High-flying Manchester United will look to create some room between themselves and Arsenal in the race for top four when the two teams meet on Sunday.
Arsenal are in disarray. Falling off a cliff, of sorts, after their spectacular 22-game unbeaten run under Unai Emery, the latest shock came in the UEFA Europa League Round of 16, with Rennes handing them a 3-1 defeat in France in the first-leg, making the tie a tough one to recover from and qualify to the latter stages of the competition.
In case they do not complete a comeback in the second leg, a top four finish in the Premier League will be left as the only avenue to achieve Champions League football for the upcoming season. The race for top four has become tougher, owing to the resurgence of Manchester United and it is the Red Devils that are paying Arsenal a visit on Sunday in the league.
United are soaring high in the sky at the moment. They are yet to lose a full game under Solskjaer, after completing a historic comeback in the second leg of the Round of 16 Champions League tie against PSG to advance, despite a 2-0 defeat at home. Confidence is high despite a spate of injuries and they come into the Sunday fixture as heavy favourites on the basis of recent form.
Manchester United’s last league trip to Emirates yielded a 3-1 defeat for Arsenal and United fans will be hoping for more of the same. Ahead of the renewal of rivalries on Sunday, we take a closer look at the two squads.
Team News & Tactics
Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck and Hector Bellerin are sidelined with their respective injury issues. But, the biggest miss will be Lucas Torreira, who will be serving the first of his three-game suspension, thanks to his red card in the North London derby.
Sokratis was sent off on Thursday against Rennes and while he is eligible to play against Manchester United, Unai Emery is unlikely to use the player. Instead, Shkodran Mustafi, who took to the field on the right, should shift to the centre, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles coming in to fill the void at right-back. Emery should opt for experience on the other flank, with Nacho Monreal likely to be preferred over Sead Kolasinac.
Lucas Torreira’s absence will be a huge blow. But, Emery has Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka to fill the spaces at the base of the midfield. Mesut Ozil was one of the brighter sparks against Rennes and could start alongside Alex Iwobi, with the pairing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette likely to be upfront.
While Emery has been cautious of pairing the two world-class strikers together, the Manchester United fixture and desperation for a win might compel him to start both. Lacazette was suspended for the Europa League game against Rennes and will be fresh for Sunday.
Emery’s Arsenal have shown they are willing to concede possession and the battle in midfield if it means stifling the opposition and hitting them on the counter, with the pace of Lacazette and Aubameyang available.
Probable Lineup (4-2-2-2): Leno; Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Guendouzi, Xhaka; Iwobi, Ozil; Lacazette, Aubameyang
Only one of the 10 injured/absentees is set to return, with Paul Pogba having served his suspension, missing the historic comeback against PSG. Anthony Martial is on the verge of returning but is unlikely to be risked on Sunday.
The back four will likely be the one that started last weekend, with Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw providing support to David de Gea, who will be manning the Manchester United goal.
Pogba will most certainly start in midfield. In the absence of his usual partners Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera, who have returned to training, but are unlikely to be fit enough, Fred and Scott McTominay should be deployed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, especially after the duo’s heroic display on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see if Solskjaer plays a diamond 4-4-2. In case of a diamond, we are likely to see Andreas Pereira start in the number 10 role.
But, if the manager opts for a natural 4-4-2, we might get to see Diogo Dalot on the right, with Pogba likely to be shifted to the left side. In attack, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford should reprise their partnership. The Belgian international especially, has been prolific recently, with 6 goals in his last 3 matches.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2 Diamond/ 4-3-1-2): de Gea; Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; Fred, McTominay, Pereira, Pogba; Lukaku, Rashford
1. Full Time Result – Draw or Manchester United @ 1.57
2. Over 2.5 Match Goals @ 1.66
1. Manchester United to win @ 3.00
1. Arsenal have scored in each of their last five home games against Manchester United.
2. Manchester United have kept a clean sheet in four of their last five away league games.
3. Manchester United are on a 12-game unbeaten streak in the Premier League under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – the longest of any manager in charge of a Premier League side during such a run.
4. Arsenal have had a player sent off in each of their last two games in all competitions.
5. Arsenal are on a 14-game unbeaten home streak in the Premier League, winning 12 of those ties.
Player to Watch
The Wednesday game against PSG was perhaps his best performance in a Manchester United shirt and it will be very important to follow it up with another good display on Sunday. Fred is likely to have worked his way into the starting eleven against Arsenal on the back of his performance against PSG.
But, the tough part will be to match his levels from Wednesday. The Sunday fixture could very well decide Fred’s fate for the remainder of the season.
Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United
It’s a fixture that is fiercer than most local rivalries in English football. The importance of the game in terms of the Premier League title race has mellowed down quite a bit in the recent years. But, that has not taken any shine away from the matchup.
Sunday will be immense in terms of the top four race. And, the form guide suggests it could very well be the away side that runs away with the game. The Manchester United players seem to be responding positively to each and everything Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does or opts for and in comparison, the Norwegian seems to have a better control over his squad, despite being the club manager for way less than Emery.
Emery will be hoping for a positive reaction from his side after the 3-1 defeat to Rennes during the midweek. But, we expect a repeat of the 3-1 scoreline from the last time Manchester United faced Arsenal at Emirates in the Premier League. Arsenal just don’t seem to have enough to stop the Manchester United juggernaut.