Arsenal-Manchester United. Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Desperate Times Call for Nothing Less Than a Win.

Despite proclamations that peace is in the air, Jose Mourinho once again brings a team to the Emirates trying to extend his remarkable run of 11 league matches undefeated against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, a streak that surely must end if the Gunners have any hope of a top-4 finish and another go in the Champions League next season.

The inability of Wenger to get a win against Mourinho is the first daunting figure.  Next comes the fact that it’s been 24 games and over six months since Manchester United last lost a league match.  Finally, there’s Arsenal’s lack of confidence, in both results and tactics, coming into this one.  Playing three at the back–a fairly desperate tactical change to begin with–yielded three wins, albeit on the back of less than convincing performances, before a real drubbing at Tottenham.  The 2-nil scoreline in the North London derby could have been much worse if goalkeeper Petr Cech hadn’t had his best performance of the season.

Somehow the Gunners must bounce back from that defeat and begin their extremely difficult run-in of five matches in the remaining two weeks of the league campaign by ending Mourinho and United’s remarkable streaks.  A quick glance at the Premier League table shows that nothing less will suffice.  In addition to winning those five matches, either Liverpool or Manchester City must drop at least four points in their remaining three games.  If Arsenal can get the win vs United, they will at least have the upper hand for 5th place, assuming, once again, that they keep winning their matches.

We can only take them one at a time, however, and there could be a few mitigating factors that might favor the Gunners.  Mourinho has been open about the fact that he will be rotating players for the game given that his priority–and another path to Champions League football next season–is winning the Europa League.  United inched closer to the finals of that tournament with a 1-nil win in the first leg of the semifinals at Celta Vigo this past Thursday.  The quick turnaround from that match plus the lengthy list of United players out injured suggests that Arsenal–if they can play anywhere near their best–have a very good chance in this one.

It’s a task that is easier said than done.  Will Wenger continue with three at the back?  Is a must-win match the time to switch back to the more attacking 4-2-1-3 formation used for most of the season?  The manager has options, especially considering that his big off season buys, Shkodran Mustafi in central defense and Granit Xhaka, the anchoring midfielder who hobbled off at Spurs, were back in full training and appear available for this one.  The 3-4-3 formation seemed a desperate measure when it was first employed at Middlesboro three weeks ago even if it eked out a decent run of results.  Stick or twist seems to be the question.

I’ll go out on a limb, albeit with very scant confidence, and say twist.  Back to the old formation and with four changes to the team that started at Spurs.






Substitutes: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Giroud

I’m really just throwing darts here–blind folded and in the dark.  To me, the must-win nature of the run-in matches combined with the stodgy performances, despite the promising results that the 3-4-3 produced, demands a shake up.  Removing Gabriel Paulista–who gave up a penalty to set up Spurs second goal–and the ineffective trio of Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud–might spark a bit of a revival.  Of course, there were other players who didn’t perform well in the last match who might also be slated for a bench seat, but those are my picks.  What would be yours?  Who do you believe Wenger will pick and how will he try to get the best out of his players?

The terms are stark.  Mourinho, despite the vanity he must surely possess due to his record over Wenger, has downplayed the importance of this match and will enter it with a nothing-to-lose attitude that will contrast greatly with the immense pressure Wenger’s teams always carry as they try to buoy their beleaguered manager.  Both managers have taken it on the chin and come into this one as wounded warriors at the tail end of very difficult and disappointing seasons.  They have shown they are willing to fight, however–witness the photo at the top.  Let’s hope that Wenger and his team are fully up for this one and come out as winners.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

63 thoughts on “Arsenal-Manchester United. Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Desperate Times Call for Nothing Less Than a Win.

  • Cheers Seventeenho, you summed it all up perfectly once again. Hard to see us win this one, but you will never know. Like the line up except for Theo, but that could well be it.

  • Nice and very likely line up, save for Theo, whom I will replace with Ox. I also do not see why we should ditch the 3 at the back formation we’ve been using though; will Wenger risk starting Mustafi in this game? I don’t know but if it ain’t broke (vs Spurs wasn’t a “broke” but more of us meeting a better side on the day)……..

    I don’t believe all that weakened side nonsense when we are talking about Jose Mourinho. In any case, it doesn’t matter who they put out. They will represent the crest of United. Similar to what we had to put out for that 8-2 mauling.

  • HT,
    Good. preview. Aren’t we all throwing darts?
    Me thinks you have swallowed Mourinho’s bait, about fielding a weak team, hook, line and sinker. One believes that man only at ones peril. Even if he makes 7 changes from the Celts Vigo game, they are likely to be de Gear, Smalling and Jones, Carrick, Mata and Martial, Rooney and poised to join to make it an XI are Pogba, Valencia, Nkhitaryan and Lingard. That’s a team as tough as they come.

    Mourinho comes to the Emirate desperate to win, no mistake about that. He knows that even the final day of the Europa holds no guarantee. He would gamble on our desperation to win fuelled by the pressure at the Emirate. If there is one game we have to use the 3:4:3 it is this. It’s structure can accomodate the Emirate presure better and that would dissapoint Mourinho. If we set up in a 4:2:3:1, under pressure the team can easily slip into adventurism and Mourinho would then strike. Mourinho’s tactics is to lie.

    If there are no early goals both sides, half way into the 2nd half Wenger likely would do what he did at Leicester, change to the more attacking but riskier 4:2:3:1 and the energy of the Emirate then could make the difference.

    Manu were responsible for halting our 49 game unbeaten run. Time for revenge on their 25 game unbeaten run.

  • Since we went 3:4:3 despite three wins we are yet to look convincing. I heap much of the blame on our offensive department. Iwobi’s quick passing style and good use of the left channel, I believe, would help in bringing Ozil to life. Also Oxlade’s forward runs through the centre would come in handy for our vertical thrust. With Xhaka recovered my team would be :-


    Changes to create a more vibrant offensive play within the same structure.

  • @17

    Cheers for the post.

    I have to admit I don’t see us being capable of breaking their momentum. Mourinho is a master tactician and he has shown quite a few times this season that he won’t lose a game if he decides that a draw is a good result. United have been difficult to break lately and with absent-minded Alexis, our midfield being poor in both creating and protecting the defence and the defence being both exposed and ready for a capital mistake, I fear that 0:2 defeat is on cards and I wouldn’t bet against one of our players getting a red card.

    It looks to me that players are fully focused on the cup final. They don’t give a crap about the league and they can’t stand the tension that will last until summer. We have number of players entering their last year of contract (Ox, Ramsey, Ozil, Alexis, Gibbs) with the manager entering either his last 50 days of reign or the last days of his penultimate contract with Arsenal.

    Ozil has never done anything vs Mourinho’s Chelsea and was largely anonymous in the reverse fixture. Mourinho is apparently a big admirer of Ozil but it seems he also knows how to neutralize him.

    My eleven would be:

    Cech-Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal-Xhaka, Elneny-Ozil-Ox, Giroud, Alexis.

  • Admir, Arsenal with Özil won at least one game against Chelsea’s Mourinho… He surely forgot that day how to neutralise Mesut…

  • Alex, guess you meant “Mourinho’s Chelsea”; and no, Arsenal with Ozil have not beaten a Mourinho team in a competitive game (save the 1-0 Charity shield win).

    Of course, the history isn’t important in these games and the team that turns up on the day will win it. Let’s look forward to the victory.

  • Our successful early season allacking quartet comprised of Iwobi, Ozil, Walcott and Sanchez leading the line.

    Iwobi’s quick passing was the catalyst, Ozil was the intelligence, Walcott the runner, Sanchez was the hot potato. We need that combo back with the wing backs now acting as the runners in our 3:4:3.

  • Between Ox and Bellerin for the RWB position, the Ox is a better crosser of the ball while Bellerin is a better off the ball runner. The scale tilts, for me, in favour of Bellerin because he is defensively more aware than Ox. Furthermore, the choice of Bellerin frees the versatile Ox for deployment elsewhere .

  • I’m really not sure who Wenger will select in his starting line up versus Man Utd and in what formation. That said, I think the loss versus Spurs gives Wenger the excuse he has been looking for to revert to his preferred 4231 setup. I’m still of the view though that Arsenal don’t have the central midfielders with the necessary combination of transitional and defensive skills to accomodate only 2 CDMs. Xhaka (long range passing) and Ox (dribbling) are Arsenal’s only two CDM options with effective transitional skills. While Xhaka and Coquelin are Arsenal’s only two CDM options with effective defensive skills. The lack of a CDM duo each of whom possess that combination of transitional and defensive skills has been reflected in Arsenal’s poor central midfield performances this season whether that be in a 4231 or 523 set up.

    For that reason, and with Xhaka reportedly absent through injury, I’d like to see Arsenal adopt a 4312 setup versus Man Utd comprised of:

    GK: Cech
    RB: Debuchy
    CB: Mustafi
    CB: Koscielny
    LB: Monreal
    LCDM: Elneny
    CDM: Coquelin
    RCDM: Ox
    CAM: Ozil
    LS: Alexis
    RS: Walcott

    In that set up I’d like to see:

    1. Alexis and Walcott staying forward, irrespective of whether Arsenal are attacking or defending, and looking to make darting runs behind the opposition’s defensive line and on goal when Arsenal attack.

    2. Ozil maintaining a position a little behind the front two, again irrespective of whether Arsenal are attacking or defending, and drifting horizontally across the field when Arsenal attack to: execute one-twos with Ox and Elneny when they transition via the dribble; as well as to receive the ball in pockets of space and quickly execute through passes to Alexis and Walcott.

    3. The back seven (i.e. the back four and 3 CDMs) predominantly sitting deep, focusing on maintaining their defensive structure and shape, staying compact, tackling and intercepting.

    4. The Ox and Elneny being Arsenal’s primary outlets to transition the ball from defence to attack and doing so predominantly by dribbling the ball up the field and playing one-twos with a floating Ozil.

    5. If and when Arsenal are able to monopolise possession in the opposition’s half I’d like to see purposeful build up play with the primary aim of creating long range shooting opportunities for Elneny, Ox and Alexis.

  • Waldo,
    I doubt if Wenger would revert to the 4:2:3:1. Firstly his opponent is Mourinho who is a counter attack specialist. Secondly Wenger wouldn’t want to give his boys the impression that he is floundering tactically running from pillar to post.

  • Ozil hasn’t got the nack for doing it alone. If you ask that of him he would fail as he has been failing. Ozil loves having mobile players in front of him. It is important that our wingbacks learn how to get more involved in our attacks particularly with off the ball runs. We must maximize the value of our most expensive player.

  • Hey PE, just to clarify in case there is any confusion, I in no way expect Wenger to select the above team in that formation. That is simply the team I would like to see play, based upon my own research on player performances, the successful tactic employed by numerous recent Premier League champions and how i think those tactics could be adapted to best suit the strengths and weaknesses of the players which comprise Arsenal’s current squad.

    Also the 4-3-1-2 setup and system of play I’ve suggested Arsenal adopt is pretty much a counterattack approach. So I don’t think that’s a style of play that Mourinho typical counter attacking system would be comfortable dealing with (as opposed to Arsenal’s typical attacking approach of monopolising possession in the opponent’s half). As for whether Arsenal adopting the suggested setup and system of play may give the players the impression that Wenger is floundering tactically, I fear the players may already be aware of that.

  • Waldo,
    In other words your saying Wenger is ostrich hiding. Poor fellow, he’s got nowhere to hide. Head I win, tail he looses.

  • “(save the 1-0 Charity shield win).”

    So they did, end of the discussion.

  • Pretty much PE. It’s bloody painful though to watch Wenger refuse to accept that his tactical approach and approach to recruitment over the best part of the last decade has not and is not effective enough to cultivate the consistency of on field performance and results required to win the Premier League. For me that anguish is exacerbated by the fact that Wenger was so effective tactically and at building balanced and complimentary teams during his first decade at the club.

  • Yes Waldo, the signings 2nd decade have had a high rate of disappointments. Those I consider good enough are Rosicky, Van Persie, Fabrigas, Nasri, Diaby (discounting the injury), Koshienly, Carzola, Alexis. 2nd group just about OK include Kleb, Vermalin, Song, Per, Arteta, Ox and maybe one or two more. The rest were poor purchases. Ozil has not been given the right environment of intelligent technical players for him to flower anđ so could be classified as poor purchase for his price.

  • @Alex

    You are right, Arsenal have won one competitive match v Mourinho and that shouldn’t be taken away as it is usually done. I reckon that most of countries have a Supercup as a showdown between the national champions and the national cup winners as a curtain raiser and Community Shield is the English version of that. AC Milan are the second most successful European club in the Champions Cup/Champions League but they were celebrating their Supercup victory v Juventus like madmen. It’s a silverware.

    That being said, Mesut was hardly a key player in our victory over Chelsea on that nice Sunday afternoon. The Ox provided a winner with a delightful shot after Walcott’s assists. Number of Özil’s assists/goals v Mourinho’s sides in England: 0.

  • Comfirmed.
    Hold, Kos, Nacho
    Ox, xha, Ramb,Gibs
    Ozil, Welb, Sanch

  • Team sheet is out and the back 3 stars Holding, Kos and Monreal, with Gibbs as wing back. Is the manager putting Gibbs out in the shop window? Or are we just hoping he gets better with games. Welbeck starts while Xhaka recovers from a niggle to start today.

  • We’ve got to win, but that won’t matter if Liverpool keep winning. Fingers crossed.

  • It ends in a draw at Anfield, so a bit back in our hands now. Regarding the team sheet, I worry about absence of power in our midfield, considering we are up against the likes of Pogba, Herrera, and Carrick. Somehow, wanted to see the Ox in there. At least, Welbeck has motivation to win today. Let’s hope we are able to put them under some pressure. Valencia won’t be giving Alexis much change so it will depend on how quickly he releases the ball for runners. COYG!

  • Pogba is on the bench as well as Valencia. Their right full-back Tuanzebe is making a debut.

    Welbeck has scored twice v United, both times at Old Trafford.

    Perhaps it’s time for Rambo to make some amends for an awful season and repeat his trick from our last May victory over Man United (in 2011)?

  • Hmmm. United has Rooney, Mata and Mkhitaryan; plus a reserve player at right back. Smelling and Jones at CB will be formidable, but if we get balls behind them for Welbeck, we can trouble them.

  • Goonereris I am with you on this one. I think we can exploit them at the back. Big worry is the strength of their midfield.

  • Just heard my mate who is at the game.

    He said that there was a big anti-Wenger demo outside the ground!

    I’m listening to the game on the radio and the atmosphere seems quite muted.

  • Kev, Rambo is having a box to box game and he is creating problems for United. Pretty even game, chances at both ends. The boys are doing ok

  • Thanks Retsub.

    Surprised to see Gibbs start again and see Monreal in the back-three?
    Did Paulista have that big a stinker at WHL or is he injured?

  • While it helps us territorially, I am a bit surprised to see Holding and Monreal bombing forward at the same time. The risk of being caught out as we play a high line is an ever present danger. I do hope some wisdom prevails. Not too impressed with Welbeck’s efforts in the area. It just occurred to me how poor a first touch he sometimes has.

    Again, our crosses have come in but have not been pin-point. Sanchez has to realize that his brand is high energy. He seems to have lost that a bit, lately.

    And as I type, what a goal by Granit Xhaka! Wow!

  • 1-0, the good guys. Fortuitous deflection, yes. But you have to buy a ticket to win the lottery.

  • Good game. Where was this team in the last 4 months. The FA final is suddenly gotten attractive.

  • Wenger finally beats the sour faced one and its about time. United were I thought pretty poor in the 2nd half they never even had a shot after we scored. Thought their young right back had a good game

    Some good displays, Ramsey had his best game for ages, the Ox did well. Xhaka I thought( this will shock you T A ) had I thought the best I had seen him play. Although his goal was lucky,credit to him for taking the shot.

    Ozil was pretty quiet again and Alexis lost his way.

    Well done lads keep it up

  • Alex. In my kopinion and I stress in my opinion the vast majority of ozil’ passing was short passing sideways across the pitch. I don’t remember him playing more than one or two passes of note. Zhaka on the other hand was spraying the ball around with defence cutting passes. Maybe it’s just me with an Ozil thing, but a quick sampling of a number of match reports seem to agree with me.

  • I remember Denilson making a lot of passes.

    Good to see Xhaka getting a goal, I hope they don’t take it away from him…

  • Ozil had an average to okay game. Wasn’t one of his better performances but still, he kept things ticking over at times. Agree that Ramsey was, perhaps, our best player today. He worked hard and was all over the pitch. Let’s hope this improves his confidence and he influences the remaining games we have to play. He cut out his tendency to flick passes, lose possession in dangerous areas and try “Hollywood” passes. He looked serious and deserved to be on the winning side.

    Nice that we are the team to stall their “unbeaten run”, with the same scoreline they stopped our 49 games unbeaten run.

    Now, for Liverpool to drop more points in any of the two games they have left.

  • Goonereris glad you mentioned the unbeaten run, if i search my memory banks I see to remember that cheating bar steward Rooney taking a dive over Sol Campbell to win a penalty.

    it was a good win today but United definitely lacked ambition and that can only be down to Mourinho.

  • After watching the highlights, I made the following mental notes:
    1. We are still weak defensively. If Rooney is more decisive in finishing or Cech is less prolific, we will have conceded and lost the game.
    2. Xhaka likes to take long shots. We are very lucky one of them hit Herrera and looped into goal.
    3. Alexis needs to play in the hole. Ozil on the left, and Welbeck on the right. They did it so brilliantly that Manu** were like sitting in front of goal with their backs to the wall.
    4. We needed to play better football, and with our recent performances, better teams with good defensive plans and attack proficiency will flatten us.

  • JK, good observations. Agree with them, in general. But did you notice Rooney only had that chance because of imprecise communication between Kos and Cech, rather than being “weak defensively”? I thought we were strong in defence yesterday. On Xhaka, that shot was headed for the top corner of De Gea’s goal. Whether he saves it or not is another matter. Yet again, if you don’t shoot, you never know….

    The mode we are in is one (I think it was) TA described as “top 4 Mode”. We are likely to play pragmatic football, ditching better football for anything to get the win. It will be nervy, boring even, but if it gets the job done, who’s complaining. The more they get wins using the new formation, the more they trust in it and the good football will start to return.

  • Eris, come to think of it, I think I saw that Rooney had more chances, mostly outside the box.

    With the new formation, and with Welbs up front, maybe we will see the feel good factor return. Wednesday night is a tough match, and if we overcome this hurdle it should be good enough for the remaining games.

  • If nothing else following Monreal’s shot against Leicester and Xhaka’s goal at the weekend the boys should shoot more often. I haven’t seen any stats, but I don’t remember many goals being scored from outside the area..

  • Retsub1, totally agreed. The thing is that they do not shoot unless they are absolutely sure, which we have to change to shoot on sight.

  • Better performance by the boys versus Man Utd. A couple of things which caught my eye from Arsenal’s performance were:

    1. Arsenal looked dangerous when the team stretched the play both vertically and horizontally. While Arsenal still got bogged down at time with slow monopolosation of possession football and overcommiting too many players in attack (which almost result in Arsenal conceding a couple of goals on the counterattack), when Arsenal’s wingbacks hugged both touch lines and there was sizeable spacing between our defensive, midfield and attacking lines, the space opened up for Alexis and Ozil to execute through passes and for Ramsey to make his off the ball runs on goal. Stretching the play in such a manner also gave Xhaka multiple attacking players to targets with his long range passing. While the extra spacing did leave Arsenal’s defence at times expose, by in large Monreal, Koscielny and Holding did a good job stifling Man Utd’s attack when required.

    2. Arsenal scored their goals from a cross and a long range shot from outside the box. For months I’ve been hoping to see Arsenal employ purposeful build up play with the primary aim of creating opportunities for their widemen and fullbacks to deliver accurate crosses for their CF to attack and failing that creating long range shooting opportunities for their central midfielders. It was great to finally see that versus Man Utd. Hopefully there will be more of it to come because this team doesn’t have enough effective off the ball runners to regularly score from intricate throughpasses.

    All in all a much more enjoyable Arsenal performance to watch.

  • Watching Chelsea v Middlesbrough just to ensure Spurs don’t get any chance of the title. Quite amazing how many times and how quickly get the ball forward. My old buddy Cesar looks superb. Much as it pains me they look far more potent than us when they attack. 2. Nil Chelsea

  • That sounds ominous for Wembley.

    Maybe if they wrap up the title, next game, they might ease up and lose a bit of their edge before the cup final Retsub?

  • There is so much running off the ball going on. Could easily be 5 nil Kev. Kante is injured so Cesc has been on from the start. There are many ex Arsenal players I am not particulrly fond of, Cashley, Van Pursestrings and the chinless wonder ( Nasri) to name a few. But I can’t help having a soft spot for Cesc.

  • I’ve heard that Chelsea may release Cesc in the summer, would you like to see him back at Arsenal I wonder Retsub?

  • Fabregas the first player in premiership history to get 10 or more assists in a season for a record six seasons

  • Personally I would have had him back when we had the chance after he left Barcelona andxwe had that buy back clause.

  • Personally I would welcome him back with open arms. The way he is playing tonight they would be crazy to let him go

  • Another interesting stat. All three Chelsea goals have gone between Guzans legs lol

  • Retsub, I picked up two Americans at London Bridge this evening who wanted to go to Stamford Bridge for the game.
    Well I asked them if they liked NFL, which they did, then I asked them what they thought of the LA Rams?

    One was an Oakland Raiders fan the other followed San Francisco 49’s.
    Both said that the LA Rams have underachieved for years.
    I asked why?
    They said the owner won’t spend enough to nake them competitive.

    Just saying…

  • I thought the system was that the worst team gets the first draft picks, which is meant to even things up. I guess the good players go elsewhere for better wages?

    Chicago bears for me

  • That’s what I thought, about the draft, but there must be more to it than just that.

    Maybe 17tino can explain?

  • Man of the match Fabregas. Probably helped that Alan Smudger Smith awarded it

  • Hey PE… I’m not sure where TA is at–probably very busy at the moment–and I’m up early trying to find time to write a match preview… With just 30 hours before the next match, I’m not sure what can be done about your post… I think I’ve mentioned it before, but, while I have some access to the post-writing side of the blog, I don’t receive e-mails (like your post) or otherwise have access to “the box.”

    Apologies for that and that I too have also been on the quiet side. (Very busy myself…) I was able to watch the game on Sunday (in my) morning even if I didn’t participate in the comments… My takeaway was that we got the job done but that it was just about the worst (or tired or least inspired…) ManU team I’ve seen in a while. I wasn’t particularly convinced by our performance but I was pretty pleased we got the lucky bounces (off Petr Cech’s hands and Anders Herrera’s back…) for a change and I liked very much how Rob Holding made up for his short back-pass with the perfectly weighted pre-assist that the Ox put onto DW’s head to make the lead too big for them. I was pretty far off about the formation and the players picked in my match preview, I have to admit…

    So, I’m off to try and write my preview but maybe TA can ring in and we can figure out how to get the posts out… Cheers…

  • HT,
    Thanks for your concern. I anticipated your fears and asked for the option of posting it after the Southampton game with some minor updating, of course hoping it’s flavour remains fresh.

  • That sounds good, PE, and thanks for the consideration… Nonetheless, TA should check in, we did beat United, after all… 😉

    New Post…

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