The Big Match Tactical View: Arsenal v Manchester Utd

Mathieu Flamini could play a key role for Arsenal
Mathieu Flamini could play a key role for Arsenal
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Both sides have huge injury concerns ahead of Saturday's late kick-off, with Arsene Wenger and Louis van Gaal forced to name patched-up sides. Michael Cox considers the tactical battle and Alan Thompson assesses the odds...

"Flamini is Arsenal’s most prolific tackler and will be forced to defend counter-attacks"

Back Mathieu Flamini to be shown a card at 3.211/5

Arsenal v Manchester United
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports 1.

Match Odds: Arsenal 2.265/4, Man Utd 3.55/2, The Draw 3.65.

Arsene Wenger and Louis van Gaal's first Premier League meeting should prove an interesting tactical battle, but it could be defined by the players not on the pitch, rather than those who start the game.

Both sides are approaching this contest with major injury concerns. Arsenal have seven players definitely out, with captain Mikel Arteta the latest on the sidelines alongside the likes of Mesut Ozil, Mathieu Debuchy, Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny, while Danny Welbeck picked up a knock on England duty, but should be fit to start upfront against his former side.

Manchester United might have even worse problems, however. Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind and Rafael da Silva are definitely out, but no fewer than eight players are considered doubtful, too.

United's likely centre-back pairing is anyone's guess - although that's been the case all season - and with Michael Carrick not definitely available to replace Blind, there could be a gap in the holding midfield position too. 

Arsenal's starting XI is the more predictable. Expect roughly a similar line-up to the one which was defeated by Swansea, with Nacho Monreal continuing in the centre of defence. Mathieu Flamini is likely to hold in midfield, although there's a chance Jack Wilshere could return alongside Aaron Ramsey - Wilshere played the deep midfield role excellently for England this week.

Upfront, Alexis Sanchez has recently been playing just behind Welbeck, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla probably playing from the flanks but drifting inside. The joker in the pack, however, is Theo Walcott - back after a long spell out injured. He's unlikely to start unless someone else is unavailable, but could prove vital from the bench.

Various sources have suggested Walcott seems even faster than before his injury, and while this sounds like wishful thinking, his brief appearances so far this season support that theory - he looks lightning quick. Against a decimated United backline, possibly with a couple of defenders playing through the pain barrier, he could be lethal.

How will Van Gaal react? Well, depending upon selection problems he's likely to play something of a 4-4-1-1 / 4-1-4-1 system, as has been the case in recent weeks. The most fascinating part of his approach has been his instructions to man-mark the opposition in midfield, with Wayne Rooney dropping back to help out.

It will be interesting to see how United cope with Sanchez, likely to start as a second striker - is he manned by Carrick (assuming he's fit to play) or by a centre-back?

Upfront, Robin van Persie will be desperate to score back against his old club, and will probably pull right towards Monreal, who still doesn't seem entirely comfortable at centre-back. United's biggest threat, however, is likely to be Angel Di Maria, who has endured a quiet month after a superb opening to his Premier League career, but remains brilliant at turning defence into attack quickly and efficiently. Adnan Januzaj could also be useful in this respect.

Therefore, I fancy a couple of Arsenal players to be shown a card. Arsenal have received more cautions than any other side this season - 29 in 11 games - and while few would say they're a dirty side, their tendency to press high up the pitch means players in deep positions often make clumsy fouls to break up counter-attacks.

Right-back Calum Chambers will be up against Di Maria and with six bookings in eight starts, is a good contender for a yellow. But with the odds not particularly favourable in that respect, I'll go for Flamini. He's only picked up two yellows in eight games, but is Arsenal's most prolific tackler and jumps into tackles a lot. He'll be forced to defend counter-attacks here, so will back him to be shown a card at 3.211/5.

Arsenal are the favourites here, but they have a poor recent record against this opposition - albeit under different United bosses - and these games have been fairly dull since that incredible 8-2 in 2011.

It's difficult to balance that history with the fact both sides have defensive injury problems, however, so I'll steer away from goals markets and concentrate on the cards.

Recommended Bet
Back Mathieu Flamini to be shown a card at 3.211/5

The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 23 Premier League games at the Emirates, their last home defeat was on the opening day of last season against Aston Villa. This weekend they face a Manchester United side that failed to win away from home against any of the top nine finishers last season and haven’t picked up maximum points on any of their travels this season.

While the Gunners have scored an impressive average of two goals per game at home, they have only won two of their five home starts, against Burnley & Crystal Palace. Arsenal need to start converting draws into wins, last season they drew seven games in total, already this campaign they have drawn five, only Sunderland have drawn more with six.

United's troubles continue, they have picked up only three points on their travels this season, only Burnley and QPR have picked up less, and their already huge injury list is potentially growing as players return from international duty. However, historically though this is a fixture United do well in, they are unbeaten in their last six meetings with the Gunners.

I can’t see Arsenal losing the game so wouldn’t want to put off anyone taking on United by laying them at 3.5. You could argue that Arsenal are value at 2.26 at home against a team that can’t win away but that means you have to trust them to get ahead and stay ahead – something they have proved incapable of doing many times already this season. These two have already drawn nine of their 22 Premier League starts this season and I can see this heading the same way. I’ll be backing the draw @ 3.65.

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