With Saturday fast approaching we come to a major juncture of Arsenal’s season. Since Fergie left we’ve been in a few positions where we’ve gone to Old Trafford in the League with big expectations and suffered more than prospered.
In 2013 David Moyes’ hapless United beat us 1-0 and last season Louis Van Gaal’s out of form, glorified youth team gave us the sucker punch blow that effectively haunted our title race.
Saturday’s game brings even more importance though. Our troubles in November are a yearly well of despair that nowadays we more lower ourselves down into rather than fall in. The added incentive comes with Jose Mourinho, a man Wenger has never beaten in the League and because of that, the man Wenger will want to beat most.
Both teams have injury concerns – Arsenal have Bellerín and Cazorla effectively out of the reckoning while major concerns grow over the fitness of Alexis Sánchez as he trains with a protective strap over his right hamstring ahead of Chile’s upcoming game vs Uruguay.
Manchester United have impressive new signing Eric Bailly out, along with Chris Smalling and Ibrahimović missing with a ban. This changes the likely dynamics and throws the game into a tactically unpredictable place. This season we’ve pressed very high, won the ball high up the pitch and attempted to control games from within the opponent’s defensive third, this has left Koscielny and Mustafi vulnerable at times and it’s been their pro-activity mixed with the impressive recovery speed of the rest of the team that’s made it effective so far this season.
The question is, without a player as quick and agile as Bellerín does that throw too much uncertainty on our back-line to press as high? This is something that the likely replacements in Jenkinson and Debuchy lack. Maitland-Niles showed promise in this position versus Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup but a full Premier League debut in a match of this magnitude would be at best, optimistic and at worst, self destructive.
The absence of Cazorla raises questions, too. This season he’s been the brain of our midfield and although the partnership of Xhaka and Coquelin showed glimpses of good play we largely struggled to control the game versus Spurs.
Aaron Ramsey being back fit is another option. Will Wenger play him next to Xhaka as we finished the last game? Or would he be inclined to replace Iwobi with Ramsey on the wing as the former has been off form the last few games and guilty of not giving Monreal the protection he needs.
Analysing The Opponent
Mourinho is in a position currently where he doesn’t know his best team; this makes United vulnerable because they lack the clarity and consistency that’s bred with a regular team and system. Another good sign for us is you’d bet one of the only players Mourinho is sure would be in his best team would be Ibrahimović, so his absence will be something Mourinho will have to begrudgingly adapt to.
A possible reason for this could be that when United played Liverpool they intentionally made sure they didn’t hold the ball in areas Liverpool could press them and create turnovers, whenever the ball was with the centre backs they went long to Ibrahimović and attempted to win the second ball, if they didn’t they fell back into a rigid and narrow shape to force Liverpool to play through them. With Rashford up front it poses us different problems but restricts United from playing the long game unless they choose to put Fellaini in an advanced position.
One of United’s biggest problems this season is trying to find a place for Paul Pogba. The Frenchman isn’t really a #6, #8 or a #10 and in the past he’s had formations built around him to give him less responsibility. At Juventus he had Pirlo building the game behind him and engine rooms like Vidal/Marchisio next to him to limit the amount of space he had to defend. Playing as a centre midfielder rather than a #10 also meant he was always able to face the game instead of turn his back to it, as is usually required by midfielders that play in those advanced pockets of space. Although just because he is currently in transition doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous, he has ability to pick out final passes, he’s adept at shooting from range and is an aerial threat from set pieces.
The best way to deal with him in my opinion would be to leave him alone when he drops deep but prevent him receiving the ball between lines in advanced areas when he’s facing the goal because that’s the only time Pogba is dangerous from open play. He rarely makes big efforts to find space to receive the ball so if we can limit the space that he’ll usually find it could neutralise him completely.
Kill Mourinho With His Own Sword
Most of Mourinho’s titles have come from starting strong and keeping that consistency until January, by this point Mourinho is in a position where he can concentrate more on not losing games than actually winning them. This has lead to many victories against many of Mourinho’s rivals utilising tactics that concentrate heavily on the other team rather than concentrating on how his team play themselves.
You could really question if they can afford to go into Saturday’s game with that mentality. Manchester United find themselves 6 points adrift of Arsenal and the top four, an opportunity to close the gap at home should be, in theory, too good to pass up.
For years Mourinho has played negative tactics versus Wenger knowing that the pressure was always on Arsenal to get the win, now the tables have turned we could force Mourinho to take the initiative and wait for Mourinho to go to an unfamiliar attacking stance out of desperation and then pick them off.
My Preferred Team To Play Manchester United
For the most part I think this team speaks for itself but there will be some inclusions that could possibly confuse. One being Ramsey on the left wing – as touched on earlier in the article Iwobi’s form has dropped off and he arguably hasn’t given Monreal the needed protection. Although Chamberlain can play their too I’d put Ramsey in their to act as the third centre midfielder and overload areas with third man runs, something we’ve lacked for the most part this season.
Walcott on the other wing is important because of how much Alexis vacates the centre forward position. To say Jenkinson is my first choice would be generous but it’s definite that for some reason or another Debuchy isn’t being considered and I wouldn’t risk someone of Maitland-Niles experience in such a game.
Additionally, I’d go with a Xhaka – Coquelin pivot because even though I want us to play Ramsey centrally next to Xhaka, I think for this game it makes more sense to go for a slightly more defensively minded pair. With Ramsey on the wing the aforementioned pair should be able to control the game to a better extent on Saturday, too.
Let’s hope for three points this weekend!
Luke (@LukeisPremium) is one of our regular bloggers and loves talking tactics – go give him a follow.
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