Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side host Manchester United on Saturday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Louis van Gaal declared Manchester United would need three months to become comfortable with his strategy, but we’re past that point, and still waiting for things to click.
"At some point Van Gaal will surely attempt to return to a system featuring two centre forwards considering he has Rooney and Radamel Falcao too"
Injuries certainly haven’t helped. Van Gaal has endured particular problems in defence, and therefore his formation has changed regularly.
In truth, he’s still experimenting and attempting to find the right balance across the pitch, and while there have been some good individual performances, particularly from record signing Angel Di Maria, we’re yet to witness the cohesive movement or passing combinations for which Van Gaal’s sides are renowned.
Van Gaal played a three-man defence throughout pre-season, but switched to a back four at half-time in the opening day defeat to Swansea, and abandoned it completely after three matches. Since then, injuries have meant a variety of centre-back partnerships featuring Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Tyler Blackett, Chris Smalling and Paddy McNair.
It’s difficult to work out the first choices at this stage, and even holding midfielder Daley Blind, who deputised at the back in the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace last time out, got injured on international duty with the Netherlands last weekend.
Blind’s absence from the holding midfield role is a significant blow. While not physically remarkable, he’s extremely intelligent with his decision-making, helps United play out from the back, and knows Van Gaal’s methods well from the national team. Michael Carrick would be a good replacement, although he’s been struggling with fitness recently too.
Di Maria has been United’s best performer this season, and can start either wide in a four-man midfield, or narrower in a diamond formation. He’s a brilliant dribbler and turns defence into attack smoothly. Youngster Adnan Januzaj has often featured on the opposite flank.
Up front, Robin van Persie is first choice but hasn’t been firing on all cylinders, and at some point Van Gaal will surely attempt to return to a system featuring at least two centre forwards considering he has Rooney and Radamel Falcao too.
Van Gaal is a hugely experienced manager and should find the right balance soon, but only once this season - a 4-0 home victory over QPR - have United looked good. This is still a work in progress.