IT’S stating the obvious to say Manchester United’s chances of winning at the Emirates would be a hell of a lot better with Casemiro in the side.
The look on Erik ten Hag’s face when referee Rob Jones showed the yellow card at Crystal Palace on Wednesday told you that.
United manager Ten Hag knew a tough game at the Premier League leaders was going to be even harder without Casemiro running the show in midfield.
He’s been magnificent this season, cutting out passes here, getting a toe in there and stroking killer passes around all over the place.
And now Ten Hag is going to have to try and stop Mikel Arteta’s men with his Rolls-Royce stuck in the garage. Or sitting in the stands, at least.
But I do think there’s a danger of his importance being overplayed a bit here, because the reaction to Casemiro’s suspension is as though he had a team of old bangers around him.
As much as the Gunners are even hotter favourites, anyone who sees the outcome as a foregone conclusion is making a huge mistake.
If you could hand-pick one man to do a job on Bukayo Saka, it would be Luke Shaw, who has been the best left-back in the country this year — when Ten Hag isn’t playing him in the middle!
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has his critics but there aren’t many better tacklers than him — ask Wilf Zaha! — and I’m sure he’ll play Gabriel Martinelli well on the other wing.
Inside the two full-backs you have two central defenders who played in the World Cup final, while Marcus Rashford is the form striker in the league right now.
The goals have returned to Bruno Fernandes’ game and you don’t need me to tell you how good Christian Eriksen is.
Whoever comes in for Casemiro — more than likely Fred or Scott McTominay — has got to keep a lid on Martin Odegaard and that’s easier said than done.
But although people take the mickey out of Fred, you’re talking about a man who regularly gets into the Brazil side and he’s no mug, believe me. And neither is McTominay.
Remember a few years ago, in the games United were without Roy Keane and Nicky Butt would come into the side?
Nicky never let anyone down, he’d tear around, snapping at everything, breaking things up and giving the ball to others to play. Well, for me, McTominay is very similar.
It’s funny but when United drew at Palace, people were saying they had no chance of the title, almost as though it was a huge disappointment.
Well, while conceding a late equaliser was definitely a disappointment, they are still miles ahead of where everyone expected them to be after just half a season under Ten Hag.
I wasn’t the only one who thought a top-four finish was just about the best they could hope for — and I wouldn’t have been rushing out to stick the mortgage on that.
But they have been a different side this season, you can see the belief in them and a confidence that’s been missing over the past few years.
United — with or without Casemiro — can cause problems for anyone going forward, especially when they hit you on the counter. That’s what they’ll be hoping to do today.
And if they do win at the Emirates, they are definitely right back in the title race . . . even though I said last week that I think it’s Arsenal’s title to lose from here.
But a couple of injuries here and suddenly the whole thing changes, because there’s no way Arteta’s squad has the depth of United or City.
As for today’s game? Well, one minute I can’t see Arsenal losing, the next I’m swaying to United nicking something
The only thing I’m certain of is it’s going to be very, very tight and I can’t wait for kick-off.