After a run of awkward encounters against teams with renewed fear and territorial retreat at Old Trafford, the visit of Arsenal should see a return of the free-flowing strategy that invigorated Manchester United in early spring.
Against Arsenal’s inferior height and high backline, Marouane Fellaini has the opportunity to act as cut-and-thrust fulcrum once more.
During the period of Manchester United domination in February and March, Louis van Gaal confused opposition managers by playing Fellaini almost as a second left winger, doubling up with Ashley Young to overload that side and scythe a path to goal.
Right-backs struggled to cope with the dual threat, and Fellaini’s presence – sucking anxious opponents towards him – opened up space in the centre for Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata to run riot.
But a run of fixtures against tactically cautious opposition nullified the threat. If teams sit deep in compact rows, the long pass to Fellaini fails to create space in the middle, and fails to open up space in behind.
Arsenal are likely to adopt a less stringent defensive model, thus creating the potential for problems on the flank where Hector Bellerin is often left alone by the roaming Aaron Ramsey.
Since moving to right wing five matches ago, Ramsey has averaged just 1.8 tackles and 1.2 interceptions per game; his transitions between occupying space as a right winger and central midfielder in this role have been essential to Arsenal’s attacks, but defensively his displays have been questionable.
Against the flailing elbows and crashing headers of Fellaini, Bellerin will need more support. If he doesn't receive it, then United – and in particular Young – could have a very enjoyable afternoon.
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