Today’s clash between Arsenal and Manchester United will tell us a fair bit about both clubs. The Gunners have enjoyed a good run of form against some of the Premier League’s not-as-strong clubs. United have stumbled just a bit from the form that propelled them to the top of the table: they lost to Sheffield midweek and just eked out a win over Fulham last week.
When the two clubs met earlier this season at Old Trafford, the Gunners prevailed on the strength of a 69th minute penalty kick from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang earned by Hector Bellerin. It was also Thomas Partey’s “coming out party” at the club, if you will. The midfielder was dominant, and Arsenal will need him to be at his best again today.
Arsenal are actually going for their fourth win in five meetings against Manchester United, which is somewhat surprising given that the win earlier this season snapped a number of unflattering streaks in terms of Arsenal away-to-United results. Should the Gunners win, it will be their first league double over United since 2007.
And now for the “Aaron, what are you doing, you’re jinxing them” section. Arsenal have conceded just three goals from set pieces this season, the fewest in the Premier League. Further, those three goals account for just 15% of the total goals the Gunners have conceded, which is also the best in the division. We’ve had some fun with the new, set piece coach Mikel Arteta brought on over the summer (and the attacking set pieces still have room for improvement), but it would seem he’s done his job.
I don’t rate Manchester United as highly as a number of other people do. Their defense is suspect, and questionable defending did them in against Sheffield a few days ago. Arsenal will get their chances — in particular, look for Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka’s movement to cause problems. I also don’t rate Bruno Fernandes like many do. He’s a nice player and has undoubtedly improved Manchester United since he joined a little more than one year ago — the results don’t lie. But there are those who would put him in the conversation for best creative attacker in the division. He’s not. He’s firmly behind Kevin de Bruyne. I’d take Roberto Firmino over him, too. And Jack Grealish. And Harry Kane. I might be forgetting a guy or two, but I think I’ve made my point. Again, he’s a nice player, and I’d be happy to have him at Arsenal, but let’s pump the brakes.
Of course, that’s Fernandes nailed-on for a brace and an assist. And I’ve guaranteed United’s defense will keep a clean sheet. But what can you do. When I watch Manchester City, when I watch a (healthy) Liverpool, they run rampant over teams. The blow them off the pitch. Manchester United don’t really do that. They aren’t as good as those two sides. Now, Arsenal aren’t either. For me, the two clubs are in the same tier, which will make for an entertaining match today.
That is, if Manchester United don’t get too many generous calls. We all know the drill by now — United were award a PL-leading 14 penalties last season. They’ve been awarded 6 this season, under last season’s pace but still set to eclipse double digits. Arsenal have been awarded 3 so far this season and were only awarded 4 all of last season.
The Gunners have been assessed the most yellow cards for time-wasting this season, which when you think about it, is rather mad given how many losses the Gunners have accrued. That thug Hector Bellerin leads the PL in yellow cards. He’s also been called for a ridiculous number of foul throws this season. The issue is the inconsistency. Teams waste time all over the league. There are a handful of foul throws every match. Players commit yellow-card worthy fouls all the time.
That’s all a long way of saying that I hope Michael Oliver calls a balanced game today. He’s one of the better refs in the league, for my money, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear.
The Gunners will be without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang today. He posted earlier this week that his mother had been sick, but that she is doing better, and he is “back home” now. Dani Ceballos and Pablo Mari are both still out with the same calf issues. Backup keeper Mat Ryan picked up a minor hip knock in training and will miss out today.
Kieran Tierney faces a late fitness test to determine his availability. Thomas Partey and Emile Smith Rowe are both fit and available for selection.
Manchester United have no meaningful absences today.
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