After flying high for the past few weeks, Manchester United were brought back to reality with a loss to Sheffield United. Their title ambitions took a major hit with that loss, giving rivals Man City the advantage. They might be down, but they aren’t really knocked out yet.
The real test of character starts with the clash against Arsenal. The Gunners have recovered from a poor start to the season and look to be on the upwards trajectory. However, this is an away game. United are undefeated in Premier League away fixtures this season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must rally his troops to regain their confidence & bounce back from that harrowing defeat with another blockbuster away performance to at least stay alive in the title race.
Arsenal Likely XI
Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Cedric, Xhaka, Partey, Saka, Willian, Pepe, Lacazette
Arsenal left-back Kieran Tierney & midfielder Emile Smith-Rowe are their big injury absentees, while captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could also miss this due to personal problems. Thomas Partey could also pass a late fitness test to be available.
Manchester United Likely XI
De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, Bruno, Pogba, Rashford, Cavani
Eric Bailly is United’s only injury absentee.
Arsenal vs Manchester United Preview
Since he became United’s manager, Arsenal has almost been like a kryptonite for Solskjaer. He is yet to defeat them in 4 meetings (3 losses, 1 draw) as the Red Devils’ boss. So going into this on the back of a depressing loss definitely won’t help.
But this is where the character of his team is tested. This is what will decide whether they’re capable of challenging, let alone winning the league title. One thing which is on OGS’ side is his team’s impressive PL away form. They haven’t lost an away league game since January 2020!
With Arsenal not having the best of home forms either, the Red Devils should fancy their chances. After that loss, Ole should make formidable changes & bring his very best to the table to get the win. That should mean the 4-4-2 diamond formation returns and a few altercations for his players.
Irrespective of what happens, a lot will be relying on Bruno Fernandes’ shoulders to get a result. After the goal vs Liverpool, he’ll be fancying his chances against a top side. Bruno just needs to get more involved in the final third, not drop back as he did vs Sheffield & keep testing Arsenal with his clever passing.
With more midfielders behind him, the Portuguese midfielder should get more chances to get inside the box & score goals. Paul Pogba had a disastrous outing in the reverse fixture against Arsenal, so he’ll be licking his lips of redeeming himself here. He’ll need to work hard in possibly another makeshift role, but also create chances with his creative distribution & also try scoring goals from outside the area.
But inside the final third, a lot would be riding on the proactive Edinson Cavani & exhilarating Marcus Rashford. The Uruguayan will be tasked to be a thorn at Arsenal’s defenders with his movement & instinctive finishing ability inside the box, while Rashford must improve his decision-making & cause problems with his impressive pace.
Arsenal are defensively a stubborn side, who can soak in a lot of pressure and make things difficult for United. So OGS’ side must wake up from their slumber, be more precise with their attacking patterns & diversify their moves to trouble the hosts. Fred & Scott McTominay will mostly be there to stop counter-attacks & help their side dominate possession, but they need to act as X-factors in attacks by contributing those unpredictable forward passes.
But the Achilles heel in United’s game right now is definitely their defence. After watching the way they conceded the goals vs Sheffield, Arsenal will be licking their lips. The Gunners have some formidable players up top, including the unpredictable Alexandre Lacazette – who can cause problems with his link-up play and deft finishing.
Moreover, the tricky Nicolas Pepe is the kind of winger United’s defenders hate to play against, while Willian also adds more creativity. Then there’s the midfield battle vs the sturdy Partey & aggressive Granit Xhaka to deal with. United’s backline must adapt themselves to defend against Arsenal’s speedy counter-attacks & fluidity better. Harry Maguire & Victor Lindelof must be near flawless to keep a clean sheet.
While the full-backs also must work twice as hard to restrict AFC’s wing-play, they also need to deliver better crosses as the hosts are vulnerable to them. Indeed, Luke Shaw in particular must nail his crosses & set-piece to create formidable chances for his side.
Like Sheffield, Arsenal will happily sit back against United to frustrate them & hit on the counter-attack. The Red Devils must learn from their mistakes, be more clinical and act stronger defensively to keep their impressive away run going as well as stay close to league leaders Man City.
This should be an entertaining game. But considering United’s impressive away form AND OGS’ poor record vs Arsenal, I think both teams will cancel each other out. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw.