A blockbuster tie will be on the cards when the stuttering Manchester United side welcome a resurgent Arsenal to Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
The games are starting to come thick and fast in what is going to be a busy December in the Premier League. Gameweek 15 is here, just two days after the previous one ended, and the marquee match-up in the midweek round of fixtures will see Manchester United lock horns with Arsenal, with eight points separating the two giants.
Manchester United’s free fall is showing no signs of stopping, with the Red Devils failing to win each of their last three Premier League games. To make matters worse, rumours of unrest in the dressing room have resurfaced, with speculation over Jose Mourinho’s future at Old Trafford starting to grow like wild fire once again.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are on the opposite side of the spectrum, as far as form and fortunes are concerned. The Gunners haven’t lost any game they have played since August, with their unbeaten run stretching to 19 games. The latest in a long list of impressive results came in the form of a stirring come-from-behind 4-2 win over Tottenham in the North London derby.
With his men starting to take to Unai Emery’s methods, the only concern remains Arsenal’s inability to go into the half-time of a game with a lead. Meanwhile, Manchester United are unable to recognize their identity under Mourinho, who is now in his third season in-charge at Old Trafford.
The corresponding fixture last season had ended in a 2-1 win for Manchester United, with Marouane Fellaini scoring an injury time winner. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Premier League encounter.
Team News & Tactics
It wasn’t too long ago that Jose Mourinho was speaking of his relief of boasting a clean bill of health. But, ahead of the visit of Arsenal on Wednesday, the Manchester United boss has a gamut of concerns hampering his preparations considerably, with as many as 9 first-team players dealing with different levels of injuries.
To take the list of possible absentees into double digits, Ashley Young is suspended after accruing his fifth booking of the season. Those who are certain to miss out owing to fitness issues are Victor Lindelof (groin) and Alexis Sanchez (hamstring). But, there are several others who are facing a race against time to make it to the matchday squad against Arsenal.
These players include Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku. While most of the players are likely to be in contention to feature in some capacity, Mourinho’s is down to his bare bones in some of the departments across the pitch.
One area where there is no uncertainty is right at the back, with David de Gea set to continue in goal. In the back four, Diogo Dalot looks like a certain starter, replacing the suspended Young at right-back. Phil Jones has not made the squad to face as per the reliable Manchester Evening News, but Smalling and Bailly are fit.
The duo should thus, line up at the heart of the Manchester United defence, with the fit-again Marcos Rojo being another option. Another player who has missed the squad is Shaw, having failed to shrug off his knock. The youngster should be replaced by Matteo Darmian, with the Italian being a makeshift left-back.
In midfield, Nemanja Matic is an automatic selection despite his horrible form in recent games. Paul Pogba is likely to start as well, despite Mourinho’s reported outburst towards him following the game against Southampton. The third and final spot in the middle of the park should be taken up by Fellaini, who will be a key player against an Arsenal side that are susceptible to set-piece situations.
Up ahead in attack, Rashford and Anthony Martial are certain to start. The final spot is likely to be taken up by Juan Mata, who will be needed in order to provide the required creative impetus. Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku will thus, be impact substitutes for Manchester United.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): de Gea; Dalot, Bailly, Smalling, Darmian; Fellaini, Matic, Pogba; Mata, Rashford, Martial
Unai Emery does not have many pressing injury concerns to deal with ahead of the trip to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United. On Wednesday, the Arsenal boss will have just five players unavailable due to injuries or suspension.
The likes of Konstantinos Mavropanos (groin), Nacho Monreal (hamstring) and Danny Welbeck (ankle) are certainly missing the trip to Manchester, while Laurent Koscielny is still regaining fitness after coming back from his long-term injury. But, the major absentee for the Gunners will be Granit Xhaka. who will be serving a one-match ban.
The Swiss international has been key in build-up play from midfield, with Lucas Torreira holding the fort in front of the backline with his energetic displays. The Uruguayan international has turned out to be an inspired signing and will be a key player once again for Arsenal.
Meanwhile, Emery is likely to revert to the 4-2-3-1 formation following Shkodran Mustafi’s mixed performance against Tottenham, meaning Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Rob Holding should line up at the heart of the Arsenal defence, with the marauding duo of Sead Kolasinac and Hector Bellerin being the full-backs.
In midfield, Xhaka is likely to be replaced by Matteo Guendouzi, with Torreira being his partner. Up ahead in attack, Alexandre Lacazette seems to have regained peak fitness, and should return to the starting lineup, meaning Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should be deployed as a winger.
Mesut Ozil is only likely to be an option off the bench as he faces a race against time to complete his recovery from back spasms. In his absence, Aaron Ramsey should start in the no. 10 slot, after making a huge difference as a second half substitute this past weekend. Alex Iwobi is likely to man the right flank, meaning Henrikh Mkhitaryan drops down to the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Sokratis, Kolasinac; Torreira, Guendouzi; Iwobi, Ramsey, Aubameyang; Lacazette
1. Both Teams to Score – YES @ 1.50
2. Over 10.5 Corners @ 2.10
3. Over 3.5 Cards @ 1.66
1. Both Teams to Score in 1st Half @ 3.25
- This will be the first meeting since 23 August 1986 wherein neither Sir Alex Ferguson nor Arsene Wenger will be on the touchline taking charge of Manchester United and Arsenal, respectively. The aforementioned occasion had seen the Gunners win 1-0 in a league game at Highbury.
- Manchester United are unbeaten in 11 Premier League matches at Old Trafford against Arsenal since September 2006 (W8 D3).
- A win would give Arsenal 16 away points – as many as they claimed in total on the road last season (W4 D4 L11). The Gunners have already equalled last term’s total of four wins on the road in the Premier League.
- Manchester United have conceded six goals in the opening 15 minutes of matches this season, a joint-league high with Fulham.
- Arsenal have scored 24 second half goals in the Premier League this season, more than any other side.
Player to Watch
It has been a hit and miss season for Marcus Rashford thus far, with poor decision making hampering his output considerably for the most part. This past weekend though, the young Englishman was the sole reason why Manchester United avoided an embarrassing loss to Southampton.
Now, back to the game where it all began for him in the Premier League, Rashford has the chance to spark a turnaround for Manchester United. If he can retrace his steps and produce another such stunning performance, Jose Mourinho’s men might just be on their way to a crucial win.
Manchester United 1-2 Arsenal
For a long time, whenever Arsenal visited Old Trafford, one could safely say that Manchester United would not to be beaten. The arrival of Jose Mourinho and his positive record against Arsene Wenger had only added to the feeling that the Gunners would not go back home with all three points. But, a lot has changed since the end of last season.
While Wenger is no longer in-charge at the Emirates, Mourinho’s “third season syndrome” seems to be well into effect. Add to that, Arsenal’s burgeoning stature under Unai Emery, and the early signs point towards the North Londoners overturning their poor recent record at Old Trafford.
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in fine form, the Gunners should enjoy some goal mouth action. But, with pride at stake, Manchester United should make things difficult for the Gabonese and rest of the Arsenal attack. David de Gea, who was in inspired form in last season’s December meeting between the two sides will be clutch as well.
However, we feel Emery’s men should have enough to grab all three points, with the woes continuing for Mourinho.