History is against Arsenal but defiant Wenger paints optimistic picture | Amy Lawrence

The Gunners have not enjoyed their recent meetings with Manchester United at Old Trafford and their mindset has to be right on Saturday

The last visit to Old Trafford left Arsne Wenger stern faced, forced to admit to feeling like a bitter loser as he strained to summon an explanation for a deep disappointment. It was not easy to digest a flaky performance that would be pivotal in the hunt for the Premier League title. From a position to breathe down Leicester Citys necks, Arsenal ended up choking.

A few months on, with Arsenal heading up the M1 and M6 again hoping to make a statement in terms of their title aspirations, this weekends challenge appears to have all the ingredients for another showpiece deflation: take one salty setting (a stadium where they last won a league game a decade ago), spice with that well-marinaded nemesis Jos Mourinho, mix in a few injury concerns and key absentees, set the timer for an early kick-off on a Saturday in the north after an international break, and ice with November. The variety of pitfalls does not bode fantastically, even if Manchester United go into this tussle with problems of their own.

It has been Wengers job this week to paint a more optimistic picture, to try to prepare his team to feel relaxed, unshackled, raring to go at a venue where they tend to freeze. As far as perceived bad vibes are concerned, Wenger wants to turn them on their head. He responds with a defiant expression and determined words.

The psychology has all been internal no matter what anyone else thinks outside the club, Wenger presents a different argument about that loss last term, when Marcus Rashfords relentless dash left Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel looking aghast at one another, a midfield without the craft of Santi Cazorla was monochrome, and the collective experienced attack of Mesut zil, Alexis Snchez, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud got put in the shade by a teenage rookie.

Wenger regards that game as an anomaly. An aberration. He points to statistics to back up his point. Arsenal have lost only once away from home in the Premier League during 2016 and that was it. That game was an exception, he says. We had other big games, we played at Manchester City, Tottenham, everywhere. On that day we didnt turn up with a performance so that does not mean it is the normality it is the exception of the year. We have to show on Saturday that is was the exception and we have to turn up.

Wenger dismisses the idea there is some kind of psychological blockage when it comes to Old Trafford, even if it has become a habit to underperform when Arsenal walk out of that particular tunnel. No, not at all, he says. Leicester won the league last year, we won at Leicester. And where did Man United finish last year?

We beat Man United 3-0 at home in the same season. Today, you fail one time and the reaction is: Oh, they failed, they will fail again. Life is not like that. If you turn up 25 times and you lose one game, people take that one game as a normality. No. You have to turn up the 25 times before, believe me.

Arsne Wenger was sent to the stands at Old Trafford in 2009. Photograph: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

Taking a closer look at the generally strong performances on the road during this calendar year, it is striking that Arsenal did not eke out what you might call a standout victory the kind of result that can send shockwaves. There were hard-earned draws at White Hart Lane and the Etihad, and a point away from home at the defending champions Leicester his season, but if they want to grow conviction that they can be a more competitive challenger this season (for themselves as much as anyone else) an in-the-spotlight away-day win would be worth something bigger than three points on the board. That has to be in Arsenal minds as they walk on to the pitch on Saturday lunchtime.

One thing that is far from Wengers thoughts is the Mourinho factor. The usual pre-match quiz on this subject met a dead bat. Is he not at all distracted by the history, the hex that has him still without a league win against a controversial rival? No. Never, at all? No. Not even when he was on the receiving end of some personal remarks? He said some things, yes. But in life, everybody is responsible for what he says, and what he does. So I am responsible for what I say and what I do, not what other people say or what they do.

I make mistakes in my life, and I regret every one I make, believe me. I would have loved to have a life without any mistakes. But unfortunately I am not even sure that Jesus did that.

Wenger finds the pantomime dugout drama a barely relevant sideshow. Before a big game like that it is Mourinho v Wenger but that it is not what is most important, what is important is the quality of the game when it starts, he says. When you watch Real Madrid v Barcelona you want to see a football game and you are never disappointed because you see the quality of the game.

Coaxing a quality performance from his team is at the forefront of his mind. It is not always straightforward getting a team to reconnect after an international break, and Wenger has a couple of big selection calls to make. The trickiest concerns the replacement for Hctor Bellern at right-back, and as a knock-on effect, who is selected on the right of midfield to offer extra protection. Carl Jenkinson is only recently back from a cruciate-ligament rehabilitation, and has painful memories of the last time he appeared for Arsenal at Old Trafford. He was sent off in the infamous 8-2 calamity in 2011. Alternatives are shifting a central defender across in Gabriel or Rob Holding, or using one of the makeshift options from midfield who has covered at full-back before like Francis Coquelin or the young Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Whoever gets the call is in for an intense challenge.

Up front Snchez will want to play, but Giroud is ready to step in if the Chilean is deemed not superhuman enough to be risked after his efforts with a heavily strapped hamstring in Santiago last Tuesday. Getting personnel decisions right is a big thing. Getting the mindset right something they failed to do last season at Old Trafford is even bigger.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/nov/18/history-against-arsenal-wenger-manchester-united

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