The FourFourTwo Preview: Man United vs Arsenal
Arsenal’s acid test. United’s springboard.
What a week it’s been for Arsenal. On Sunday fellow pace-setters Liverpool came to the Emirates looking to lay down a marker - and the Gunners comfortably beat them 2-0. On Wednesday they travelled to the intimidating Westfalenstadion to take on last year’s Champions League runners-up Dortmund. They won 1-0.
MAN UNITED FORM
- Sociedad 0-0 Man Utd (CL)
- Fulham 1-3 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 4-0 Norwich (LC)
- Man Utd 3-2 Stoke (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-0 Sociedad (CL)
- Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal (CL)
- Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool (Prem)
- Arsenal 0-2 Chelsea (LC)
- Palace 0-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-2 Dortmund (CL)
But, despite all this, the critics are still expecting Arsenal’s quest for silverware to fade away. Their reputation for capitulation continues to precede them.
A win at Old Trafford against Manchester United will do a lot to dispel this doubt. David Moyes’ team might have made a stuttering start to the season, but they’re still the reigning Premier League champions, and the benchmark for greatness. Old Trafford is still a ground that affords little hospitality to its guests and Arsenal should know – they haven’t won there in their last nine visits, a run that has included eight defeats. The north Londoners’ last win at the Theatre of Dreams came in 2006 thanks to a goal from Emmanuel Adebayor.
On current form you'd fancy them to break this run of poor results. The Gunners are unbeaten in their last 15 away games, including an astonishing 14 wins. Their most recent victory in Germany encapsulated the spirit of this maturing Arsenal side. It was disciplined, organised and resilient – qualities missing from previous title challenges, and more synonymous with this weekend's foes.
After three defeats in their first nine games, United are gradually finding their groove. They’re unbeaten in eight in all competitions, including five victories. Two of these wins came from losing positions against Sunderland and Stoke. These six points came against two teams in the bottom four, but the mettle of old was there to see.
They relinquished power in Group A of the Champions League after Tuesday’s draw at Real Sociedad, and are now in a three-way tussle with Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk for a place in the knockout stage. But if they lose on Sunday they could find themselves out of the Premier League title tussle, with an 11-point deficit to make up on current leaders Arsenal. Should they win, the gap will be down to five.
Tom Cleverley came off at half-time with double vision during United’s 3-1 at Craven Cottage, but is expected to return to Moyes’ squad on Sunday. After missing the same game with a calf and Achilles problem, Michael Carrick is also targeting the showdown for a return. Danny Welbeck is carrying a knock.
Jack Wilshere is a major doubt for Arsenal as he struggles to shake off an ankle injury. He missed Wednesday’s win in Dortmund and is also expected to be out for England’s friendlies against Chile and Germany. Arsene Wenger will be praying Mathieu Flamini recovers from his groin injury – the French midfielder’s grit and steel will be invaluable in what promises to be a fierce battle.
Key battle: Robin van Persie vs Per Mertesacker
It only took the Dutchman three minutes to score against his former club at Old Trafford last season, as he shot through the legs of Thomas Vermaelen. Just over a year later the Belgium defender is a bench-warmer and his partner that day, Per Mertesacker, has gone from calamitous giant to imperious guardian. The German’s progress will be truly tested against the world-class attacking talents of Van Persie, who will be looking to get the penalty miss against Sociedad out of his system.
Mertesacker can’t afford to give him one chance because, as he proved against Fulham, that’s all he needs. He also picked out Wayne Rooney from a corner as United stormed to a 3-0 lead inside 22 minutes.
But, as Arsenal’s 6ft 6in centre-back has proved this week, he has the ability and the heart to deal with the sharpest of strikers. He contributed to Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge drawing a blank at the Emirates and then kept out Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski. He was formidable against Jürgen Klopp’s relentless yellow army, making four interceptions, one block and eight clearances. He also won two of his three aerial duels.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 1-1 United (Prem, Apr 13)
- United 2-1 Arsenal (Prem, Nov 12)
- Arsenal 1-2 United (Prem, Jan 12)
- United 8-2 Arsenal (Prem, Aug 11)
- Arsenal 1-0 United (Prem, May 11)
This is the first time in Wenger’s 17-year reign that he will be facing off against a different manager in the United dugout. His record against Moyes is pretty impressive – 14 wins, five draws and three losses – with a win percentage of 64%.
The former Everton boss now has a different set of players at his disposal, a more talented set, but he still likes to play the same way – with width. Patrice Evra and Chris Smalling will be encouraged to support the attack, testing Arsenal’s ability to protect their adventurous full-back pairing of Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs.
Mikel Arteta and Flamini – if he is fit – will have to keep an eye on this and the threat of Rooney, playing off Van Persie. The same defensive duties will fall upon United’s midfielders – two from Carrick, Cleverley, Phil Jones, Ryan Giggs and Marouane Fellaini – as they look to shackle Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey. With both managers favouring 4-2-3-1, this game could be won and lost at full-back and in holding midfield.
Facts and figures
- Manchester United have lost only 1 of their last 9 league encounters with Arsenal (W6 D2).
- Arsenal have won at Old Trafford 3 times in the Premier League era and twice went on to win the title (97-98 & 01-02).
- Robin van Persie has scored in the last 4 league encounters between these sides – twice for each club).
- Arsenal are the only side to have scored in all 10 of their Premier League games this season.
- No side has conceded more league goals to Wayne Rooney than Arsenal's 10.
- Rooney’s first league goal, his first league goal for Man United and his 100th league goal all came against the Gunners.
- Aaron Ramsey has scored 6 goals and provided 3 assists in his last 7 league appearances.
- In their last league game at Old Trafford (November 2012), Arsenal failed to register a shot on target until the 92nd minute.
- The last time that Arsenal failed to have a shot on target in a league game was September 2003 – also at Old Trafford.
- No side has won more points from losing positions than Manchester United in the Premier League this season (6). In 2012-13, United won 29 points from losing positions – a league high.
- Arsenal have won only 2 of their last 16 Premier League games played in the late slot on Sundays, excluding final-day games.
- Manchester United have won 15 of their last 20 home games.
- The champions have won 11 of their last 18 home games after leading at half-time.
- United have won 6 of the last 9 matches against Arsenal and the last 4 at Old Trafford.
- There have been 3 or more goals in 7 of the Gunners' 10 away matches against top-half teams.
- Arsenal have scored first in 6 of their last 10 fixtures against top-half teams and have scored in every Premier League game this season..
Arsenal keep answering every question asked of them. United’s performances keep raising questions about the new regime. Don’t expect this trend to change. Arsenal to win 2-1.