Manchester United travel to north London having won three Premier League games in a row and occupying the top spot in the points table while Arsenal got back to winning ways in the league with an impressive 5-2 victory over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Manchester United haven’t faced a top 4 heavyweight side yet and starting this week, Louis Van Gaal’s men have a tough task to emulate and a game against Arsenal is not the right one to kick start 3 weeks of immense pressure. However, a win here and a few more in these crucial few matches would probably be enough for the fans to have a realistic dream of seeing their side, where they truly belong.
Louis van Gaal’s side clinched a 2-1 win the last time the two teams met at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League, and it was the Dutchman’s first away league victory as Manchester United boss. That was a counter-attacking wonder by a Manchester United side that went long spells without possession at the Emirates, but Gary Neville expects Van Gaal to play a more controlling game, this time around.
5 Key battles in the Manchester United vs. Arsenal
Alexis Sanchez vs. Matteo Darmian:
Arsenal lost to Olympiacos on Tuesday and it was Alexis Sanchez who was hailed as the brightest spot in that losing count. “Alexis Sanchez became the first player ever to score a hat-trick in Serie A, La Liga and the Premier League at the weekend. The man who held his own alongside Lionel Messi at Barcelona and who Udinese legend Antonio Di Natale once said was the best he had ever played alongside, doesn’t need to be wasting his time losing 3-2 to Olympiacos. He’s better than that” – said the daily mail. Hard to ignore a simple fact and it sums up perfectly for Arsenal.
Louis Van Gaal during the pre-season said, “He is not a flashy right-back. Instead, he’s efficient and effective in everything he does.” Few could argue that Louis Van Gaal has got a very reliable and a solid right back. After a few disappointing games at PSV and Southampton, Matteo Darmian roared back in style when deployed as a left back against Ipswich. He not only commanded the flank but also added a new dimension to the united back 4 .He is going to face Alexis Sanchez which means, his attacking capabilities would have to be under check. Alexis has a superb skill of drawing defenders on to him and he exploits a fine margin between fullbacks and centre backs while slotting it home. Matteo Darmian showed against Southampton that he struggled against Tadic and Mane and facing Sanchez is not going to be easy. Louis Van Gaal will have a plan to play him in either of the flanks but he will be against Sanchez because the Chilean very swiftly identifies his targets and Darmian is undoubtedly going to be one. Chris Smalling had a nice thing or two to say about the Italian full back “He has literally hit the ground running and that is full credit to him, to be able to adjust to a different league and a different culture.”
Verdict: It has to be Sanchez winning over Darmian but it is too early to pass a final judgment. Darmian’s game reading might just give him a slender upper hand. The onus is on Alexis on how or what he can do, differently to upset the Italian prodigy.
Theo Walcott vs. Daley Blind
Daley Blind has been acting as the perfect catalyst in the united back 4. After a horrific performance against Southampton, he will be now tested against the pace of Walcott. At St. Mary’s it was Pelle’s pace and physique which caused Daley Blind a forgettable 40 minutes and he might have had some scars left. Theo Walcott is not as clinical as Pelle is but he is touted as the Usain Bolt of the league. The lad can run and set up the center stage on fire. He has an uncanny ability to lay off his marker and go on, at a blistering pace. Walcott did score against Leicester and also against Olympiacos.
Former Arsenal legend and one of the best strikers for the club Alan smith in an interview to Sky sports has said “Theo has always wanted to play through the middle, and I think most of us have had doubts as to whether he could do it. But what he needs is a run in the side to be able to learn the intricacies of the position, the runs to make, the hold-up play.”
Daley Blind has become more of a deep lying playmaker than a center back.His ability to start attacks from the back is fundamental to the system Van Gaal wants to deploy.
In the space of a week, he’s provided assists for goals from Wayne Rooney and Memphis Depay. Blind isn’t big and doesn’t possess the natural pace to keep up with live-wire strikers. But his intelligence, positional sense and anticipation have perfectly been in sync with the most traditional qualities of Smalling. Chris Smalling and Blind together have kept 6 clean sheets in 11 games and that is a sign of improving defense after a summer full of criticism and Otamendi’s preference to the blues.
Verdict: Walcott can easily go past blind but faces the big hurdle of finishing and a winger converted to striker may not have the killer instinct needed, at this moment. On the contrary, Daley Blind may just have to work a little harder and make sure Walcott doesn’t even get an inch of a space to seep in. It will be interesting to see this contest of pace and prowess between the two.
Bastian Schweinsteiger vs. Santi Cazorla
After Santi Cazorla set up yet another goal for Arsenal, against Leicester at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, a statistic started doing the rounds that said, since his arrival in August 2012, he has more assists than any other Premier League player. Santi Cazorla has been the engine and one of the key reasons why Arsenal are ticking. He has adopted to the Centre role very well and Santi has been picking the right players at the right time.
Bastian Schweinsteiger has been stamping his class for Manchester united ever since he joined. In a lost cause against PSV or a 45-pass goal from Juan Mata, Mr. Calm as he is widely called, has shown German efficiency. In such a crunch tie, he will be given the onus to mark Santi and mark him out of the game. Morgan would have his hands full with the likes of Ramsey and Ozil, the two live wires on the pitch and the Deutsche Football Meister would be severely tested against Santi who would love to knock off some slow passes and then go on a sudden spree of quick passes to his forwards.
Verdict: A clash of 2 midfield motors and one deployed to close a creative spark. Tough to choose but Bastian’s charisma and his big game experience may just see him get through.
Anthony Martial vs. Per Mertesacker
Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry, and his team mates have all joined the list of fans in Anthony Martial. Former Arsenal striker and fan Anelka was quoted praising Martial as “one of the most talented players of his generation”. Eyebrows were raised when United paid a stunning £36million for the 19-year-old this month from Ligue 1 outfit Monaco.
That fee could eventually rise to £58million depending on his development with the teenage forward already making a bright start to life in England. Martial has scored four goals in his opening five games in all competitions for the Red Devils as well as providing an assist; as Louis van Gaal faces a crunch next 3 weeks and Wayne Rooney not firing as much as one expects him to, United have put the 19-year-old on the front line.
Per Mertesacker is an exact opposite of Martial and twitter has been trending ever since his slow pace was found. In Martial, he is facing a Walcott and Anthony will stay on his shoulders.
Verdict: Pace will be pitted against experience in this one on one battle and only time can provide a winner.
Wayne Rooney vs. Hector Bellerin
Wayne Rooney has been having a season of mixed fortune. Statistics might show 2 goals in last 2 outings for the English stalwart but almost every soccer fan knows that Rooney hasn’t been Rooney so far. He is out of touch, out of form and even beaten by players who are slower than him (Wanyama). Having said that, Louis Van Gaal believes him to be the man feared by teams and rightly so. Wayne Rooney is a big game player and has a knack of answering his critics with stunning comebacks. Laurent Koscielny will have his share of plans for Martial and Depay but he will be wary what United’s record chaser can do. The last fixture, it was the white Pele who was the reason for Arsenal’s defeat and United fans would be hoping for an encore.
Hector Bellerin is one of the brightest sparks after Coquelin and Santi last season. His runs in the right have made him one of the viable options for his midfielders and even attackers. A call to represent Spain might have done the world of good to Hector. With Depay on the wings and Mata swiftly interchanging, he would be quite happy to mark them out of the game but his real challenge would be, Wayne Rooney. Rooney plays who plays as a Central Attacking Midfielder, his ability to drift on to the flanks making way for Ander or Juan Mata or even Martial is a part of the process which makes the defender out of position and as Graeme Souness stated, “He will catch the sleeping defender”. Hector Bellerin tends to get forward very quickly to support the attack but with United’s front 4, he has to be careful and very selective because Wayne Rooney loves Arsenal and he loves to score in big matches.
Verdict: It depends on how Arsenal are set up to counter Manchester United’s new attacking line. Bellerin has got the pace and skills to mark Wayne Rooney. You don’t chase a mammoth club record if you are not good enough. Wayne Rooney has seen a lot of defenders and full backs like Bellerin but he has to be on his toes to get Bellerin who is the form of his life, to make a mistake.