Arsenal vs. Manchester United. At Old Trafford. Ole is out and Ralf Rangnick is in, but perhaps not on the sidelines this Thursday. The Gunners are chasing down a top for spot, while United need a bounce-back sitting in 8th place. Bukayo Saka is doubtful, but the Arsenal defense has had an overall great season since the first international break. Will Ronaldo start and did Martinelli’s goal at the weekend earn him a role in the first XI? Let’s hope the action on the pitch can match the storylines off of it.
Recent history in the series has been strong for the Gunners, with Arsenal winning three times and drawing twice. The last Premier League loss to Manchester United came back in April of 2018. Goals have been hard to come by for Manchester United’s attack during that stretch, having scored just once in those five matches. Arsenal’s defense is improved, but Thursday will be a big test going up against a side with a new manager and what should be a boisterous Old Trafford.
If you haven’t already, make sure to check out the Q&A with SB Nation’s Manchester United site, The Busby Babe where we discussed the current state of the club, Ralf Rangnick, Ronaldo, and this midweek clash - Part 1 & Part 2.
- Bernd Leno
- Kieran Tierney
- Rob Holding
- Calum Chambers
- Mohamed Elneny
- Ainsley Maitland-Niles
- Bukayo Saka
- Alexandre Lacazette
- Left Out: Eddie Nketiah, Pablo Mari, Cedric, Folarin Balogun & Arthur Okonkwo.
- Out: Granit Xhaka (knee) & Sead Kolasinac (left ankle).
- In Mikel Arteta’s comments at the press conference, he stated “we’re not going to risk our players if we believe that that can obviously go against us”, but noted they would have to see how Bukayo Saka felt on Thursday. Thus at the moment, Saka is doubtful and while he is one of Arsenal’s best players, I wouldn’t risk him from the start, being on the road at Old Trafford. Put him on the bench and see if he can give you 30 minutes at the end. His flexibility will allow Arteta to change the formation if needed or take off any of the attackers.
- My first thought heading into this match was to use the 4-4-2 once again, with Lacazette sitting slightly deeper than Aubameyang and with Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka as the wide midfielders. However, with Saka’s injury, there isn’t an ideal replacement for him at RM. Pepe or Martinelli offer the offensive attributes, but perhaps lack the defensive experience Saka can bring to that role. While someone like Ainsley-Maitland Niles or Calum Chambers can solidify that side defensively, it leaves the attack weakened after already reverting to the more conservative 4-4-2 that Arsenal sometimes plays. Thus, I’ve stuck with the 4-2-3-1.
- If you are using a 4-2-3-1, and if Saka is unable to start, you have several options for the attacking line behind the front striker. Martinelli’s goal and energy have earned him the first shot at starting in Saka’s place. He could slot in on the right wing or if Martinelli played on the left, Smith Rowe could shift centrally and Pepe could come in for Martin Odegaard and play on the right. Arteta could even revert back to having Lacazette as the quasi-number 10 with Martinelli and ESR out wide. There is a myriad of combinations for the attack that all comes down to Bukayo’s fitness level on Thursday and exactly how much risk Mikel Arteta wants to take on the road and where on the pitch to accept that risk.
- For all the options up front, the defense remains nearly locked in. No one would question the exact same back seven from Arteta. Clearly, Kieran Tierney can come in for Tavares at left-back, but Nuno has continually earned his starting role, which is not only impressive for his first year at Arsenal but great for squad depth next season if they can return to Europe. The only other place I could imagine a switch would be if Arteta pushes forward with a 4-2-3-1 he may decide he wants a more defensive midfield and opt for Elneny or AMN over Sambi. But with the team playing so well, the least number of adjustments might be the best call to make, at least for the kickoff.
How to watch
Thursday (12/2) at 3:15 pm ET / 12:15 pm PT on Peacock Premium.
Arsenal - 1
Manchester United - 1
Three of Arsenal’s four losses this season have come on the road, Liverpool, Manchester City & Brentford. Manchester United has struggled in the league as of late, but with a point against Chelsea and a new manager, it’s difficult to predict Thursday’s clash. While a win would really signal that Arsenal are serious top four contenders, getting out of Old Trafford ahead of a busy month with a point would be a positive result.