There are only 11 games left to play in the league and Arsenal will play six of their last 10 at home after the game away to QPR tonight. Their home form in the league has been excellent since they lost to United a few months back and those home games will go a long way towards determing their final position. As well as trying to catch City they need to hold off the challenge of a stuttering United side and a rejuvenated Liverpool.
In those final six games at home Arsenal will play both Liverpool and Chelsea and crucially for me their second last league game of the season is away to United. With an FA Cup quarter final away to United to come next Monday too it looks like Arsenal could have a large chunk of their season decided in Old Trafford. Arsenal have had by far the worst of it against United for far too many seasons now and their ability to get one (or two) over on them could prove decisive this season.
First of all Arsenal have to get themselves into a position where they have something to play for as the season draws to an end. With qualification for the last eight of the Champions League looking beyond them that FA Cup game takes on real significance as does the fight for qualification for next season's Champions League. They have to continue to clock up the league points week in and week out to stay ahead in that race and see if those points help them to overhaul City.
With that in mind I think Arsene Wenger needs to pick a very strong line up against QPR tonight. There's a case to be made for resting players ahead of the United game, but the five day break should be more than enough for those players to recover. The damage of not beating QPR would be far worse than the fatigue the players might suffer ahead of the United game with those five days to recover.
In team news Aaron Ramsey returns to the squad after his latest absence in an injury plagued season. The team has being crying out for a player such as him to play alongside Francis Coquelin in recent weeks and give the side more balance, but I think he will start on the bench and maybe come in against United. I'm assuming Coquelin will play despite having his nose spread across his face by Olivier Giroud and then by the ball later in the game on Sunday.
If all of the defenders who played on Sunday are fit I can't see too many reasons to change them with Gabriel Paulista showing enough for me to keep his place ahead of Per Mertesacker. He still has a lot to learn about football in the Premier League, but I think he showed enough promise to suggest he's the best option. There is always the chance of Laurent Koscielny stepping out of the team if he is having any problems with his dodgy Achilles, but he has managed it well for the last couple of months and will hopefully continue to do so.
Charlie Austin has been in fine form for QPR this season and Arsenal's defence will have to be at their best to stop him. Matt Phillips has also looked good for QPR in recent weeks and Arsenal have to stop him supplying Austin with the crosses he thrives on. With QPR at home they are bound to give it a go after dropping back into the relegation zone after last night's results and Arsenal cannot allow them to get too much momentum at any stage.
There are options elsewhere in the team for Arsene Wenger with the possible inclusion of Theo Walcott and maybe even Tomas Rosicky if he feels the need to rotate. I think it might make sense to bring Rosicky in for Santi Cazorla and give the diminutive playmaker a much needed rest. He made the right decision keeping Oliver Giroud in for the Everton game despite his horror show against Monaco and he was rewarded when Giroud got the all important first goal.
I think a team with the same defence as Sunday, Rosicky coming in for Cazorla, Walcott coming in on the right and Danny Welbeck as the central striker should be more than capable of getting a win. That would mean Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would switch to the left and Mesut Ozil would play with Alexis Sanchez getting a rest ahead of the cup game. It would give Arsenal a lot of options from the bench with players like Alexis, Cazorla and Giroud all on standby if needed, but hopefully the team can get the three points without requiring their services.
QPR haven't been good this season and only their home form is giving them any hope of staying up. They have won five games at home which is good for a team in the relegation zone, but they have some tough home games to finish the season. They will be without both Joey Barton and Leroy Fer tonight due to suspension and injury and they will miss them.
I'm glad Barton isn't playing because you never know what he is capable of whether it's putting the boot in on Arsenal players or just plain old cheating to get an opponent sent off. Arsenal have suffered at his hands in the past and I'm glad he won't have the opportunity to bring his own brand of thuggery to the game. If Arsenal win it won't be quite as sweet without him on the pitch, but I can take that if it keeps our players well away from him.
As always the first goal will be ever so important tonight and I think it's even more important with Arsenal at the moment. Despite a fairly impressive run of results their form isn't great and the game against Monaco showed how they can lose the plot when they fall behind. They didn't find QPR too easy to beat at home and it won't be easy again tonight, but I think they will get the three points and especially if they score first.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.