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Starting XI: Arsenal vs. Manchester United

The Reds need to get their title charge back on track at the Emirates

Manchester United v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

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

(1) Manchester United suffered a shock defeat to Sheffield United on Wednesday, leaving them second in the Premier League behind Manchester City. No one expected these Blades — rooted to the bottom of the league table and already resigned to relegation — to end United’s thirteen match unbeaten run in league play. The Reds created few chances and turned in an insipid defensive display, particularly on Oliver Burke’s winner that caromed off Axel Tuanzebe and into the United goal.

(2) Tuanzebe was pressed into service after Eric Bailly picked up a knock in training on Tuesday. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was already planning on holding out Victor Lindelöf on account of his nagging back injury and then Bailly’s issue added to his backline problems, resulting in Tuanzebe making his first Premier League start since October 2019.

(3) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on bouncing back against Arsenal:

We have been the most consistent team the last few months and it just hit us today. We dust off the sad feeling and go again. We’ll get over [the Sheffield United loss] tonight and start again tomorrow. Saturday, it’s Arsenal and a big performance is needed as they’re in good form, good shape, and have done well against us before. We know we have to lift ourselves.

(4) Back in November, Arsenal defeated Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford. Neither side looked much like scoring, but the Gunners lucked out with a second half Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang penalty to take all three points back to London. Hopefully, this weekend, there’s a bit more ambition and impetus on display. The Reds, at least, should be out for blood after Wednesday’s embarrassing loss to Sheffield United.

(5) Heading into the festive period, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta looked dead and buried with the Gunners hovering just above the relegation zone. Somehow, though, he’s managed to turn it around and Arsenal now have a legit chance at climbing back into the top four before season’s end. After the midweek win over Southampton, Arsenal sit just seven points off the Champions League places and atop the Premier League form table. A miraculous revival.

(6) Part of this turnaround is reversion to the mean, but Arteta also deserves credit for elevating young players like Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, and Kieran Tierney into first-team regulars. In particular, the 20-year-old Smith Rowe has been a revelation in the Arsenal midfield, marrying a strong work rate with a natural creative streak that keeps the Arsenal attack ticking.

(7) It’s been a busy January at the Emirates as Arsenal continue to slim down their bloated squad. Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Sead Kolasinac, and Mesut Ozil have already walked the plank and Shkodran Mustafi won’t be far behind. The Gunners also loaned 19-year-old William Saliba to Nice in Ligue 1, in hopes that a return to his homeland can put him back on the right track.

(8) Norwegian wunderkind Martin Odegaard joined on loan from Real Madrid this week. Arsenal beat out Real Sociedad — where Odegaard excelled on loan last season — for his signature and Arteta now faces some difficult choices on how to fit all of his attacking midfielders into one cohesive system. Odegaard has played just 367 minutes this season at Madrid, so will likely need some time to shake off the rust and acclimatize to regular football. If he can regain the form he showed at Real Sociedad last season, Arsenal have themselves a true star.

(9) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed the last two matches because of personal reasons and must be considered a big question mark for Manchester United’s visit this weekend. On Wednesday, Aubameyang shed more light on the situation:

(10) Some Arsenal injury problems: Kieran Tierney is back in training after missing both Southampton matches with a calf problem. If he can’t go on Saturday, look for Cedric Soares to fill in at left back. In the midweek win over the Saints, Emile Smith Rowe and Thomas Partey were both removed early for precautionary reasons. Arsenal cannot afford to be without any of these three (or Aubameyang) against Manchester United.

(11) Mikel Arteta on his squad’s miraculous turnaround:

Football games are always judged by the results and that affects confidence. Sometimes we were having good games and not deserving to lose at all, but we were losing matches. The moment we started to win, our confidence went up and we started to grow, to understand each other better. We’ve got some players back and the spirit started to lift a little bit. Things were much better.