Andrew Atherley says doubts remain over Arsenal's big-match temperament and fancies United to edge into third place with victory at Old Trafford on Sunday...
"Even in this sometimes difficult first season of adjusting to the Premier League, Van Gaal has shown his tactical acumen in the big matches. United top the mini-league of games involving the big six with a W5 D2 L2 record - W3 D1 L0 at home."
Back Man Utd to beat Arsenal at 2.546/4
Man Utd v Arsenal
Sunday May 17, 16:00
Live on Sky Sports 1
Having seen off Liverpool's challenge to secure Champions League football (barring an amazing goal-difference turnaround), United now have a shot at pushing Arsenal down to the fourth-place finish that means the dreaded summer playoff to reach the group stage of the competition. Victory here would edge United a point ahead, albeit that Arsenal would still have a game in hand (as well as a current +7 advantage on goal difference).
Last week's 2-1 win at Crystal Palace ended a run of three straight defeats for the hosts, although it remains a worry that none of the recognised strikers have scored in the past month. Robin Van Persie and Angel Di Maria were both absent last week and may not return, with Adnan Januzaj and James Wilson (both on the bench at Palace) possible alternatives if Louis van Gaal wants to shake things up.
Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw were injured in the first half at Palace but are expected to be fit and Marcos Rojo is reportedly moving closer to a comeback after a month on the sidelines. Michael Carrick and Rafael are both out for the rest of the season.
Direct entry to the Champions League is suddenly in jeopardy after Monday's 1-0 loss at home to Swansea - their first league defeat since February 7 at Tottenham. Their strong three-month run up to then included a 2-1 win at Old Trafford in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, in which United old boy Danny Welbeck scored the winner.
Welbeck has missed Arsenal's last two games with a knee injury but is expected to be available again for this crunch clash. The Gunners are also hopeful Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, another who was in the starting line-up for the cup game, will recover from a groin injury.
The main question is whether the FA Cup win in March was a sign that Arsenal are getting to grips with big away games, or merely a blip in their otherwise poor record.
In the past three seasons Arsenal have won only three out of 14 away to other members of the big six in the Premier League and that has been one of the major factors holding them back from a serious title challenge. Not only that, their soft underbelly has been evident in nine defeats in those 14 games (sometimes by embarrassing scorelines).
This season has seen a recovery of sorts - as well as the cup win at United, Arsenal were also impressive in winning 2-0 at Manchester City in the league - but the doubts persist.
The three wins from those 14 elite away games have come on the only occasions when the Gunners have kept a clean sheet, which means they have lost nine out of 11 (82%) when conceding - a worryingly high figure that indicates a strong win chance for United if they score.
Although recent games have raised doubt over United's attack, they have been shut out in only two of their 16 home league games and their record when scoring at Old Trafford (in the league at least) is W14 D1 L1.
Even in this sometimes difficult first season of adjusting to the Premier League, Van Gaal has shown his tactical acumen in the big matches. United top the mini-league of games involving the big six with a W5 D2 L2 record - W3 D1 L0 at home (with the draw coming against champions Chelsea, along with one of the away defeats).
Of course, Arsenal conceded against United in the cup match and still won, but one factor then was Di Maria's sending-off that stymied United's attempts to equalise in the last quarter of an hour.
In general, when they have traded blows against their big rivals, Arsenal have tended to come off worst in recent seasons.
That is also evident in the recent record between United and Arsenal at Old Trafford. Even with March's cup win, it is still W9 D1 L1 in United's favour since the Gunners' last victory in a league match in September 2006.
United are certainly the pick on the Draw No Bet at 1.824/5 but the bigger odds are worth taking for a United win at 2.546/4.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
March's cup match went over 2.5 goals, as did the reverse league fixture at the Emirates in November (2-1 in United's favour), and it is notable that there is a general trend towards high scores for both teams in games involving the big six.
United have had five out of nine over 2.5 goals in that category overall (three out of four at home) and so have Arsenal (two out of four away).
But that trait is more pronounced excluding results against Chelsea (whose defensive solidity and conservative approach in big matches tends to be a drag on goal tallies) - without Chelsea, both teams have had five out of seven over 2.5 goals (three out of three at home for United and two out of three away for Arsenal).
That points firmly towards Over 2.5 Goals at 1.8810/11.
Back Man Utd to beat Arsenal at 2.546/4 (1pt)
Staked: 77 pts
Returned: 79.79 pts
P/L: +2.79 pts