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The Big Match Tactical View: Manchester United v Arsenal

Wenger has had problems at Old Trafford in recent years

"The natural bets here are backing over 2.5 goals and backing both sides to score - but with both at 1.645/8, I can't see much value in either. Instead, you know that Over 8.5 goals bet? 100.099/1 is worth two quid in my book."

Michael Cox previews the tactical battle at Old Trafford, and if he's called it right  we are in for a barnstorming 90 minutes...

Manchester United v Arsenal, Saturday 12:45, Sky Sports 1.
Match Odds: Manchester United 1.748/11, Arsenal 5.39/2, The Draw 4.1n/a.

This match will surely have lots of goals - Manchester United won this fixture 8-2 last year, and considering Arsenal were involved in a midweek 5-7 and United lost 5-4 at Stamford Bridge, reaching for the Over/under 8.5 goals market is tempting...

In reality, this match might seem disappointingly conservative compared to the incredible Capital One Cup action in midweek, but both sides are vulnerable defensively. Arsenal have actually conceded fewer goals than any other side in the Premier League, and in open play have been admirably compact between the lines, but I worry about them from set-pieces - and the Robin van Persie factor cannot be ignored. It's hard to see Arsenal keeping a clean sheet at Old Trafford, and I'll back United to score in both halves at around 2.68/5.

United have also looked poor at the back this season, conceding two (or more) goals in four of their nine league matches in 2012/13. Injuries have played a part, but I also think Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to experiment with a diamond midfield has resulted in a lack of familiarity and cohesion within the side - traditionally United protect their defence extremely well, but this season the full-backs have been exposed too readily.

But the full-back I fear for most in this match is Andre Santos, as first-choice Kieran Gibbs is unlikely to be available. Santos is an attack-minded player who often leaves too much space in behind, and had significant problems against Jefferson Farfan in the 2-0 home defeat against Schalke. Antonio Valencia is a similar winger - someone who will get down the outside and whip crosses in - and in combination with Rafael da Silva, this could be a real problem. 

United focus their passing down the right - 40% of their play goes down that side, compared to 31% down the left, and with Santos poor in one-versus-one situations, it's vital he receives help from Lukas Podolski ahead, and that captain Thomas Vermaelen plays an intelligent, covering role.

Arsene Wenger's only major selection decision is on the right of midfield - Theo Walcott or Aaron Ramsey will play that role, with both Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain injured. Walcott scored at Old Trafford last year and bagged a midweek hat-trick, but Ramsey has often started against big sides this season, and would make Arsenal's midfield more secure, leaving Walcott as an impact substitute.

After a good performance against Chelsea last weekend, I don't see Ferguson returning to a diamond for this match. His major dilemma is in the centre of midfield; Tom Cleverley was overrun against Chelsea, and the calmer influence of Paul Scholes could be favoured. Alternatively, the dynamism of Anderson or the tackling quality of Darren Fletcher - who has often frustrated Wenger by breaking up the play in this fixture - might be a better bet. Ferguson also has options on the left - Ashley Young got a surprise start last weekend, but Danny Welbeck could be an attacking alternative. 

I think the key players are the men who position themselves between the lines. Wayne Rooney played an interesting role at Chelsea - he was asked to drop back and occupy Jon Obi Mikel when United didn't have the ball, and considering that Chelsea dominated possession, Rooney effectively played as a midfielder. He'll try to stop Mikel Arteta, but might find joy by bursting past the Spaniard to join van Persie upfront.

Going the other way, Santi Cazorla's clever positioning might cause Michael Carrick problems, although United's holding midfielder is good at stopping opponents in a subtle, reserved manner. I think Arsenal need to overload Carrick in that zone - Wilshere sliding forward from midfield would be particularly useful.

The natural bets here are backing over 2.5 goals and backing both sides to score - but with both at 1.645/8, I can't see much value in either. Instead, you know that Over 8.5 goals bet? 100.099/1 is worth two quid in my book.

Recommended Bets
Back United to score in both halves at 2.56/4
Back Over 8.5 goals at 100.099/1

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02 November 2012

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