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Looking Ahead: Arsenal

The Gunners are coming to town in hot form...

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

Manchester United vs. Arsenal.

A storied rivalry is renewed on Sunday at Old Trafford, and while recently it hasn’t had quite the Premier League significance of meetings past there is a hint of expectation that this match could be a significant measurement of the progress of both clubs.

Here’s a look at the match this weekend.

Opposition Strength

Arsenal look GOOD so far this season. There may be questions about the strength of their schedule through the first five games of the season, but there is no question about their renewed confidence and the effectiveness to which they’ve adapted to Mikel Arteta’s style.

Gabriel Jesus in particular has been a transformative addition to the side, giving decisiveness and creativity from the front which has allowed the Gunners to maintain dominance in possession and attack. It’s been an infectious addition as well, freeing up the rest of the starting XI to play to their strengths. Martin Odegaard has been a force at the tip of a threatening midfield, Granit Xhaka has evolved into an aggressive presence in the right ways, and forwards Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka carry much less of an attacking burden while still providing constant threat from the wings and drifting inside.

The problem for Arsenal now is sustaining the positive vibes, which has been made difficult by injuries.

The problematic Thomas Partey is missing time for injury reasons, a blow to the team’s efforts to control the midfield and negate opposition attacks, and the team may now be without Odegaard and Aleksander Zinchenko, both of whom are doubtful for Sunday.

This vulnerability could be crucial for United, who have had problems of their own in that area of the park.

Control or choosing moments for Manchester United

It’s no secret that United haven’t been able to fully play Erik ten Hag ball in their first five matches. They struggle playing out from the back, even with the defensively solid partnership of Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane, and the midfield of Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen doesn’t really have the control or the stamina to assert themselves beyond the first half of a match.

The latter of those problems will hopefully have some remedy with the introduction of Casemiro to the starting XI. In his second half substitute appearance he played more balls forward than either McTominay or Eriksen did from the start. He’s a defensively solid player who hopefully will adjust to holding down the base of the midfield, and against Arsenal especially United will need him to break up the opposition’s creative play.

The final additions in the transfer window, Antony and Martin Dubravka, are unlikely make the starting XI given they were only registered just in time for the weekend, but the Brazilian could be an option off the bench to inject some energy and creativity into the attack late, even if he hasn’t quite acclimated to playing with his new teammates just yet. The forward line has faded out of each of their last three matches, and that sort of addition late could prove useful in a match where United may struggle to maintain attacks.

Arsenal are tricky. They’re certainly the most in-form team United have faced so far this season, and it comes at a time when United are finding footing for themselves while struggling to assert themselves for lengthy stretches. Erik ten Hag may be compelled to put out the same back four and front three, but should strongly consider a midfield shake up. Eriksen is absolutely gassed and McTominay has become a liability in possession. Casemiro and Fred have the benefit of national team experience together, but it is still asking a lot for them to replicate that on the fly in the Premier League.


Manchester United 1-2 Arsenal

The Gunners are in good form, and capable of punishing this United sides for the mistakes committed against poor Southampton and Leicester teams. It would likely take some big changes in style and personnel for United to truly take advantage of Arsenal’s weaknesses defensively, but the match could benefit their front line that prefers operating with space in transition. Predicting a loss for this one, but wouldn’t be surprised if United can find something again.