The Big Match Tactical View: Manchester United v Arsenal

With first teamers dropping like flies, Ander Herrera should start for United
With first teamers dropping like flies, Ander Herrera should start for United
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Arsenal thrashed Manchester United 3-0 in the reverse fixture - can Louis van Gaal's side gain revenge? Michael Cox looks at the tactics, while Alan Thompson assesses the betting.

"Arsenal’s defence should be reasonably confident of a clean sheet here, against a United side lacking key attackers."

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

Match Odds: Man Utd 3.412/5, Arsenal 2.56/4, The Draw 3.39/4.

Arsenal thrashed Manchester United 3-0 in the reverse fixture - and Louis van Gaal will be determined not to commit the same tactical errors ahead of this meeting at Old Trafford.

United's problem at the Emirates in October was Van Gaal's insistence on United pressing in midfield, despite the fact he fielded the somewhat immobile duo of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Arsenal simply passed around them, and were three goals up within the opening 20 minutes.

This time around, Van Gaal will field a more mobile midfield duo. In the 5-1 midweek victory over Midtjylland, he fielded Carrick alongside Daley Blind at the heart of the defence, with Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin in central midfield. The expected return of Chris Smalling at the back should push Carrick back into midfield, probably alongside Morgan Schneiderlin.

That could mean Herrera playing at the top of the midfield trio - partly because, in truth, United are running out of attackers. Anthony Martial's hamstring injury means he's set to miss out, and while Marcus Rashford grabbed two goals on debut, it's doubtful whether Van Gaal will want to start him against Arsenal.

That could mean Memphis Depay moving upfront after a stunning midweek performance, with Juan Mata returning to the flank, and Jesse Lingard on the opposite side.

The real worry will be the full-back positions, though, where Van Gaal is reliant on a host of youngsters. Guillermo Varela and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson seem the most likely to start on either side of the defence, although the latter has a knock which could allow Joe Riley a second consecutive start.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's injury means Arsene Wenger has a decision to make on his right flank. Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell and Danny Welbeck will all be hopeful of getting the nod, with Welbeck a decent bet considering his history with Manchester United, and the fact he grabbed the winner in an FA Cup tie here last season.

Olivier Giroud should continue upfront, and will probably pull onto Blind to test the Dutchman's aerial qualities. Support will come from Mesut Ozil, who was excellent in the reverse fixture when found between the lines quickly.

Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey will have to get through more defensive work than they're accustomed to, with Van Gaal likely to ask United to command possession. Ramsey's defensive positioning must be good - he has a habit of being drawn high up the pitch and leaving Coquelin exposed. Up against Mata, that could be very dangerous.

Arsenal's defence should be reasonably confident of a clean sheet here, however, against a United side lacking key attackers.

A major theme of this season's Premier League has been teams playing primarily on the counter-attack - not concerned with dominating the game, and instead attempting to attack with great speed. This will be different: these sides both average 56% of possession this season, the most in the Premier League.

Therefore, expect a frenetic midfield battle, with both sides determined to dominate the centre of the pitch. Arsenal, however, have the superior attacking threats, and therefore go into this game as favourites.

The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson

Manchester United go into this crucial game with Arsenal with just three wins in their last 13 league starts and, despite eventually getting past FC Midtylland midweek, they were made to fight for their place in the next round.

Arsenal faced a much tougher task midweek and were effectively taken out of the Champions League by Barcelona, despite still having the second leg to come.

United are six points off fourth place and 10 points behind the Gunners, defeat here and their challenge for Champions League qualification (through their league position) is over. At Old Trafford in the league, the Red Devils have only conceded five goals and kept eight clean sheets from their 12 games, losing just twice. However, this good defensive form has come at a cost at the other end. They have only scored 15 home goals, only Stoke in the top half of the league have scored fewer (13).

The Gunners still have some tricky away games to navigate this campaign. After United they still have to go to Tottenham, Manchester City, Everton and West Ham. But, with City playing in the cup final, a win here would open up a seven point gap over Manuel Pellegrini's side.

It won’t be easy though - although unbeaten in their last three road trips they have won just two of their last seven away from home (Bournemouth and Aston Villa both beaten 2-0) and have won just one of their last 13 league visits to Old Trafford.

This is going to be a very interesting Manchester United line up, with no Rooney or Martial and a very makeshift defence. Arsenal are the 2.56/4 favourites to win the title and if that is to be realised then they will surely win this game.

I will be backing Arsenal @ 2.466/4 to win in the Match Odds market.

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