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Arsenal Look For A Positive Performance vs Limp Manchester United


Arsenal’s fixture against Manchester United this weekend shapes as an early season-defining match for Unai Emery and his team.

While three wins, two draws, and a solitary defeat isn’t the worst start for the Gunners, the quality of performances have been underwhelming, to say the least.

Patches of brilliance have papered over longer periods of instability and despondency both home and away, and Arsenal have extracted the absolute maximum such limited performance can achieve, results-wise.

Manchester United at Old Trafford seems a significantly more daunting task than anything else Arsenal have encountered this season – a trip to Anfield aside – yet Emery’s time at Arsenal has often been marked with surprisingly positive performances in crunch fixtures against the other top-six sides.

Arsenal have shown a willingness to step up their level in these games, often using it as a springboard for a series of wins in the weeks following. Yet for all their good performances in these fixtures, the Gunners have still failed to win an away game against any of the top six since 2015.

As such, some changes in approach are needed if Arsenal are to exploit a vulnerable Manchester United and claim a significant scalp in their quest to reattain Champions League football next season.

A complimentary defence

Much has been made of Arsenal’s defensive woes this season. Conceding at a rate of 1.6 goals a game, many goals have been gifted to the opposition through glaring errors, with centre-halves Sokratis and David Luiz often at fault.

However, part of the problem lies in the fact that Emery has not selected a complementary pairing of centre-backs. In a team such as Arsenal, who like to rotate the ball around the defence, it is a requirement to have at least one centre-back who is proactive in defending and comfortable on the ball.

Luiz and Sokratis both play this role, however, with both players stepping up to intercept and snuff out danger, having two defenders with this mindset means that any errors leave Arsenal horribly exposed in behind.

Rob Holding, who returned (and scored) in Arsenal’s 5-0 win over Nottingham Forest this week, and Calum Chambers, who scored on the weekend against Aston Villa, are Arsenal’s two cover centre-back options. One who reacts to their partner’s movements and fills in the gaps that come from such a proactive approach.

While both might be limited technically, and ultimately, probably not of the quality Arsenal require in defence long-term, they will provide a tactical balance, and calmness at the back. This will ultimately allow Arsenal to defend far better in the short term and allow for some flexibility further up the ground.

Mobile midfield

The analysis of Arsenal’s midfield has shown them to be found wanting this season. Too attacking against Burnley (albeit with a justified mindset underpinning that particular game), too defensive against Spurs, too narrow against Liverpool, too passive against Watford, it seems Emery can’t get his midfield balance right.

With Manchester United, the injured Paul Pogba aside, lacking players of particular quality on the ball, Arsenal can exploit their technical superiority by robbing United of time and space in the centre of the park.

For this to work, Lucas Torreira demands a full 90 minutes. Likely to play as a defensive number eight in a similar vein to N’golo Kante at Chelsea, Torreira’s energy, defensive acumen, and pressing capability will serve to harass United’s midfield, forcing them into mistakes and allowing Arsenal to win the ball high up the pitch.

It will also allow one of Matteo Guendouzi or Granit Xhaka to function better as the deep-lying playmaker, as playing the two together exacerbates their similar weaknesses in mobility and defensive play.

Finally, a player who can transition the ball quickly from midfield to attack, while also adding to a proactive press, should round out the midfield three. With Scott McTominay able to do a marking job that would likely blunt the effectiveness of Mesut Özil, Joe Willock has earned the right to start in a huge fixture, such as this one.

Few in England have the skillset or potential of the 20-year old, and a big performance in a big game might be the momentum boost that begins a long, stable and storied career in the Arsenal first-team.

Pace in attack

Alexandre Lacazette is a massive loss in a top-end-of-the-table clash, but it at least allows Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to function in his natural role, as a lone striker in a 4-3-3.

With Nicolas Pepe now a starter for Arsenal, and with the exciting Reiss Nelson (for balance), Bayuko Saka (for unpredictability) or Gabriel Martinelli (for goal threat and inversion) to choose from on the left-wing, Arsenal – should they be able to win the ball high up the pitch – can pose significant problems for United’s defence, who are all susceptible to players with pace and trickery.

Although a trip to Old Trafford, no matter the state of Manchester United’s side, is always tough, Arsenal will go into the game somewhat confident of getting a result.

With the right balance in defence, midfield and attack, an emphasis on mobility, calmness, and directness. Emery has the options at his disposal to cause Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United issues that they may not be able to handle.

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