Arsenal face Manchester United in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Saturday.
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THE BATTLE FOR MIDFIELD - WILSHERE'S RETURN
Figure One - Wilshere v QPR Figure Two - Diaby v Sunderland
Jack Wilshere's return to first-team action against QPR last week was a major boost to Arsenal - and it changed the dynamics of the midfield slightly.
In comparison to the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Abou Diaby, the 20-year-old sat further forward and almost on the shoulder on Santi Cazorla. As Figure One shows, Wilshere played almost entirely through the centre, and saw the ball most in the space between midfield and attack where he was able to influence the game.
Wilshere delivered a highly-encouraging performance and his efficent use of the ball saw him finish with the highest pass-success rate on the pitch (93.6 per cent). But with Wilshere stationed further forward, Mikel Arteta was forced to drop slightly further back than usual to to sit in front of the defence, thus changing Arsenal's midfield shape.
Diaby and Ramsey tend to drift around the pitch more than Wilshere. Against Sunderland (Figure Two) on the opening day of the season - a similar match to last weekend's - Diaby roamed everywhere, balancing his play between that in his own half and that in the opposition's. A heatmap of Ramsey's position at Norwich last month shows a very similar pattern.
But whether Wilshere gets the nod to start at Old Trafford or not, Arsenal's 'second midfielder' is unlikely to be able to play quite so far forward against a Manchester United side expected to flood the centre of the pitch. It is here that the game could be won or lost.
PLAYER COMPARISON - VERMAELEN v EVANS
Arsène Wenger has emphasised the need for his side to tighten up at the back in recent days, and nowhere will this be more vital than at Old Trafford on Saturday. The key man in this regard will be the captain, Thomas Vermaelen, who must lead the side and galvanise the defence against a United attack featuring Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney.
Manchester United, meanwhile, have their own defensive problems and with Nemanja Vidic, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling all out injured Jonny Evans will partner Rio Ferdinand at the back. It promises to be a testing afternoon for the Northern Ireland international, and the centre back who dominates for their respective sides could have a big impact on the outcome of the game.
A comparison between pair shows that Vermaelen has a superior tackle success rate, has made more blocks than his United counterpart and has made more than triple the number of interceptions. Evans has a superior pass success rate (90.8 per cent to 87.9 per cent) but has made nearly 100 fewer passes (273 to 365). Vermaelen has won more of his duels than Evans (50 to 22) and, while his overall success rate is inferior, he has proved more dominant in his aeriel duels.
All eyes may be on the two sides' respective attacks on Saturday, but it is the influence of these two defenders that could be most keenly felt at Old Trafford.
MANCHESTER UNITED v ARSENAL - FACTS
- Manchester United have won seven and lost none of the last eight matches against Arsenal at Old Trafford in all competitions
- Last season, Manchester United inflicted Arsenal’s biggest-ever defeat in the Premier League when they won 8-2 at Old Trafford
- Robin van Persie scored in both league meetings last season while playing for Arsenal. He scored 96 Premier League goals for the Gunners before moving to Old Trafford this summer
- Wayne Rooney scored his first Premier League goal, his first in the Premier League for Manchester United and his 100th Premier League goal against Arsenal
- Rooney’s 10-goal haul is the highest by a Premier League player against the Gunners (along with Robbie Fowler) and also his joint-highest versus any opponent in the history of the competition
- There have been nine penalties in the Premier League meetings between Arsenal and Manchester United in the Arsène Wenger era (seven for United, two for Arsenal); all at Old Trafford and five have been missed
- Eight of those penalties have come in the last nine meetings between United and Arsenal at Old Trafford
- The Gunners have scored just 10 goals in 20 Premier League visits to Old Trafford, with last season being the only time they have netted two in one game
- Manchester United have won eight and lost just one of their last 10 games against Arsenal in all competitions
- Robin van Persie has seven goals and three assists in nine Premier League appearances for Manchester United
- United have scored in their last 53 Premier League home games, an all-time Premier League record
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