Manchester United v Arsenal

Scouting Report - Manchester United

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

Arsène Wenger's side face Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.


Having spent his first couple of months attempting to use a three-man defence, Louis van Gaal has now settled on a 4-3-3 system which suits his players much better.

Regardless of the formation, however, United continue to suffer from injuries at the back. Both Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw departed during the narrow 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace last weekend, although both should be fit to play this weekend, with Phil Jones and Antonio Valencia completing the back line.

Valencia has become accustomed to a right-back role, although he struggled against Alexis and Nacho Monreal in Arsenal’s 2-1 FA Cup quarter-final victory at Old Trafford in March.


Wayne Rooney has a good record against Arsenal

Wayne Rooney has a good record against Arsenal


United’s deep-lying midfielder is charged with starting attacks and keeping the passing tempo high. Michael Carrick has excelled in that role this season, although has recently been out injured, with Daley Blind filling in. He’s comfortable in possession, although needs to improve his defensive work to become an authoritative holding midfielder.

His usual midfield colleagues are Ander Herrera, who plays an energetic box-to-box role to the right, and Marouane Fellaini, who moves forward from a left-of-centre position to become something of a target man - he headed in the winner at Selhurst Park last week, and remains a huge aerial threat despite starting in midfield.

His heatmap from the FA Cup quarter-final demonstrates his role - although he spends most time in midfield, he often pops up at the back post too.


Fellaini's heat map in the FA Cup quarter-final

Fellaini's heat map in the FA Cup quarter-final


Wayne Rooney has often been fielded in midfield this season, but has returned to his more natural centre-forward role, forming a peculiar partnership with Fellaini.

Out wide, Van Gaal has revitalised two players. Juan Mata drifts inside dangerously from the right, combining nicely with his fellow Spaniard Herrera, while on the left Ashley Young has shown great trickery in recent weeks, turning inside and then outside before crossing the ball dangerously.

Van Gaal has, surprisingly, discovered his most cohesive XI doesn’t include Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie or Angel Di Maria. The latter two missed last weekend’s win over Palace but could return here - although will probably have to settle for a place on the bench.


Angel di Maria

Angel Di Maria


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