It has been an interesting year in all competitions for Arsenal.
We have seen amazing highs in beating Liverpool twice. It may have ‘just’ been the Community Shield and the Carabao Cup, but they are still wins. Arsenal have also thrashed Fulham and looked like a well put together team.
We have also seen incredible lows, like the entire second half of the Leicester City game from last week, and needing a rescue from our best player to barely skate past Rapid Vienna. This all begs the question, which team will show up?
It’s Manchester United vs Arsenal. It doesn’t get much bigger than this.
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I would like to believe that the away trip to Vienna and the complete collapse in the second half to Leicester are just blips on an otherwise impressive start to the season. We were able to hold our own in the losses to Liverpool and Manchester City in the Premier League. While we did lose, the games didn’t feel as out of control as they have in recent times. Both clashes were also away from home, which adds to the complexity of bagging any points.
In our three Premier League wins against Fulham, West Ham, and Sheffield United, we looked the better team for decent stretches of the game. However, these are teams we should dominate, not just ‘look decent’ against.
We did well in the Fulham game, but you can’t say we dominated either West Ham or the Blades. Our recent 3-0 win against Dundalk – while playing without a natural center-back for the better part of 30 minutes – should not really be given too much thought. The stark difference in quality was obvious and the other, more likeable, Lilywhites were never able to really threaten the Arsenal debutant in net.
There were some encouraging signs from this game, ones that I would have loved to see against Leicester, Dundalk employing a similar system to the Foxes’ 3-5-2 and set up in the same low block. The difference was how we attacked the two teams. We spent much of the game in a 2-3-5 offensive setup and there was much more movement from the five forward players and three midfielders.
This movement pulled players out of position and we were able to have plenty of joy in the final third, registering 25 shots, six on target and scoring three time. The first was scrappy, but the other two came from open play and were well executed.
All of this makes me wonder which Arsenal team will show up for the fight against the Red Devils. The game should be markedly different from our last three. Don’t expect Manchester United to sit in a shell, at home, and hit us on the counter.
This game should also show us where each team is in their respective projects. Manchester United have struggled at the beginning of this season and have dropped plenty of points to teams they should beat, meanwhile we have taken nine points from twelve against teams that we should beat. During that period, United have dropped points against the likes Crystal Palace and Tottenham, and they also barely squeaked past Brighton thanks to a penalty that happened after the full-time whistle.
The stats going into this game are in our favor, our goal difference being four greater than United’s. We have conceded the second fewest number of goals in the league while United have given up the fifth most. United scoring just one more than us, too.
Personally, I would love to see a return to the 4-3-3 setup with some minor changes for this game. Bernd Leno will start in goal, he had a few shaky games of late but we won’t see Runar Runarsson getting his Premier League debut at Old Trafford. The back four should see Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Magalhaes, Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin.
For the midfield base I would like to see a paring of Dani Ceballos and Thomas Partey with Willian as a No. 10. I would like to see the front three of Bukayo Saka on the left and Nicolas Pepe on the right, leaving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to lead the line through the middle.
Look for Aubameyang to play off the shoulder of Harry Maguire, making runs in behind and keeping the questionable fridge of a defender occupied. Willian, Saka and Pepe should freely interchange across the advanced midfield and utilize their speed to get in behind as the opportunity presents itself. This movement will be important as it will pull the defenders to give space for Aubameyang to dart into dangerous positions.
Bellerin and Tierney should also look to overlap when the chance arises, creating even more confusion in the United back line.
I’m hoping the combination of this movement and United’s willingness to attack will prevent a repeat of the horseshoe type passing, from the center-halves to the full-backs, as we’ve seen in the more recent games. Having possession is great, but it means nothing unless you can do something with it.
This should be an interesting measuring stick for Arsenal in terms of where we are in our project. On paper we have been the better team this season by a decent margin in the Premier League. However, I see Manchester United as a wounded animal in their current state. They are dangerous and can unleash some serious firepower as RB Leipzig saw on Wednesday.
They can also play a dreadfully boring game as they did against Chelsea at home last weekend. This contest could very well be the battle of which version of the teams will show up. My estimation is that Arsenal will show up for a fight and United will have an off-day. That’s the hope anyway. Look for a final score of United 1-3 Arsenal. You heard it here first.