Sunday, 04 October 2015 1500 hours UTC
Manchester United and Arsenal will add another page to the annals of their storied rivalry as two of the biggest clubs in England lock horns again at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. Both teams played in Europe mid-week and will not be wholly fresh for the encounter but if history is anything to go by, it will be another classic game between the two. Adding spice to the mix is the fact that Arsenal are only three points behind United in the league table and while a win for United would reinforce their presence at the top of the table, three points for Arsenal would put them level on points with United.
Team News, Tactics and Probable Lineups
Arsenal enter this game in worst possible mental state, having lost to Olympiakos at home in Europe on Wednesday night. What should be more worrying for Arsenal is that the defeat was not due to a stroke of bad luck. Olympiakos exposed holes in Arsenal’s game and penalised them for it. The only positive that Arsenal can probably take away from a game that was riddled with defensive errors and a goalkeeping blunder was that they did not let their heads drop, equalising twice before succumbing to an Ospina howler and an Alfred Finnbogason strike. Arsenal are still without a point in their Champions League group but have little time to ponder as they will take on one of their fiercest rivals in the Premier League era on Sunday.
On the team front, Petr Cech looks all but confirmed to come back into the side especially after the blunder that Ospina made when he was picked ahead of Cech on Wednesday. Arsenal’s defence has been mediocre at best since the start of this season and while they are still fourth in the Premier League after 7 games, it is through a combination of Sanchez’s heroics upfield and the poor show from Chelsea and other clubs that usually form the top third of the Premier League table. To make matters worse at the back, Laurent Koscielny, who has looked the best of the Arsenal defenders this season, was forced off the field in the second half against Olympiakos with a hamstring injury and is unlikely to play any part in this PL fixture. This might signal the return of Per Mertesacker, who missed the European game probably because Wenger wanted to rest him for the United game. Arsenal could well use his experience on Sunday if they want to thwart Mata, Rooney and Martial in their intentions on goal. Gibbs should be able to retain his place at left back ahead of Monreal while Gabriel and Bellerin complete the defensive quartet.
Flamini is still doubtful of a start and there is all likelihood of Cazorla and Coquelin continuing their partnership from Wednesday in the engine room in midfield. Sanchez is working up a great partnership with Theo Walcott heading the attack and Wenger would not even think before putting their names on the team sheet alongside Ozil who has played the man-in-the-hole role to perfection. The final place on the wings on the right will probably be filled by Oxlade-Chamberlain or Ramsey as they have the pace to take on Depay and Martial down that flank. Arteta remains doubtful for the game as well while Wilshere, Welbeck and Rosciky continue their long term absence due to injuries. Giroud would probably get his chance to make a mark on the game around the hour mark if Arsenal are trailing or tied since the Frenchman presents a more physical presence in the final third and is useful to hold up the ball while his team mates make their way up the field.
Wenger will likely stick to his 4-2-3-1 formation especially because LvG also seems to be placing his faith in a similar formation. United’s biggest threat is through new signing Anthony Martial, who not only has scored for them but also creates space and chances for his other attacking partners. Wenger would look to close down this threat by using Mertesacker’s experience to marshal the defense while Bellerin and Paulista would have the unenviable task of dealing with the Depay-Martial combination down the left flank.
Probable XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Gibbs, Paulista, Mertesacker, Bellerin; Cazorla, Coquelin; Sanchez, Ozil, Ramsey; Walcott.
United’s fortunes in Europe were an exact opposite to their Sunday rivals as Louis van Gaal’s men put in a composed and clinical performance to recover from an early Wolfsburg goal to close out the game and bag all three points at home. United would be upbeat going into Sunday’s game but they would do well to proceed with caution as Wenger’s side in their trademark roller coaster style has a penchant to bounce back strongly from defeats and there could not be a bigger motivation for them than a home game against Manchester United.
With de Gea’s contract standoff and potential Real Madrid transfer behind them, United have happily restored their first choice shot stopper in goal and are enjoying the fruits of labour of one of the best young goalkeepers in the world. Only an injury would prevent de Gea from getting onto the team sheet currently and as that is not the case, he will retain his place in the starting lineup. On the injury front Louis van Gaal’s side have some good news as both Carrick and Herrera, who missed the Wolfsburg game, seem to be fit for Sunday’s encounter. That however does not solve their defensive worries where the long term absence of left back Luke Shaw through a sickening multiple leg fracture has put paid to LvG’s plans of playing new Italian signing, Matteo Darmian at right back. With only Antonio Valencia left as a choice and the Ecuadorian preferring to play on the right, van Gaal has been forced to switch Darmian to the left to make adjustments. Ashley Young, who was substituted in for Valencia at half time in the Wolfsburg game, may have however given van Gaal some food for thought. In the backdrop of Valencia effectively playing Caligiuri onside for Wolfsburg’s goal, van Gaal might just consider throwing a curve ball Arsenal’s way by starting Young in left back and Darmian in his preferred right back role to neutralise the threat of Alexis Sanchez down that flank. Valencia might prove to be a sitting duck to the guile of the Chilean winger and it may need more of Darmian’s natural defensive ability to control him. In central defense, Smalling’s performance against Wolfsburg that included a goal has surely earned him a spot on the team sheet. Marcus Rojo is still unfit while Phil Jones was sent in late in the game on Wednesday but he may still not be ready to take on a high pressure game like this one and play for the full 90 minutes. This will prompt van Gaal to persist with Blind in the other centre back role.
In midfield, Schweinsteiger had a good day in the office and would be a front runner to start the game. Herrera and Carrick’s return from injury surely provides LvG with options though. Keeping in mind a tougher run of fixtures that includes an away game at Everton and a home game against Manchester City either side of an away European fixture at CSKA Moscow, there would surely be the temptation to rest the German midfielder and play Carrick instead. Schneiderlin also could be rested to make way for Herrera as van Gaal will look to rotate his squad to avoid more injuries. Manchester United’s attacking quartet has slowly but surely settled in and is striking up quite a partnership together. Depay has provided much needed mobility and guile on the left flank while Martial’s arrival has not only freed Rooney from goalscoring duties but also created the supply and space that Mata needs to operate freely. The latter is evident in the prolific performances of the Spaniard as his count of goals and assists is increasing practically after every game.
Tactically, the biggest decision that Louis van Gaal would need to take is on how to approach the game. His team are in decent form having won on their last two Premier League outings as well as the mid-week European fixture. The win against Sunderland was not only their third in a row in the league after wins against Liverpool and Southampton but was also instrumental in them vaulting city rivals Manchester City to the top of the table. Being at the top of the table lends a different kind of confidence to the team but LvG must guard against complacency. Pressing Arsenal and playing too high a line may actually play into the hands of Wenger as both Sanchez and Walcott are both adept at running off the shoulder of the last defender and both Ozil and Cazorla are capable of picking out a mean pass in the role of supplier. United’s best bet may actually be to sit a bit deeper and attack Arsenal on the break when their defense is at its most vulnerable.
Probable XI (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Young, Blind, Smalling, Darmian; Carrick, Herrera; Depay, Rooney, Mata; Martial
- Arsenal have won just one of their last 13 PL games against United (D4 L8).
- United have won the last 4 away games against Arsenal. They’ve never gone 5 without an away loss against the Gunners in the PL era.
- Theo Walcott has netted 12 times in his last 13 PL starts for Arsenal.
- Wayne Rooney has scored 11 goals against Arsenal making them his third favourite club to score against after Aston Villa (13) and Newcastle (12).
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 1
While United clearly have the momentum going into this fixture, Arsenal will have the home advantage as well as their habit of bouncing back when it all seems bleak. It may be ironical but for once both the teams are equally matched in every department. A solid goalkeeper, a dodgy defense, dependable but non-spectacular midfield and a pacy attack. The outcome of the match may well be decided by which side shuns profligacy and is clinical in finishing in front of goal.
Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
The Chilean winger has impressed one and all since his arrival at the Emirates Stadium last season. He has started this season too in fine fettle and is fresh from having scored a hat trick against Leicester City last weekend. While the Red Devils’ defense may be a bit more of a challenge and their midfield a bit more imposing, Sanchez’s ability and his improving understanding with Theo Walcott at the head of the attack would be critical if Arsenal are to take the full complement of three points from this game.
Anthony Martial (Manchester United)
Martial is arguably the most controversial signing of United’s van Gaal era yet he has turned heads with his performances since making his move to Old Trafford. The youngster brings to United what they have lacked over the last couple of years – a striker who can finish goals as well as be a constant nuisance to defenders thus creating space, crosses and chances for his team mates. Mata is flourishing in this new light and Depay seems to have developed a good understanding as well with Martial. The young Frenchman will definitely be licking his lips at the prospect of getting to run at an Arsenal defense that is far from perfect.
Blast from the Past
United met Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on 3 November 2007 in an exciting encounter. In spite of both teams attacking and counter attacking each others goal, it was Gallas who opened the scoring at the stroke of half time albeit for Manchester United when Rooney’s shot at goal ricocheted off his legs as he went for the block. Fabregas equalised for Arsenal within minutes of the resumption of play after half time taking advantage of a goal mouth scramble. The game then seemed to be heading towards a draw when Cristiano Ronaldo netted his effort in the 82nd minute. The victory though was not to be for Manchester United as William Gallas made amends for his first half own goal by slotting in from close range after another session of goalmouth pinball to equalise for the hosts and help Arsenal maintain their unbeaten streak.