Morning all and welcome to match day. This is a match day that, let’s be honest, has rarely been a fun one for us and given both teams’ respective form I’m not exactly overly confident of us getting three points today. There have been times where I’ve thought “this year, with that United team and the way they’re playing, will be our year to FINALLY win up therein the league”, but today doesn’t feel like one of those games.
It’s their firepower you see. They have so much going on at the creative end of the pitch that it feels like it is going to be a lot for us to contain today. Greenwood, Rashford, Martial, Pogba, Fernandez, Mata; it is a smorgasbord of talent and that’s why they were able to smash Newcastle and then go at RB Leipzig too, who are certainly no mugs.
Mikel also alluded to the fact that they can play with variations on their formation and Solsjkaer has liked to mix it up in that respect. I didn’t want it at the weekend but apparently they played Leipzig in a diamond formation and so I suspect he’ll go with much the same and hope that Arsenal are a little more open and less frustrating to break down.
And therein lies the little ‘hope’ that we have for today, because the one thing Arteta has done with this Arsenal team, is to make us better and more structured defensively. In these types of games he’s tended to deploy the back three with wing backs and that is what I think he’ll go with today. We’re light on centre halves so I think it might be Tierney in the left centre back position with Gabriel in the middle and Mustafi on the right, but then the question is what we do on either flank. Bellerin starts on the right, which is obvious, but who plays left? Does Arteta go with the FA Cup model and give Ainsley a run out? Or does he deploy Saka there with more of a licence to get forward?
If he does indeed opt for the back three, it also probably means one of Ceballos, Xhaka or Partey misses out. Given Partey didn’t play against Dundalk I don’t expect him not to start, so then it is a straight shoot out between Ceballos and Xhaka. Ordinarily I’ve have said Xhaka is a shoe in and given Ceballos’ performance against Leicester City that should feel like the case, but Xhaka played 74 minutes against Dundalk and so perhaps that is a hint that we might not see him from the start?
It will be interesting to see how Partey gets on with a two in midfield. The 4-3-3 variant against Leicester saw him bi-passed completely and was a bit of a waste of his talent. But with just two in the middle he will probably be given a little more licence to roam. I also hope he gets more opportunity to play those progressive balls we started to see in the Rapid Vienna game where he looked so impressive. We are going to need that today. United’s weakness – as every knows – is defensively and in order for us to get anything from this game it means we will need to be more efficient in terms of spring the trap and hitting them on the counter. If we have Partey playing quicker, forward, more progressive balls to an attack which has pace about it, then perhaps we can spring a surprise today.
That’s why my front three would see Auba central, Pepe right and then Saka left. If he goes with Saka left then somebody else needs to fill the left wing back position, which i’d opt for Maitland-Niles, but even if Saka plays left wing-back then we need to hope he can counter quickly.
The options for the front three could be Willian or Lacazette but I really hope it isn’t. Neither have impressed of late and both look half a yard slower each time I see them, so my hope is that neither start today, although I have a worrying feeling that both could start. That wouldn’t fill me with too much confidence of hitting an ailing United defence on the counter and I’m sure Maguire, Shaw et al will be a lot less worried if they see the team sheet and those two names are on them. That’s why I hope Pepe coming off on 60 minutes on Thursday was a good sign. Last season he gave Shaw a bit of a roasting at the Emirates and that’s my hope again today if he starts. If it is Willian there though I suspect Shaw will be more than happy.
I wouldn’t say i’m confident, but I do think that the law of averages has to work for us at least once against the ‘Big Six’, right?
Let’s see come 7pm tonight.
Catch you all tomorrow.