The usual five talking points ahead of today’s Premier League match at Manchester United
Beware the wounded animal
There’s no debate that Manchester United are having a difficult season. Things haven’t clicked and their last two matches saw defeat at West Ham followed by the requirement of penalties to despatch the might of Rochdale at home in the Carabao Cup (albeit with a mix and match side for the latter game). They lie 11th after six league fixtures with eight points. However, a win this evening would take them level on points with Arsenal, so Gooners need to be wary of claiming any high ground until 10pm this evening. Can United’s patchy form continue? They have beaten Chelsea and Leicester at home this season, but they also conspired to lose when Crystal Palace visited. One thing is certain. Old Trafford isn’t the fortress of old. You just can’t tell which United will turn up this evening and the hope has to be that not enough of the players that used to raise their game against Arsenal remain at the club.
Arsenal wins at Old Trafford are collectors’ items these days
Sure, since Alex Ferguson called it a day in 2013, United have struggled to recapture their former glories. That, sadly, has not been reflected by any Arsenal victories at their stadium though, at least in the Premier League. In the last six visits, the north London side have secured a total of three points from eighteen – those via three draws. There was a win at OT in the run to the 2015 FA Cup Final, so it can be done. However, in the league, we have to go back to September 2006 for an Arsenal away win. A 1-0 victory with a goal from a certain Emmanuel Adebayor. The club had just moved into the Emirates Stadium. It’s fair to say it’s been quite a while…
So which returning defenders will Unai Emery start?
There’s no debating something needs to change in terms of Arsenal’s defending, and the most obvious one is personnel. At least the head coach now has a few more options. Having only come on as a sub last Tuesday, you’d imagine Hector Bellerin probably won’t start, given his lack of match fitness. He’s likely to come on as a sub. Rob Holding played 90 minutes against Forest and should, in theory, be perfectly capable of doing another full game almost a week later. Assuming there are no fitness concerns, Emery really has to start him, if only to see whether he can improve the solidity of the back line. One imagines Sokratis would be more likely to give way than David Luiz were this to be the case. It is ironic that it was at Old Trafford last season that Holding suffered the injury that has kept him out for months and we can only ask what if, in terms of its effect on Arsenal last season. Kieran Tierney played most of the Forest match before being subbed for Bellerin, but the fact he started indicates his fitness is believed to be satisfactory. Given the significance of this match, you’d imagine Emery will pick Tierney over Kolasinac at left back, especially after how much he impressed on his debut.
Who plays right back then?
Assuming Bellerin is on the bench, Emery will presumably choose between Calum Chambers and Ainsley Maitland Niles, who served his suspension last Tuesday when Forest visited for his dismissal against Villa. Chambers has looked more confortable at right back than he used to, although another option open to the manager is playing Chambers with Rob Holding in the centre, with Maitland Niles in his customary position. Is he going to drop David Luiz though? Somehow, in spite of the former Chelsea player’s error prone displays since joining, you can’t see it.
So how will Emery set his team up?
Might we see a trio of Xhaka, Guendouzi and Torreira to (in theory) give more protection to the back line? Arsenal have conceded nine goals in their last four Premier League matches. Abameyang and Pepe are near certain starters, but would Emery repeat the experiment of playing Ceballos behind them to try and link the play – something that didn’t work out at Liverpool? Maybe he’ll go for it and play three forwards, with either Saka or Nelson on the left flank, with one of Torreira or Ceballos stepping down. With the Gunners, attack is probably the only form of defence, so I can see a 4-2-1-3 with Torreira on the bench. Emery is hardly going to throw us a curved ball and not start Xhaka having finally announced him as the club captain.
United have injury worries with both Pogba and Rashford doubtful, and the reality is that they are there for the taking. They are unpredictable at home though, and one certainty about this evening is that it will mean a lot more to the home fans than the players, so expect an intimidating atmosphere, which could spur Solskjaer’s men to perform better then they have done on occasion this season. It’s a very difficult match to predict, but you’d have to envisage that both sides will score. I’m going to go with hope and say it’s about time the law of averages gave Arsenal a win. So 2-1 to Emery’s men, surely at least one of those coming from the in-form Aubameyang.
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