Focus: Why Mata and Sanchez will be the key men at Old Trafford
This match should fall into a fairly familiar tactical pattern. Arsenal will most likely press aggressively from kick-off in an attempt to disrupt Man United’s possession-centric football before dropping off, allowing the game to settle into a rhythm that sees the visitors attempt to pounce on the counter.
In both periods of the game, Alexis Sanchez will be key to Arsenal’s attack while Aaron Ramsey, occasionally over-committing to attack, will be a decisive factor in United’s ability to break the deadlock.
Arsenal stunned Louis van Gaal’s side in October by furiously hounding United’s central midfielders, racing into a three goal lead within the opening 20 minutes
Arsenal stunned Louis van Gaal’s side at the Emirates in October by furiously hounding United’s central midfielders, racing into a three-goal lead within the opening 20 minutes.
Given that United are both physically and psychologically wounded, they will no doubt repeat this model. Sanchez and Ozil – teaming up on the left flank where the German drifts and the Gunners concentrate the majority of their attacks – will be the crucial component of this early pressure at Old Trafford.
Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian have both resumed training - the former coming off the bench in midweek - but it remains likely that either Donald Love or Guillermo Varela will deputise at right-back. Arsene Wenger will target this area of the pitch and, as Sanchez hurtles in behind and Ozil tries to pick a killer pass, it is easy to imagine United's haphazard defence crumbling early on. When the game eventually settles into periods of United domination, Arsenal will counter-attack down the same flank, using Sanchez’s tenacious wriggling to break ground. Either way, their dangers on the left should worry Red Devils fans.
Man United’s most important player in recent weeks has been Juan Mata and his creativity from central attacking midfield is a slight worry for Arsenal if the game becomes stretched; if Anthony Martial is fit enough to play up front, Mata will have more opportunities than usual to attempt the killer pass in behind.
Aaron Ramsey has been largely solid since returning to a central midfield role, but his inclination to burst forward at every opportunity can occasionally leave his team-mates exposed.
Francis Coquelin has averaged 1.3 tackles and 1.0 interceptions per match in the three games played since recovering from injury (down from an average of 2.7 tackles and 2.3 interceptions) and this is partly because Ramsey can leave the Frenchman with too much of the defensive burden. Ramsey must show greater discipline and restrain from hurtling forward on the counter-attack if Arsenal are to keep Mata quiet.