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It may not have the same drama nor hold the same sway in terms of the Premier League title race as in years gone by, however, Manchester United facing up against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side is always going to be one of the most anticipated fixtures in the English footballing calendar.
Both teams will be even more motivated than usual with the alternative to victory for either team not a comfortable thought. The hosts Arsenal enter the fixture fresh from a disastrous run of results which has left the Gunners 12 points behind leaders Chelsea and probably all but out of the title race in mid-November.
Louis van Gaal’s United on the other hand know that whilst performances have been a major improvement on last year, results simply haven’t reflected this progress. Following a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace a fortnight ago, United are in no doubt that they must string a run of victories together from this point in order to put together a strong challenge for third place.
Things simply got worse for United on the injury front during the international break with Luke Shaw and Daley Blind both picking up injuries which will in all likelihood keep them out of Saturday’s trip to the Emirates.
With Van Gaal’s options yet again limited, how will United line up?
Despite suffering a dislocated finger during training with the Spanish national team, David de Gea is expected to start in goal against Arsenal with Van Gaal claiming there is ‘no problem’ with him.
Injured duo Phil Jones and Jonny Evans are unlikely to play, so Chris Smalling and Patrick McNair look favourites to start as a central defensive pairing. Antonio Valencia will continue at right-back with the left-back position a significant worry with Shaw doubtful and Marcos Rojo definitely out. Reece James could be granted a first-team return.
In terms of a formation it is difficult to predict how United will line up on Saturday. Van Gaal elected to utilise a 4-5-1 system for the two matches against Chelsea and Manchester City but given Arsenal’s defensive frailties and lack of physical power in midfield, United may be able to get away with a 4-3-3 and not concede any real ground in the middle of the pitch.
With Blind definitely out a position has become available in midfield. If Michael Carrick is passed fit after training today it is likely he will sit in front of the back-four. However, if Carrick fails a fitness test, we may well see a pairing of Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera, which could provide an interesting balance of physicality and craft.
Adnan Januzaj and Angel di Maria are both likely to start, despite the Argentine picking up a knock in Tuesday’s clash with Portugal at Old Trafford.
It could be the case that United again use a 4-4-1-1 system, as against Crystal Palace, given Radamel Falcao’s continued battle with injury, leaving United with just Robin van Persie and James Wilson to choose from.
Van Persie is the logical choice to play as a lone-forward given his excellent record of three goals in four matches against his former club since moving to Old Trafford in 2012.
Wayne Rooney will sit just behind and supporters will hope he will be able to carry his form with England over to the Emirates with the 29-year-old boasting an excellent goal-scoring record against Arsenal. The striker needs just one goal tomorrow to become all-time leading Premier League scorer against the Gunners.
With both sides struggling defensively it could be the case that whoever takes the lead will be the team under the most pressure and I would certainly expect goals to be on the cards for both teams.