It was Arsenal who broke Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United towards the end of last season, or so the theory goes.
United arrived at Emirates Stadium on 10 March at the height of Solskjaer’s reign, just days after their improbable Champions League comeback at Paris Saint-Germain – their 14th win from 17 games under the Norwegian.
They lost 2-0 at Arsenal, Granit Xhaka’s swerving shot embarrassing David de Gea and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring the second from the penalty spot, who climbed back into the top four of the Premier League at United’s expense.
Suddenly, they seemed to be in the grip of a tailspin, losing eight and winning just two of their remaining 12 games of the campaign in an alarming run that raised uncomfortable questions about the haste with which Solskjaer had been proclaimed saviour.
But did United also break Arsenal – not in that same game, but in the league meeting at Old Trafford three months earlier?
The Gunners, too, were riding a wave of optimism about a new regime when they travelled to Manchester in early December.
In their previous fixture they had won the north London derby 4-2, scoring three times as they overran Tottenham after half-time in what remains probably their best 45 minutes under Unai Emery.
It was their 15th win of a 19-game unbeaten run that stretched back to August and seemed to confirm the wisdom of hiring the Spaniard to succeed Arsene Wenger in the summer of 2018.
United, meanwhile, had won once in four matches and were limping to the end of the Jose Mourinho era.
Nothing to break
In the Wednesday night match at Old Trafford Arsenal lost both Rob Holding and Aaron Ramsey to injury before half-time.
Holding’s emergence had been one of the unexpected highlights of the unbeaten run. He would not play again for nine months and his enforced withdrawal saw Stephan Lichtsteiner thrown in at centre-back.
Twice Arsenal took the lead, through Shkodran Mustafi and a Marcos Rojo own goal, but on both occasions they conceded an equaliser almost instantly, to Anthony Martial and later Jesse Lingard.
It ended 2-2 – not a defeat for Emery’s men, but a result that felt a lot like one.
They would scrape 1-0 wins in their following two fixtures, against Huddersfield and Qarabag, but the United game seemed to have taken some wind out of their sails and they fell into a run of seven defeats in 14 matches.
United host Arsenal tonight and this time there is nothing to break, with both teams having lost their way to varying degrees.
A series of insipid displays and a goal drought have left United in the bottom half of the table and faith in the man at the helm at an all-time low.
Among Arsenal fans, patience has begun to wear thin with a manager whose incessant tactical tinkering suggests indecision or ineptitude.
How much they derailed each other’s seasons last term is debatable, but for Solskaer and Emery, this latest meeting represents a chance to turn the tide of opinion back in their favour by launching the sort of formidable run that gave their tenures credibility in the first place.