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Arsenal vs Manchester United Preview: Acid Test

The two English blue bloods look to improve shaky starts in match week 4

Arsenal FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Match week 4 approaches, and with it comes Arsenal’s first major test, as the Gunners host last season’s third place finishers Manchester United on Sunday morning at the Emirates.

Despite it being matchweek four, this tie has all of the usual weight expected from a tie between the bitter rivals. Both sides will be in search of the inevitable boost in confidence that a win will provide, and both certainly could use it.

Three matches into the season, Arsenal sit on two wins and a draw from their first three matches. The Gunners’ form isn’t bad by any stretch, it’s just not all that inspiring. Last Saturday’s late draw at home against 10-man Fulham left a lot to be desired. Arteta’s tinkering with the lineup has been effective in a purely statistical sense, but the team has lacked the verve and sizzle of last year’s scintillating, swashbuckling side that dazzled and scored goals by the bucketload.

Some of the inconsistency can be chalked up to the lack of availability from certain players, but most of it seems to be rooted in Arteta’s insistence on utilizing new tactics that have forced players out of position and shoehorned Kai Havertz into a side while he may not be fully ready. Arteta’s tutelage under Pep has borne some favorable fruit, but going full Galaxy Brain isn’t part of it.

United’s season has been similarly inconsistent. The Red Devils have won two and lost one, but their most recent match saw them come back from an early 2-0 deficit against Nottingham Forest to win 3-2, which has undoubtedly been a big boost ahead of Sunday.

The last time these two clubs faced off at the Emirates in January, it was a cagey affair that saw United jump out to an early lead through Marcus Rashford before the Gunners fought back to prevail 3-2 thanks to a brace from Eddie Nketiah, including an electrifying last gasp winner. It was the sort of match befitting two Premier League titans fighting to reassert their spot among the world’s best clubs.

Both clubs have brought in a slew of new players in hopes of continuing their quest to top the league once again. United has brought in players to fortify their attack in Rasmus Hojlund and former Chelsea-man Mason Mount, as well as a replacement for departed David De Gea in former Inter Milan and Ajax keeper Andre Onana, who checks the ever-important “played for Erik Ten Haag previously” box.

Although the club has brought in some exciting new talent of their own, I expect Eddie to have a big match and be the difference maker on Sunday. The Hale End grad has been one of Arsenal’s most consistent players, scoring twice in three matches and shown in a relentless work rate this season. He received his first ever senior England team call up this week, a deserved reward for his early season performances. Despite Gabriel Jesus returning from his knee surgery, the striker spot is Eddie’s to lose right now.

The recent trend in this tie has been for the home side to be expected to win, as Arsenal and United have split the home and away legs down the middle for the past two seasons. Arsenal have won every home tie since 2018, but there are no guarantees with this derby. Despite his utter unlikeable nature, Ten Haag is a savvy enough manager to punish Arsenal if they lose their focus and come out without the requisite tenacity.

Where both teams have struggled is in keeping the ball out of their own net. Arsenal have shipped only 3 goals all season, but the two against Fulham were wholly avoidable and particularly worrying. They have also only kept two clean sheets at home since the beginning of March, a head scratching trend that needs to be sorted if the Gunners expect to launch another title push this season.

The ancient wisdom states that, while a club cannot win the league in September, they can certainly lose it then. This match will be a big test of both sides’ mettle, and a positive result will go quite a way for each club’s stock. Arsenal have managed to get up for the big matches under Arteta, so I fully anticipate a team ready to show what they are made of. Will we see a return to a more recognizable Arsenal on Sunday? That will be the question.

Come on you Gunners!

WHAT: Arsenal vs Manchester United
WHEN: Sunday, September 3rd, 11:30am EST/7:30am PST/4:30pm BST
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium, London
HOW TO WATCH: Broadcast on NBC. Streaming available on Peacock.

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