MATCH PREVIEW: Arsenal Travel to Old Trafford
After five matches in the Premier League, Arsenal are unbeaten and sit at the top of the table after another dominant performance against Aston Villa on Wednesday evening. The mood around the club and the fanbase is as good as I personally can ever remember and it feels like a great time to be an Arsenal fan. The transfer window shut Thursday night, and while the end may have been a bit underwhelming, the improvements to the squad this summer have been noticeable. Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko specifically have immediately stepped into our starting XI and have been transformative in the way that we play and alongside William Saliba (insert “Like a New Signing meme here”) have increased the level of our first team dramatically.
Arsenal have now dominated their opponents in successful matches in a way that we have not seen since peak Arsene Wenger, and the style of play we employ now is vastly different. To me, the way we dominate not just the possession, but the territory through the relentless pressing has been impressive. No longer are Arsenal required to make 25 perfect passes to carve through the opposition to score a goal; we are creating turnovers and overloads in the opposition defensive third leading to waves of attack. Needless to say, I think the performances of Arsenal have been impressive and we are deserving to be sitting top of the league after 5 matches.
Unfortunately, Arsenal have a bit of an injury crisis now. With Mohammed Eleney out for months, and Thomas Partey out weeks, Sambi Lokonga is going to have to step up in a big way and show why we spent money last summer on him as the heir apparent to Partey. Now, with the news that Aaron Ramsdale and Martin Odegaard may miss the Manchester United match, we are in a very unfortunate situation. Given the way the transfer window ended, some may ask if Arsenal should have done more to bolster the depth of the squad to prevent such crisis’s, but no amount of squad planning can compensate for injuries to 4-5 starting XI players and there’s no way this could have be solved in the transfer window.
About the Opponents
As the transfer deadline approaches and black vans has been spotted at set Arsenal targets, let’s dive a bit into the tactical part of Manchester United. A team that gives me a slowly increasing headache as I’m forced to listen to pundits talk about their incredible tactical notion of being outperformed in the air for most of the match.
Actually, all the way up to the goal, Southampton had 23 offensive duels to Manchester Uniteds 5.
The Red Devils set up in a 4231 formation, that can look somewhat like a 541 in defense, as Ten Hag has encouraged his offensive players to work at the other end as well, letting Sancho and Elanga take responsibility of the wide areas, allowing Dalot and Malacia to tuck slightly inside. McTominay then look to command as an anchor in front of the central defenders, with Eriksen and Fernandes as pressing ball movers.
Offensively, Ten Hag has looked to keep things rather simple for now, using the vision and passing range of Eriksen to get the ball quickly up field, for his three athletic forwards to drive into. Generally, Manchester United creates from wide areas, using Dalot and Sancho as wide creators.
While they don’t have a clear target, crosses tend to be whipped into the space between central defenders and goalkeeper for a willing runner to latch onto.
An interesting note here from the Southampton game. There seem to be a very obvious split between defense and attack, which could be an attempt to discourage the opponent from pressing high aswell.
Defensively, Manchester United has adopted the new book of high pressure, giving the front four the freedom to annoy the ball holder in an attempt to force a mistake. Should this fail though, The Red Devils scurry back into a narrow low block, with the ability to send three players into wide areas to deny crossing opportunities.
This being said, there still seems to be some communication errors in defense, which did create several chances for Southampton to get a shot on goal.
When defending against Manchester United, Arteta encourage his players to close down Eriksen fast, and deny him the opportunity to pick out his pass. While the front three are all dangerous on transition, it’s the ability to release these runners that should be shut down.
Should the Gunners find themselves dropping into a defensive formation, the emphasis should continue to be on denying wide players the ability to cross it into the box.
When attacking Manchester United, Arsenal should look to abuse the defensive capabilities of Sancho, as well as the fairly new partnership in central defense. Getting forwards into a habit of making diagonal runs into the half spaces could open up the Red Devils and allow Arsenal a chance on goal. Martinelli, in particular, should look to go hard on Dalot, as his offensive capabilities far extends his defensive.
This is a game that’s going to be won on who is better at abusing the errors created by the opposing team. Arsenal should be the better on paper, but Manchester United does have some match winners on the bench, that might not fit the team sheet, but will be itching to show their worth in goals.
What the Manager Says (courtesy Arsenal.com)
on Ramsdale and Odegaard’s fitness…
Those two are being assessed, we will see more tomorrow. Hopefully they will be able to train with the team. Unfortunately with Alex [Zinchenko] that’s still not the case, he missed two games and has not been able to train with the team yet.
on what it would mean to win at Old Trafford…
It’s not something new. We’ve done it, we have to do it again and we have to believe from today, yesterday and straight after the game that we are capable of going there and playing how we want in the match.
on what is he most proud about with the opening five games…
The feeling and energy that is around the club, and the way the team is playing and performing, and at the end of the day, the icing on the cake is winning football matches. That is the only reason why we are here, and we have to continue to do that. If we keep doing the simple things right and maintain the energy levels, belief and enthusiasm that we have, we’ll keep playing well.
Arsenal Record vs Opponent (League only)
17W 18D 25L
Goals Scored (Season Average)
Arsenal (Away): 2.50
Manchester United (Home): 1.50
Goals Conceded (Season Average)
Arsenal (Away): 0
Manchester United (Home): 1.50
xG per Match (via fbref.com)
Manchester United: 1.26
Referee: Paul Tierney
Assistants: Lee Betts, Constantine Hotzidakis
Fourth Official: Simon Hooper
VAR: Lee Mason
Assistant VAR: Neil Davies
Match Facts (courtesy bbc.co.uk)
Manchester United have kept just one clean sheet in their past 16 Premier League meetings with Arsenal, a goalless draw at the Emirates Stadium in January 2021. At home, they’ve conceded in their previous eight against the Gunners since a 1-0 win in November 2013.
Arsenal have won just one of their past 15 Premier League away games against Manchester United (D5 L9), picking up a 1-0 victory in November 2020.
United’s Cristiano Ronaldo has scored seven goals in his past eight games against Arsenal in all competitions, netting home and away against the Gunners in the Premier League last term. Overall he’s scored nine goals against Arsenal, and they could be the 20th different opponent he reaches double figures against in his career for club and country.
Manchester United are one of just three sides Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus has faced in the Premier League but not scored against, along with Cardiff City and Brentford. The Brazilian has played 454 minutes in nine games against the Red Devils.