When Arsenal beat Huddersfield Town 5-0 on Wednesday night they started to create a gap between them and the rest of the top 4 chasers, albeit a small one. They have a chance to increase that gap and close the gap between them and their opponent, Manchester United on Saturday.
It was a at one time a feature of the fixtures – Arsenal v Manchester United. Fergie v Arsene. Now, not so much. Neither club is a shell of those former days and with City looking like they will run away with the title everyone else including these two former heavyweights are just scrounging for clubs.
The match itself is a chance for us to determine if Arsenal are as bad as they started or as good as they’ve been. The performances against Chelsea and Tottenham showed us an aggressive yet focused Arsenal side able to go toe-to-toe with the league’s big boys.
However matches against, Liverpool, Stoke, and Watford have shown us an Arsenal that at times looks disinterested, unbothered and uncommitted. Yes, I have left out the match versus City. I felt overall we played well for being unbalanced but City is at this time playing on another planet.
This match will give us a maybe more of a sense of where we are as a club.
United are as good as any team in the league right now. They have won three on the trot after losing an inconsequential match in the Champion’s League. While they are carrying some significant injuries – like Matic, they still pose enough of a difficulty to hurt Arsenal.
How United set up should be interesting. Mourinho has started to employ a three-at-the-back defense like everyone else these days. He’s used it against Chelsea and Tottenham. It seems to be how Jose wants to play when coming up against a similar side. It creates interesting challenges especially in the WB v WB battle like we will see this week.
For Arsenal the key will be their overall commitment to the game plan. Especially the pressing side of the game. A few commentaries this week have talked about when Arsenal are fully committed to the press they are as good as any side who do it. When as in some of the games they aren’t it keeps them open and allows an opponent to grow in the game.
The key for Arsenal will be as it always is though in attack – can Mesut Özil find the space to operate and pick apart the opposition with his passing, vision and movement. Without Özil in the side, Arsenal lack the ability to exploit the gaps and space created by their movement. With him, he knows where the space to attack is even before the opposition realizes it.
Jose will try and deny him that time and space to operate. If he does than its paramount that another player step up and try take advantage of the gaps that are created by trying to double or even triple up on Özil.
The other burning question in this match is who fill in for the injured Alexandre Lacazette? The immediate reaction is usually Olivier Giroud and why not. He came off the bench for his compatriot and scored a brace. He has been the big man coming off the bench for Arsenal. But does it make sense for Arsenal if as we expect they will try and press United off the ball.
If that is the game plan, it makes more sense to go with Danny Welbeck. Welbeck may lack the scoring prowess of the bearded Frenchman, but he has speed and mobility that suits Arsenal when they want to press. Additionally, prior to his first injury of the season, Danny was in fine form and his movement caused defenses a lot of issues. Finally, whatever it is about playing against United, Danny has a penchant for showing up. We’re all sentimental about Big Sexy GQGiroud but in truth it should Danny who slots in.
Everything else should be exactly as it was against Huddersfield Town.
It may not feature the likes of Vieira and Keane prowling the midfield. Fergie v Arsene may be confined to YouTube memories but it’s still Arsenal v United and it will be a testy affair and hopefully help Arsenal solidify a Champion’s League spot.
Players To Watch
Arsenal. Mesut Özil. Yes, I know he was the player to watch against Town but as we said then, we say now, as he goes, so goes the Arsenal
Man United. Ashley Young. If there is one player that has thrived since Mou employed the back three its Young as a WB. Also watch for his serial diving.
Injuries and Suspensions
Arsenal: Cazorla (Achilles), Lacazette (groin)
Man United: Matic (muscle injury), Jones (thigh), Bailly (groin – late fitness test), Carrick (heart condition)
Goals Scored Per Match (season average)
Man United: 2.29
Goals Conceded Per Match (season average)
Man United: 0.57
Referee: Andre Marriner (10M 26Y 1R)
Assistants: Simon Beck, Scott Ledger
Fourth official: Anthony Taylor
UK: BT Sport 17.30 GMT
US: NBC (primary network) 12:30 PM EST
What the Manager Says (courtesy BBC.co.uk)
“Manchester United is a strong team and I expect us just to cope with the problems they will give us. They will attack as well. They will not only defend.
“I just want to focus and to prepare well my team, and give my team a good chance to win the game.
“Manchester United is doing well at the moment, we are doing well at the moment, so it looks to be a promising game.”
Match Facts (courtesy BBC.co.uk)
- Arsenal have lost just one of their last five Premier League home games against Manchester United (W2, D2).
- The Gunners are aiming to win three successive home league games against United for the first time since 1991.
- Manchester United’s last win at the Emirates was a 2-1 victory in November 2014, Louis van Gaal’s first away victory as United boss.
- Arsenal could win 13 home league games in a row for the first time since November 2005.
- Victory would establish a club record of seven consecutive top-flight home wins from the start of a season.
- They have won their last four Saturday evening kick-offs at home in the Premier League since a 1-2 loss to Manchester United in November 2014.
- The Gunners have conceded just four goals at the Emirates this season, three of which came in the 4-3 opening day win over Leicester City.
- Mesut Ozil has recorded two goals and two assists in his last four top-flight games against Manchester United.
- This will be the 18th meeting between Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho, with the Portuguese manager losing just two of those encounters (W8, D7).
Arsenal 1 – 1 Manchester United