Manchester United v Arsenal: Need for maximum points could lead to a thriller

After defeat to Barcelona, can Arsene Wenger's Arsenal bounce back at Old Trafford?
After defeat to Barcelona, can Arsene Wenger's Arsenal bounce back at Old Trafford?
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There's a heavyweight clash at Old Trafford this Sunday, and Kevin Hatchard expects to see a few blows landed...


"These two teams don't usually cancel each other out, and six of their last ten meetings have featured at least three goals, including three of the last four."

Back Over 2.5 Goals at 2.47/5

Manchester United v Arsenal
Sunday February 28, 14:05
Live on Sky Sports 1


Manchester United

Louis Van Gaal stared into the abyss, and it was one of the young players he had shown faith in that took him by the shoulders and dragged him away from the precipice. Eighteen-year-old striker Marcus Rashford was thrown into the fray after a late injury to Anthony Martial, and his brace on debut helped United avoid an embarrassing Europa League exit to Danish champions Midtjylland.

Amidst all the criticism Van Gaal has garnered this season, one thing he deserves praise for is his faith in youth. You could argue that injuries have forced his hand somewhat, but the Dutchman has an excellent reputation for bringing through young talent. He put together a breathtaking team at Ajax, and it was on his insistence that Thomas Muller was retained and then promoted to the first team at Bayern Munich. When Van Gaal departs, the likes of Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson could form a fine legacy.

Glory in the Europa League and the FA Cup is still attainable, but Van Gaal knows the top priority is a top-four finish in the Premier League. United are six points adrift of that target, but they could move to within just three points of cross-town rivals City with a victory against Arsenal.

Such a victory may well be difficult to achieve. United were dismantled 3-0 in the reverse fixture at the Emirates, as they conceded three goals in the first 19 minutes. United have won just three of their last 13 Premier League games, and have taken maximum points from just two of their last six league games at Old Trafford.

United's injury crisis continues, with skipper Wayne Rooney still sidelined alongside Ashley Young and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Anthony Martial and Chris Smalling are carrying knocks, while keeper David De Gea has sat out the last three games because of injury.


Arsenal

Arsenal's version of Groundhog Day was showing in north London on Tuesday night. Yet again they competed with Barcelona for a while, only to be ruthlessly exposed on the counter-attack. Lionel Messi's double yielded a 2-0 Champions League win for the Catalan magicians, and Gunners boss Arsene Wenger was left to rue what he described as an average and naïve performance from his side.

Domestically, Arsenal are still in good shape. A third consecutive FA Cup is still on the cards, and a breathtakingly dramatic 2-1 win over title rivals Leicester City has left them two points off top spot in the Premier League with just 12 games left.

Despite Manchester United's travails, a trip to Old Trafford represents a big test of Arsenal's title credentials. Although they won at United in the FA Cup last March, they haven't won at Old Trafford in the league since 2006. To do so, key players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, who failed to dent Barca, must find a way to step up. Indeed, Sanchez looks as if a long season that started with Copa America success with Chile has taken its toll - he hasn't scored in the Premier League since October, a run of nine matches.

Arsenal are boosted by the return of centre-back Gabriel, who has declared himself fit. Wenger will have to decide if the Brazilian is a better bet than Per Mertesacker, who is playing well but is always vulnerable to pace. If Martial is likely to recover from injury for United, Gabriel may get the nod. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is certainly out after damaging his knee against Barcelona.


Match Odds

Arsenal are the favourites here at 2.466/4, but that seems a bit too short a price to get excited about. The Gunners have won just two of their last seven away games in the league, and their record at Old Trafford is generally disappointing. They came through a big test against Leicester, but only just, and United have performed well recently in big games against Liverpool and Chelsea. Backing United is a big leap of faith too, but you may be tempted to support them Draw No Bet at 2.3211/8.


Over/Under 2.5 Goals

Games between big clubs can often see sides cancel each other out, but in recent years that hasn't been the case between these two teams. Six of their last ten meetings have seen three goals or more scored, including three of the last four clashes.

If you want further encouragement to go for overs at a chunky 2.47/5, seven of Arsenal's 13 PL away games have contained three goals or more, as have five of United's last ten home games in the league.

I think there are weaknesses in both of these defences at present, and a draw does neither side much good, so I'm happy to go for overs at such a hefty price.


Both Teams To Score?

If you'd rather cover the possibility of a 1-1 draw, you could back both teams to find the net at 2.0421/20. That bet has paid out in five of United's last seven games, and in seven of these teams' last ten meetings.


Recommended Bet

Back Over 2.5 Goals at 2.47/5


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