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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. Arsenal

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Sunday’s winner will rise to the dizzying heights of the top half of the table

Arsenal FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Visionhaus

Everything that you need to know ahead of Sunday’s match:

(1) Not too long ago, a Manchester United vs. Arsenal match often decided the Premier League title. Now, though, both lie in the bottom half of the table in desperate need of three points. As good as Manchester United have performed so far in the Champions League, they’ve been equally unconvincing in domestic play. Albeit with a match in hand on most of the rest. Fifteenth place is still shocking, though. The Reds need to get moving up the table — and quickly.

(2) Manchester United soundly defeated RB Leipzig 5-0 on Tuesday night, pouring it on with a late blitz of goals. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sprang a bit of a surprise on his German guests, eschewing the expected back three for a midfield diamond with Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek awarded rare starts. RB Leipzig huffed and puffed, but the Reds soaked up the pressure and carved ‘em up on the counter. There’s no doubt this side plays best when faced with opposition determined to push forward and attack. That bodes well for this weekend against Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal.

(3) The Reds will be without Alex Telles for a little while, after the new left back tested positive for Covid-19. “But he has no symptoms,” says Solskjaer. “He’s fine and we can’t wait to get him back.”

(4) The Manchester United boss on sorting through his midfield puzzle:

I think we have an abundance of good midfielders at the club, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. But [against RB Leipzig] it worked. The work off the ball, it was incredible. Nemanja, Fred, Paul, Donny — all four of them worked their socks off. That’s the basis of the team. If you can work and work and win the ball in good situations, you create chances. I’m sure Fred covered every single blade of grass on that pitch. It’s unbelievable how that boy just recovers for the next one. The squad is good and gives us options — 4-3-3, a diamond, 4-2-1-3, or whatever we want to call it.

(5) Anthony Martial finishes his three-match suspension on Sunday, which probably means Marcus Rashford will lead the line once again. Assuming Mason Greenwood starts on the right, Ole’s other option up top is Edinson Cavani. The Uruguayan, still working his way back into match fitness, has only played 41 scoreless minutes in a red shirt so far.

(6) Mikel Arteta arrived at Arsenal last December after a crash course in football management as Pep Guardiola’s right-hand man. After growing stale in Arsene Wenger’s dotage — and the false dawn of the Unai Emery era — the Gunners desperately needed a breath of fresh air. Arteta is just that. He opted for pragmatism in the early days, sticking with a mostly counterattacking style that favored the players brought in by Emery. That’s starting to change, though — to mixed results.

(7) Arteta wants a team that combines possession and aggression, asking his players to hold onto the ball and pass it around — but with a purpose. More quick, vertical passes; less sideways, going-nowhere football. Pretty much what you’d expect from a guy who learned at Pep’s feet. But this transition hasn’t been an easy one, as Arsenal struggle to create chances going forward. In last weekend’s 1-0 loss to Leicester, the Gunners had no tempo in the final third and — barring a disallowed Alexandre Lacazette header — never came close to scoring. Everyone just stood around and, on the few occasions when a bright run was made, it went unrewarded by the man on the ball.

(8) Case in point:

(9) Arsenal arrive at Old Trafford after back-to-back Premier League losses to Manchester City and Leicester. The Gunners failed to score in either match — no surprise there, judging from that horrific shots statistic above. Another loss to a top-four rival this weekend and Arsenal’s Champions League hopes would already be hanging by a thread.

(10) Arsenal made three signings this summer: Willian on a free from Chelsea; 22-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes from Lille; and Thomas Partey. While Willian arrives a few years too late and Gabriel perhaps a few too early, Partey is an elite signing in his prime from a club (Atletico Madrid) who hated to lose him. He will sit in front of the Arsenal backline, breaking up play, but also with more license to drive forward than he had under the rigid Diego Simeone. There’s a lot more to the £45 million signing than just a midfield destroyer.

(11) With David Luiz injured and out for a few weeks, Arsenal face a bit of a numbers crunch at the back. Shkodran Mustafi struggled in relief against Leicester, but Arteta doesn’t have many other options since Rob Holding, Pablo Mari, and Calum Chambers are also hurt. He could push left back Kieran Tierney into central defense, but the more adventurous option would be 19-year-old William Saliba, inexperienced but hugely talented.