Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.

Arsène Wenger's side travel to Manchester United in the Premier League on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist James Robson for their views.

Scouting Report - Tactics

The signing of Robin van Persie prompted many questions about how Sir Alex Ferguson would include him in Manchester United’s starting XI. But considering his love of width throughout his quarter-century in charge, few predicted United would showcase a diamond midfield system - allowing Wayne Rooney to operate behind two other central forwards.

That formation was used with some success in the Champions League and in a 3-0 win away at Newcastle, but Ferguson is likely to deploy a more familiar shape this weekend, with two wide players.
Rooney, who has an excellent record against Arsenal, plays as a forward when Manchester United have the ball but drops into midfield when the ball is lost. Against Chelsea last weekend, he frequently ended up alongside Tom Cleverley, making United look like a 4-1-4-1 without the ball, with Michael Carrick the holding player.

It’s imperative that Arsenal are secure down the left. After problems against Jefferson Farfan in the 2-0 home defeat to Schalke, a similarly traditional wing threat will be provided by Antonio Valencia, who powers down the outside before crossing. With enthusiastic support from Rafael da Silva, Arsenal must prevent becoming overloaded down that flank. This is the zone where the previous meeting between the sides was decided, as Ferguson used Ji-Sung Park and Valencia in tandem down the right late on in United’s 2-1 victory at the Emirates in January.

United lack a traditional ball-winner in midfield, but Carrick plays an intelligent role, tracking runners and staying on his feet rather than diving into tackles. He also communicates well with the back four to keep the side compact between the lines, and Santi Cazorla might need assistance to allow Arsenal to create from that position.

Finally, it is important that Arsenal compete in the air. In Manchester United’s 2-1 victory at the Emirates last season, they won 22 of the 30 aerial duels.

Scouting Report - Tactics

It has been a bit of s strange start to the season really, United are a point off the top but it has not been convincing. There are definitely issues at the back, they can't seem to stop conceding at the moment and it's not just them not keeping clean sheets, but the fact they are often letting in two goals or more. But they certainly wouldn't have asked more than to be where they are at this stage of the season - points-wise they can't really complain.

They are still finding their feet a bit, but when they have the likes of Nemanja Vidic, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling back it will give them far more cover in defence. Rio Ferdinand is probably playing far more games than Sir Alex Ferguson would like, so it is absolutely crucial that they get that trio back. Up front, Van Persie has been incredible, they couldn't have asked for more, but you wonder where they would be had he not been there. If you look at his impact in the big games, he has been absolutely vital.

Their formation seems to change from week to week. At Chelsea last weekend it looked like it would be a 4-4-2, but ended up more like a 4-5-1 with Rooney playing so deep that he was virtually a midfielder. I wouldn't be surprised to see a similar formation against Arsenal, although there will be less counter-attacking due to the fact that they are at home.

Kagawa could be a doubt for Saturday, he missed last weekend, but apart from those already mentioned they pretty much have a clean bill of health. Anderson could have played his way into contention based on his performance on Wednesday against Chelsea. That was as well as he has played for about a year. Javier Hernandez is also in brilliant form, and if they decide to go with a 4-3-3 formation then he may get a shout, likewise Danny Welbeck. It is just so up in the air at the moment.

I don't think it will be another 8-2 like last season, in fact I wouldn't be surprised if it was a draw - maybe 2-2 because United are conceding at the moment.

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1 Nov 2012