As far as appetisers go we couldn’t have asked much more of Arsenal v Man United.
Having misplaced the keys to his bus, Jose Mourinho arrived at the Emirates with ambition and was rewarded with his first away win against a top six team in proverbial donkey’s years.
Man City once again scored in Raheem Time (patent pending) to continue their recent trend of snatching late winners against relatively weak teams camped so deep they might as well be singing Kumbaya around a fire in the six-yard box.
Both results have teased our palates in preparation for the mouth-watering Manchester derby this coming Sunday.
But not because of the two teams’ respective quality, because of their vulnerabilities.
United required a record-equalling effort from David de Gea to ensure they left north London with a positive result.
You don’t need to look at Arsenal’s five expected goals to realise that on another day, United could have been embarrassed by the Gunners.
The fact that BT Sport made the superhuman De Gea hand the Man of the Match award over to the human jukebox that is Jesse Lingard is a farce I will reluctantly skip over.
Mourinho can not rely on his keeper producing such impervious displays in every game.
I’d wager that Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling would have converted at least three of the chances missed by Arsenal at the weekend.
In a way then, the victory leaves Mourinho with a tough decision to make when it comes to the derby.
Does he revert to parking the bus, a method that hasn’t proved as effective in recent times but did work perfectly the last time the two sides met?
Or does he employ similar tactics that ultimately defeated Arsenal and pray for another De Gea masterclass?
History suggests we should expect football’s equivalent of a sleeping pill but City’s win over West Ham may encourage a more ambitious approach.
Pep Guardiola’s men had 77% of possession against the Hammers at the Etihad but were somewhat troubled by the other 23%.
Without Vincent Kompany they looked vulnerable at set pieces and in open play their high line looked inviting.
Twice Cheikhou Kouyate was looking down at his feet and missed great opportunities to slip Michail Antonio in behind.
Gary Neville expressed his concerns about the amount of space City were leaving between their back four and Ederson.
West Ham are not in the best state right now but it looked for all the world a more threatening attacking unit could have hurt City.
If United can replicate their opening 20 minutes against Arsenal, they could carve City up.
If I was Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford I would have been licking my lips.
United’s two quick dribblers will fancy running at Eliaquim Mangala, an ageing Kompany, newly moulded left-back Fabian Delph, auxiliary winger Kyle Walker, and slide-tackle addict Nicolas Otamendi.
Mourinho is reluctant to play them together but he may well spring a surprise on long-time rival Guardiola.
United are eight points behind their rivals — is that enough of a gap to induce an uncharacteristic risk from the Portuguese gaffer?
Paul Pogba would be the ideal man to release those ahead of him but Hector Bellerin’s unconventional tacking technique has done City a big favour.
As a side note, I would love the return fixture to feature Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva versus Paul Pogba and Mesut Ozil — sorry Arsenal fans.
Guardiola is prone to tactical surprises but he will almost certainly back his players to dominate United at Old Trafford using the same approach they have all season.
Mourinho is the man yet to show his cards.
A bus-parking would be disappointing for viewers and neutrals and would mostly likely end in a 1-0 win for City.
Opening up would be risky but a more open game with Rashford and Martial’s pace could result in a 3-2 scoreline, for either side.
Infuriatingly, we must wait and see…
READ MORE FROM ‘THE TAKE’ HERE…
- If you think Mesut Ozil isn’t world-class because of his relaxed demeanour then perhaps football isn’t for you
- If David Moyes is the answer then what is the question for relegation-bound West Ham?