet have to turn to a reserve like Ro-Shaun Williams, Lee O’Connor, Regan Poole or Tyrell Warren to provide cover which he could not have imagined 10 days ago.
Indeed, before the draw with Crystal Palace, Mourinho had a fully-fit squad ahead of a favourable run of eight league games and that was one of the reasons why he felt United could get back into the top four before the end of the year.
Now, more than ever, the United boss needs his ‘mad dogs’ to emerge. If United were to lose to Arsenal, they would be 11 points behind the Gunners after just 15 league games played.
Given United’s failure to go on a run this season – Mourinho’s side have yet to win three league games in a row and have repeatedly struggled in games they are expected to win – that is a huge gap to make up.
Particularly if Mourinho is again forced to field midfielders Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic in defence after their previous struggles against Southampton.
You can bet he has appealed to his injured party to push through the pain barrier for him and do not be surprised if, say, Smalling and Shaw end up starting against Arsenal.
The pair were previously accused of not giving their all by Mourinho after pulling out of a game against Swansea through injury back in November, 2016 but they have gone on to prove two allies in the dressing room.
Tellingly, Shaw has played on with cramp on a number of occasions while Smalling made a remarkable recovery from a knee injury to play in the Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo 18 months ago.
Do not be surprised if they again step up in Mourinho’s hour of need.