It’s been a while since Arsenal and Manchester United have been vying for the same place in the table. This game is going to be a battle for the last direct qualification spot for next season’s Champions League, and Arsenal – for a change – enter as the better-placed side. We are two points and seven goals ahead of United with a game in hand.
If we win today, the battle with Manchester United will be over and we can try to pip Manchester City to second place. Of course, winning at Old Trafford is never easy, but we did it in the FA Cup and we looked the much better team in both matches this season.
Neither manager can field his best eleven today. Arsene Wenger’s pacey options in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck are not available, while experienced right-back Mathieu Debuchy is also out due to injury (via Arsenal.com). Louis Van Gaal on the hand, has to deal with Arsenal without Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, and Luke Shaw (via espn.com). The English striker has been a real menace for us since the very beginning of his career, and has scored in both clashes between the sides this season – our defenders will surely be relieved that he is unavailable. Carrick was instrumental in United’s revival that saw them beat Spuds, Liverpool, and Manchester City respectively, but he has been on the sidelines for a while. During that period United had lost three games in a row before their somewhat fortuitous victory over Crystal Palace last week.
Robin van Persie has endured a terrible season. Injuries and age have taken most of his sharpness away, and he looks more like a player set for his last contract somewhere in MLS than a player that used to score goals for fun in the Premier League. Still, that doesn’t mean we should underestimate his ability to score against us. He has netted three goals for United against us and didn’t play in the FA Cup defeat, which means he is yet to lose a game against us since the little boy inside him screamed his way to Manchester.
Juan Mata is yet to rediscover the form from his spell at Chelsea, but his well-taken goals against Liverpool that effectively secured a Champions League place for Manchester United should serve as a warning. Mata has always been inspired against us – four goals for Chelsea between 2011 and 2013 – so we have to pay special attention to his dangerous left foot.
Angel Di Maria’s first season in England won’t be one he’ll remember with a smile. He has yet to prove his immense £59.7 million fee (via espn.com) and his red card for pushing referee Michael Oliver in our FA Cup clash was one of the worst brain-farts of the season. Still, the Argentinian winger has created a goal in each of his two clashes against us this season, so we shouldn’t give him enough space to produce any of his magic.
Marouane Fellaini’s size and strength make him a difficult opponent for any defence in the world. We managed to tame him in the FA Cup clash through Francis Coquelin, but it was Fellaini who used his physical presence to create trouble that led to United’s opening goal in the reverse fixture – despite the fact he was both offside and fouling Gibbs while doing so. The worst part? Mike Dean is the referee again.
Finally, David De Gea has been the best Manchester United player this season by some distance. He is the main reason why United are in the Champions League places and not in the mid-table mix as they were last season. My suggestion for our players is to take pops at his right-hand corner, as De Gea looks more comfortable when he dives to his left-hand side. Evidence? Let’s start with goals from Olivier Giroud and Nacho Monreal (both shots went to De Gea’s right-hand corner). Then let’s check the misses from Jack Wilshere, Alexis Sánchez and Santi Cazorla (all three of them went to De Gea’s left).
They will have to think about our talents as well.
Alexis Sánchez is yet to score against United, but he’ll try to exploit Antonio Valencia’s presence on the right side of United’s defence to match Thierry Henry’s first-season record. The Chilean has scored 16 goals in the League and 24 across all competitions.
Aaron Ramsey knows the feeling of scoring a winner against United in the League – the Welshman scored the only goal in our last league victory over United four years ago. He looks especially inspired when playing outside the Emirates, and the fact he has scored eight out of his ten goals away from home is evidence of that.
Mesut Özil looks like the best No. 10 in the world again and that’s something United should be worried about. The German is unrivaled in creating chances and space, so hopefully he puts in another MoTM-performance today and destroys United.
Olivier Giroud hasn’t found the net since his stunning goal against Liverpool, as he has struggled to find space in the formation with Ramsey on the wing. Perhaps Giroud’s luck will change today, as we are about to play against a team that needs three points – which means they can’t just park the bus and wait for a sucker-punch like the one Bafetimbi Gomis delivered to us this past Monday. Giroud’s presence in our box might be even more important from set-pieces.
Santi Cazorla has been pulling all the strings in midfield and his set-pieces usually create mess in front of our opponents goal. He has scored once at Old Trafford – a consolation goal in the 2012 2:1 defeat.
What to expect today?
Arsene Wenger will probably start with the same line-up for the sixth time in a row.
David Ospina will have to put the Gomis’ goal behind him and get back to his usual solid self.
Hector Bellerin was lucky to escape a second yellow card in the FA Cup clash. Ashley Young is a well-known diver and Bellerin is still learning how to defend.
Nacho Monreal scored in the FA Cup clash, but his main job today will be to keep his compatriot Mata (likely to play on the right wing) at bay.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny will have to deal with Fellaini and van Persie, as I expect both of them to cause havoc in our penalty box when United go forward.
Francis Coquelin will have to put in another brilliant performance to protect our back four. He’ll have to avoid dangerous tackles while doing so because a direct red card in the remaining league matches would mean Coquelin’s absence from the FA Cup Final.
Santi Cazorla will try to secure us possession and domination in the game.
Aaron Ramsey is likely to start again on the right wing. He’ll have to help Bellerin in dealing with Young as well.
Mesut Özil should silence the critics once more and put his stamp all over this game.
Alexis Sánchez’s world-class abilities will probably draw a lot of tackles from United players.
Olivier Giroud’s goal-drought should end today.
Hopefully our defeat against Swansea will not take away the momentum we’ve been building. We are better than Manchester United and we should beat them for the first time in the league since 2011. We have won twice in our two previous trips to Manchester this season – why shouldn’t we do a hat-trick?
I will say: 4:1 for Arsenal, with goals from Ramsey, Alexis (2) and Özil for us, while a Mata goal from a free-kick will serve as a consolation for the hosts.
Head to Head
FA Cup (FAC) 9 Mar 2015 Manchester United 1 – Arsenal FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 22 Nov 2014 Arsenal FC 1 – Manchester United 2
Premier League (EPL) 12 Feb 2014 Arsenal FC 0 – Manchester United 0
Premier League (EPL) 10 Nov 2013 Manchester United 1 – Arsenal FC 0
Premier League (EPL) 28 Apr 2013 Arsenal FC 1 – Manchester United 1
Manchester United 1 v 4 Arsenal FC