Manchester United-Arsenal. Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Titles and Top Four Finishes on the Line in the Theatre of Screams

This season the boot is on the other foot and Arsenal must deliver it up at Old Trafford.  Can they?  Will they?

Manager Arsene Wenger must put aside all sympathies for Louis van Gaal’s situation.  Moreover, Arsenal, having drawn blanks at home vs Hull City in the FA Cup and Barcelona in the Champions League, must start scoring goals.  Van Gaal and United, perhaps buoyed by their cup victories: 3-1 over Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup and 5-1 (6-3 on aggregate) over Danish club Midtjylland in the Europa League in the past week, will have to cobble a team together and try to get a result that might give them hope of closing the gap on the top-four teams.

How different it all seems from business as usual.

Fifteen years ago Arsenal and ManU were the two clubs in England who fought for the title and passed it back and forth.  All that changed with gas and oil money coming to other London and Manchester clubs: Chelsea and City.  Those teams are struggling this season but so too are the two more storied clubs.

Arsenal are all but done in the Champions League after shipping a pair of away goals against the holders, while our hopes for a third consecutive FA cup took a blow when we couldn’t break down a stubborn Hull City team who were able to force a replay up in their stadium.  Thankfully, a very (very) late winner vs ten man Leicester City cut the gap to the league leaders to two points in our last league match.

ManU are in far more dire straits.  While Wenger stood pat with his squad in the summer, adding only Petr Cech, LvG has spent and spent and spent but only seen his team go backwards.  Getting into the top four CL places gave him a lifeline a year ago.  This time around they sit 6 points behind their cross town rivals for the final spot.

They’re also suffering an Arsenal-esque injury crisis.  Current players who are definitely out include Wayne Rooney, Bastien Sweinsteiger, Ashley Young, Luke Shaw, and Matteo Darmian.  Long-term injured players Phil Jones and Adnan Januzaj are training but lack match fitness but Antonia Valencia and Maourane Fellaini are closer to returning; Marcus Rojo was able to play 15 minutes vs the Danish team.  Chris Smalling, David De Gea and Anthony Martial are additional question marks due to more recent injuries.

As at Arsenal, such injuries do not lower expectations, and Van Gaal will be expected to field a team capable of extending United’s nearly ten year unbeaten home run (in the league) against their rival.  The last time Arsenal won at old Trafford in PL play was in September of 2006 when Emmanuel Adebayor scored the only goal.

Of course, the last time the two teams met in the big stadium was a year ago in the FA Cup quarterfinals, when Arsenal won 2-1 on the strength of Danny Welbeck’s brilliantly poached goal.  Welbeck celebrated lustily against his former club and against the manager who let him go to Arsenal, choosing to buy guys like Angel di Maria, who, later in the same match, was sent off for touching the referee while complaining against a yellow card.

Di Maria was sold in the off season with Van Gaal hoping guys like Martial and Memphis Depay could pick up the scoring slack. It hasn’t really worked out; United are 10th in the league in goals scored with 33.

Arsenal could also use some goals.  (We are 5th in this category in the league with 41.)   If you cannot score you cannot win, and, with title rivals Leicester City hosting Norwich and Spurs hosting Swansea, the full three points seem necessary to keep pace.

How then does Wenger set up his team to do so?

In the reverse fixture it was Theo Walcott up top and Arsenal scored three quick goals in the first twenty minutes.  Will Theo reprise that performance or will Olivier Giroud start up top?  With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out with knee ligament damage, at least one forward position is up for grabs.  Welbeck is looking like his very long absence due to injury has made him a stronger and wiser forward, but I’m not sure if Wenger believes he’s ready for a league start.  Joel Campbell was Wenger’s choice on the right for long periods in the dead of winter so he’s my pick to replace the Ox.  Theo has been finishing matches in that spot so maybe AW will choose a very attacked oriented formation with him over there from the start.  There are also plenty of Gooners who wouldn’t mind seeing Aaron Ramsey back out on the right so as to give Mohammed Elneny his first league start further back in the middle of the park.

There’s far less enthusiasm for Mathieu Flamini at the rear of midfield after his late tackle on Leo Messi cost us a penalty and a goal.  Per Mertesacker, who cushioned down the ball into Messi’s path, might also be a question mark as Gabriel Paulista could be recovered from a hamstring injury suffered in training before the Leicester match. Could Wenger have some other changes up his sleeve?  With the reasonable rest (four days, compared to ManU’s two) I think he’ll use a largely unchanged team with only the single change mentioned above.  It looks like this:

Subs: Ospina, Chambers, Gabriel, Gibbs, Elneny, Walcott, Welbeck

Having watched both midweek matches, (ours and United’s) I firmly believe we should be able to win this one.  United have some dangerous players (notably Memphis, Juan Mata and Andre Herrerra) and they should be able to defend through possession. They also have some glaring weaknesses due to the injuries they’re carrying and will have to find a team effort using players in unfamiliar positions.  Against Midtjylland they fielded a central back pair of Daley Blind and Michael Carrick, both fine players, but not exactly the sort our attackers, especially Giroud, cannot overpower.  We need to use our physical advantages–in all areas of the pitch–to control this one, much as we did in the reverse fixture.

In fact, I’d go even further to suggest that our biggest enemy is ourselves and what could be our faltering sense of belief. Yes we rode our luck a bit and ultimately capitulated, but we also had some chances of our own against the best team in the world (Barcelona) on Tuesday.  If we can take the lessons learned from that one (see my previous post on this topic, from a couple of days back) and realize our technical and athletic advantages, i.e., perform to our potential, the result will take care of itself.  We need to funnel the passion and desire against the traditional rival to show our newfound superiority.  We must be ruthless and offer no quarter for weakened–if not decimated–ManU.

When I used to play organized sports, one of the pre-match team “cheers” (and I use the word loosely…) in these sorts of situations (when we were the better team but wanted to be sure to be fully committed to the cause…) was “Rip off their heads and S**t down their throats!!!”


Go on then…

By 17highburyterrace

43 thoughts on “Manchester United-Arsenal. Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Titles and Top Four Finishes on the Line in the Theatre of Screams

  • Rip off their heads and manure down their neck! 😂

    Fine match preview and about time we beat them in the PL at the screams.

    I would imagine Danny to start on the right but you usually get this right so Campbell it is 🙂

    Big Day for CoqRam and das Ozil

  • Well, I figure it must be because we haven’t lost (or drawn) yet… As soon as we do, blog traffic should pick up…

    Usually folks should be getting their offbeat, never-in-a-million years line-ups down, so that when they don’t happen AND we lose, they can come back with the I told you sos…

    We’ve got games every three or four days for the next three weeks so some rotation should get started, IMO… My hunch is that Wenger errs on the conservative side for this one but then a couple of guys get pulled early (and then develop some Weng-juries…) for the Swansea home match…

    Of course, as always, What (TF) do I know?… And, in truth, I’m not so sure about my line-up. Flamini dropped completely seems out of character for AW…

    Agreed about the importance of the MF group. That’s got to be seen as ManU’s only area where the injuries aren’t so bad… Plus they’ve got Schneiderlin who has to play because the guys ahead of him may have to play out of position… If we fail to get full points–and he plays OK (or even just plays at all…) our collective brians should (literally) explode…

    Winning and quiet suits me fine…

  • Good review 17 HT . I think your comment about our biggest enemy being ourselves is spot on. Both teams are lacking in confidence and I think it’s very important to pick the players with the confidence and desire to win today. I am not his biggest fan, but since returning Welbeck looks lively and will want to do well today. United will also fear him ( ex player syndrome etc). With both teams a little edgy, I think we should keep it tight for the first half an hour or so. For that reason I would play Girould ahead of Theo. A brave man might include Theo and try to destroy the United defence early on. This of course could backfire.

    So my team , same as yours but Welbeck for Campbell.

  • All’s quiet on the western front, and why not as we seem to have gone impotent in front of goal. Any straws to cling to? Your post was a brave act HT.

    If Wenger has your guts, he would bench both Giroud and Walcott. Reactive? High time. Creative? Maybe. One thing is for sure. It can never be worse than the current impotency.

    I go with your line up but with Welbeck in place of Giroud.

  • I choose Campbell ahead of Walcott at wide right for the following reasons;

    1) Cambell works much harder than Walcott overall. Put differently Walcott does not work hard enough from the wings.
    2) when Campbel cuts in, it creates space for Bellerin to overlap effectively. Whereas Walcott and Bellerin don’t compliment each other being too similar.
    3) Campbell’s great reverse pass after cutting in, is laid to be struck with the right foot, which suits
    Welbeck and not the left footed Giroud.

    Campbell therefore enhances the performance of both Bellerin and Welbeck. Walcott at wide right is better suited to Giroud’s skill sets.

  • Well I said a brave man and I think Wenger has picked a brave team. Welbeck and Theo could cause havoc in the Inited defence. I applaud him for his selection.

  • Team news : Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, Sanchez, Welbeck.

    Subs: Ospina, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Elneny, Campbell, Iwobi, Giroud.

    Really surprised to see Giroud drop to the bench, I know his goals have dried up but he is so central to our forward play, looks like boss is trying something different, do you think Wellbeck might play up front with Theo on the right?
    Don’t really get why Mertersacker drops to the bench, his organisational skills really make out back 4 strong.
    My predictions today Man U 0 The good guys 2.

  • I expect Walcott to operate as CF. LVG is not going to back buses at OT and the spaces will suit Theo.

  • ‘Morning fellas… Well, I got several parts of the line-up wrong…or at least 3…

    Oooh, good chance there for Nacho but blocked by De Gea…

  • My puter broke down just as our defending did… 2-nil United… Seems to me that Gabby is having a torrid time out there…

    Long way back now, esp. as we haven’t really established any solid patterns going forward…

  • Seems to me we are playing as if Giroud was out there. Not much point in putting high crosses in with no height in there

  • Free kicks and corners at the close of the half (and a handball shout) but we can’t get another one in…


  • I really like Theo, but to be honest, I might as well be playing. Giroud for Theo, Mertesaker for Gabriel. Now is the time for action

  • Agreed retsub, that pair of choices doesn’t look good at this moment… Has Theo had a successful touch yet?

    Replay shows Rashford used his arm on one of those late corners…

  • 17ht great will get my kit on. We can still win this game, but we need players to stand up and be counted.

  • We’re really struggling with their crosses into our box as well as playing it out of the back and through MF… All told it’s making me feel better when we’ve got it down at their end where we can hope for a good bounce or two… Just wish I could see some combos actually start to work for us…

    Giroud getting set to come on…

  • 3-1 United… Gabby giving all kinds of room to Rashford for the layoff to Mata…Deflected in off Kos…

    No way back from what I’ve seen….

  • Ozil makes in 3-2 after De Gea blocks DW…

    Scrappy but still some life here, I guess…

    Le Coq out Elneny in….

  • Bust up in MF and the ref only gives yellow to Rambo… Seemed like Mike Dean (4th official) showed some restraint…Herrera also gets yellow…

  • Very poor tackle from Elneny… Yellow for him too… How about some football?…

  • Iwobi for Welbeck is our final sub…

    Can’t make much headway so we’ll have to get another piece of fortune….

    Ozil finds Kos’ head from a FK but only a looper to De Gea…

  • Ozil frustration leads to a hockey check out of play… Seems to me that he meant the shove more for Ramsey and/or Alexis…

    This group, I fear, has some serious regrouping ahead…

  • Too many players without testicles today. If I were Ozil, I would put a transfer request as early as today. United gave us a lesson from team football, free-flowing counter-attacks and ability to overcome notable absentees. How could Varela and Carrick play for over an hour on a yellow card without being targeted?

    But I think it’s Piers Morgan’s fault. And Claude’s. And mine. We are the reason why another title challenge is sliding downhills. 😦

  • A set back but not fully unexpected. They had nothing to lose and had two lucky goals and we have key players out of form. We just have to win the next two games.

  • Admit I think it was very telling that on a few occasions we won free kicks and our players were looking at playing short balls. On each occasion Ozil intervened and floated the ball into the box. It was our most likely way of scoring in my opinion

  • What a sorry performance, really confused why Wenger dropped Mertesacker to bench, Gabriel is very naive, I feel 1st 2 goals would not have been conceded if Mertesacker played today. Theo, how does he deserve a place ahead of Giroud, I’ve been a big fan of Theo for years but I really am losing patience with his performances, today how many times did he touch the ball in his 60 minutes on the pitch? The next 10 days are now massive, a win on Wednesday a must and we really need to beat Tottenham on Saturday lunch time, has there ever been a bigger north London derby? Then Hull away, anything other than 3 victories and our season is over. I really felt this team had something special about it, Wenger needs to get team selection spot on, what has happened to our free flowing football, please tell me it hasn’t gone for the season. I have confidence that Wenger will sort things out, it’s probably a good thing that we go again and have 3 quick games.

  • Theo is a luxury we can’t afford to carry around any more. 16 touches in 60 mins and no end product to brandish as the compensation. He should go further down our pecking order. I believe we can afford that.

    Maybe it’s time to move Sanchez wide right or center. At left wide, defenders allow him to cut in and then they pressure him. Works for them.

    Welbeck was my best player, closely followed by Ozil.

    Per remains critical to our good defensive performance. We have gotten paranoid about his slowness, but when you do think of it, apart from the Costa incidence, I can’t remember our having paid dearly for it.

    Man U never outplayed us, it was just their day for goals. The battle for the crown is far from over. COYG!

  • @PE

    We were outplayed by Manchester United, that’s the problem. We had looked in control of the game before their first goal but it was United who played more exciting and more flowing football.

    I agree about your assessment of Per’s importance though. When we play Coquelin in the middle of the pitch, Per’s lack of pace won’t get exploited.

    We have too many players out of form in the crucial part of the season AGAIN and that’s no coincidence. If that walking wig had cared about football at all, he would have asked for Diego Simeone’s number by now. He took Atletico, a team with a huge inferiority complex to Real Madrid, and now regularly beat the crap out of Real.

  • Admit,

    We beat them on all the stats, except tackles understandably. Both teams had 5 shots on target and 3 of theirs flew into our net. Yes, we committed a crime, the crime of suffering defeat. What really irks me is that we played for 63mnis with 10 men, not for the first time.

  • @PE – whilst I agree with you regarding The(o) Invisible One, I think United were better team on the pitch. Yes, stats may have say this or that but their attacks were more fluid, their passing was sharper and their defence was by far more compact (Schneiderlin-effect, I’d say but 17 might launch a hindsight-projectile on me).

    And, it’s not just defeat. It’s a defeat against United who were playing without Darmian, Valencia (two right full-backs), Smalling, Jones (two central defenders), Shaw (their best left full-back), Fellaini, Schweinsteiger (two central midfielders), Young (a winger), Martial (their most potent attacker this season) and Rooney (the one that almost always scores against us). With Michael Carrick in central defence and on a yellow card for over an hour, they should have been an easy prey for us if we still pretend to be the title challengers.

    In the past, we could say that “we lost but at least we played a beautiful football”. Now we play a shit on stick and have poor results (W3D3L2 in 2016 or 50% of points).

  • We played poorly overall and got caught out by the positioning and sitting too deep at times.

    Had Rambo and Theo be more efficient in converting chances we would have scored more against the divers of manu**.


  • Another point to note is the question to Wenger about taking Welbeck off for iwobi when we are chasing the game. Definitely a bad mistake there.

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