Manchester United take on Arsenal at Old Trafford on Sunday, in an unpredictable Barclays Premier League match-up. Both sides are heading into this game on the back of European assignments – and vastly different results as well – during the week. United, lest we forget, also played in the FA Cup fifth round match against Shrewsbury on Monday night and, with a 0-3 win, qualified for the quarterfinals.
The Gunners are third on the Premier League table while the Red Devils (41) are a whopping 10 points adrift of their Sunday’s opponents (51), to be in fifth place. Both teams have quite a few similarities between them this season, which in itself has been mercurial and seen the underdogs punch above their weight. Ahead of such a massive fixture, how do the two sides stack up against each other? Who are the favourites to win the game?
Manchester United v Arsenal
United and Arsenal’s struggles to score goals freely in the league this season is one of the similarities. United more so than Arsene Wenger’s side that has scored a mere 41 goals – eight more than Sunday’s hosts – from 26 fixtures.
The North Londoners should be given the benefit of the doubt for having their star players like Alexis Sanchez and Santiago Cazorla out with injuries for a long time. Mesut Ozil has, therefore, had to deliver each and every time, and Wenger’s Wizards have not quite stepped up to the plate as a unit.
On Sunday, their front four is likely to be Olivier Giroud, Sanchez, Ozil and Theo Walcott, who will take some stopping from United. For Premier League standards, that is a scary quartet capable of taking any team apart when they find their groove. And United have already had a taste of Arsenal’s attacking talents. Three of the aforementioned quartet started in the Gunners’ imperious 3-0 win over Louis van Gaal’s side in October, with the Chilean forward scoring a delightful brace and the German playmaker bagging the other.
Arsenal’s attacking firepower is easily better than United’s even if you discount the hosts’ current injury list comprising of the likes of Wayne Rooney, Bastain Schweinsteiger, Marouane Fellaini among others.
Talking about another similarity between these two English giants, they have been reasonably solid defensive sides as well. Arsenal (23) and United (24) boast of the second and third-best defensive records, respectively, in the Premier League this season, and Sunday’s result could well hinge on how the sides defend.
United, given their struggles at the top-end of the pitch all season and with so many of their attacking players out with injuries, will have to put in a rock-solid display at the back. Despite being the home side, United, in my opinion, will be better off to surrender possession and play on the counterattack.
Yes, it is not their style and van Gaal likes his team to keep the ball and wear their opponents out. However, on Sunday, a counter-attacking game will suit them more, bringing the best out of the likes of Memphis Depay, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata.
On paper, Arsenal seem to be a much better side than United. However, a lot has changed since the morale-boosting, highly indispensable home victory against Leicester City 12 days ago. Wenger’s side failed to win its FA Cup game against Hull City last weekend and then fell to a 0-2 defeat to Luis Enrique’s all-conquering Barcelona in the first-leg UEFA Champions League R-16 clash on Tuesday. So, there is a genuine possibility of their confidence not being so high.
The question is, can United raise their game on such a huge occasion? Their defence certainly has to up its, if United are to get something out of the game. The Red Devils, if they neutralise Arsenal’s attacking threat, can make a game out of it. Van Gaal has done well in the marquee fixtures so far during his time at Old Trafford. Come Sunday, it is up to him to show a bit of tactical flexibility, set his injury-hit side to defend well and hit Arsenal on the break.
Verdict: Arsenal favourites, but by no means are sure to secure three points.
Who are your favourites? Tell us in the comments below.