The Big Match Tactical View: Manchester United v Arsenal

Aaron Ramsey once turned down United - will he punish them?
Aaron Ramsey turned down United to join Arsenal - will he punish them?

Michael Cox believes Arsenal are the better side - but wonders whether tiredness will hamper their chances...

"Laurent Koscielny can dive into tackles and get turned in dangerous situations"

Back Laurent Koscielny to be shown a card at 4.67/2.

Manchester United v Arsenal
Sunday 16:10, Sky Sports 1
Match Odds: Manchester United 2.3811/8, Arsenal 3.39/4, The Draw 3.55/2

Considering Arsenal are currently four points clear at the top of the Premier League table, and have recently recorded impressive victories over Liverpool and Dortmund, it seems somewhat peculiar that they're such outsiders for this contest at Old Trafford.

However, Manchester United have rallied in recent weeks after a difficult start to life under David Moyes, and are currently on an eight-match unbeaten streak. The side is starting to feel more cohesive, and for the first time under their new manager, United have a decent chance of triumphing against a genuine title rival.

If there's one thing in United's favour, it's their preparation in the build-up to this contest - and there's three crucial factors to consider in this respect. 

First, United have had an extra day's rest compared to Arsenal - five days compared to four, and the league leaders must also travel to Manchester on the day, of course. 

Second, Moyes has rotated his side well over the past week - only four outfielders started both the Fulham and Real Sociedad games, whereas Arsene Wenger has limited options because of injuries and named an unchanged side for the Dortmund game.

Third, United's midweek match was played at walking pace against a mediocre Real Sociedad side, whereas Arsenal triumphed over the most energetic side in Europe. 

Consider those three factors, and United's home advantage, and the prices start to look more reasonable. But Arsenal are still worth backing at such a long price, and a particularly impressive feature of their performance in recent weeks is their flexibility. They're scoring goals from a number of sources, including a surprisingly high amount from crosses. They're able to attack effectively on the counter-attack or after long periods of possession, and they're able to defend by retaining the ball and frustrating the opposition, or by sitting deeper and parking the bus. I'll back Arsenal at 3.39/4.

In terms of selection, Moyes had more options - but also more worries. Right-back Rafael da Silva is expected to be unavailable, so Chris Smalling should continue out of position. In the centre, Moyes has probably depended upon Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand too much this season, but against a striker like Olivier Giroud - tall, strong but not the quickest - they're the obvious combination.

Moyes' real problem is the potential unavailability of Michael Carrick in midfield. He would be perfect against Arsenal's talented midfield passers, and United don't have anyone positionally disciplined enough to replicate his role in front of the back four. Marouane Fellaini, Tom Cleverley, Phil Jones and Anderson would all be decent partners for Carrick - but a combination of any of that quartet would be very dodgy against the likes of Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla.

Moyes also has a decision to make out wide. Antonio Valencia should continue on the right, although he's the only attacking player to have played 180 minutes over the past week. Shinji Kagawa played well at Real Sociedad and could get another start, but Adnan Januzaj is another option.

United's area of strength is upfront. Wayne Rooney is in fine form this season and always seems to perform well against Arsenal, while Robin van Persie scored against his former club home and away last season. Arsenal have kept Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Robert Lewandowski quiet over the last week, but Van Persie could be an even trickier opponent.

Interestingly, United have been caught offside more than any other side this season, which demonstrates their desire to sprint in behind the opposition defence. Arsenal must retain a good defensive line, although Laurent Koscielny will attempt to stick tight to his opponents. He's been playing well recently, but can dive into tackles and get turned in dangerous situations, so I'll back the Frenchman to be booked at 4.67/2 - both Rooney and Van Persie are very clever with their positioning.

Recommended Bets

Back Arsenal to win at 3.39/4
Back Laurent Koscielny to be shown a card at 4.67/2

The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson

The last time Arsenal won at Old Trafford was 17th September 2006, when an 85th minute strike by Adebayor gave Arsenal a 1-0 victory. There have been 135 league games played at Old Trafford since then and United have lost 11 of them.

Manchester United have played five times this season against sides currently occupying a top half position in the league, they have drawn two and lost three. Three of those five games were at home, drawing with Chelsea and Southampton and losing to West Brom 2-1. However, since that West Brom defeat they are undefeated in their last eight games in all competitions with three draws and five victories.

Arsenal have scored in every game this season and are averaging 2.2 goals per game on the road, and to come away from Dortmund with a Champions League victory also commands a lot of respect. They have though only kept one clean sheet in their five league away days this season and that was at Crystal Palace.

Both teams have scored in their last four matches against each other and I see no reason for that to stop this weekend. I will be backing 1-1 in the Correct Score market @ 7.6 as a saver to my in running “keep” bet on Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.2 - the game will need to stay goalless for about 20 minutes to get this bet matched. I also have to back Manchester United to win @ 2.4 simply because they are 2.4 to win at Old Trafford.

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