Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsene Wenger's side face Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
By Michael Cox
It still feels like Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United are a work in progress, and yet ominously they will start this weekend on top of the Premier League table.
United are averaging the second-highest possession share in the division - behind Arsenal - and therefore both managers will be determined to see their midfield dominate on Sunday.
One of the most significant developments in United’s season has been the return of David De Gea to the starting XI, after his widely anticipated transfer to Real Madrid collapsed. Capable of outstanding reaction saves, De Gea helps the side tactically as he’s comfortable playing behind a high defensive line, and is excellent in terms of distribution too, ensuring United build methodically from the back.
Van Gaal has settled on a surprise centre-back combination which features Dutchman Daley Blind alongside Chris Smalling. Blind arrived at the club as a holding midfielder or left back, and lacks the physical strength you expect from a central defender - Southampton’s Graziano Pelle caused him plenty of problems a fortnight ago. Blind’s positional sense is good, though, and he provides the passing qualities Smalling lacks.
The broken leg sustained by Luke Shaw, combined with Marcos Rojo’s probable absence, means Blind might be moved to left back if Van Gaal feels Phil Jones is up to full speed following his injury.
United played their best football last season in a 4-3-3 formation, but Van Gaal has decided to flip his midfield triangle and deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation this year. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin all offer good passing quality from the deep roles, with Ander Herrera the biggest loser if the 4-3-3 has been ditched permanently. It means captain Wayne Rooney has played as a No 10 in recent weeks, despite starting the season as United’s main striker.
Creativity comes from Juan Mata, who drifts inside from the right into pockets of space to receive forward passes, while left-sided Memphis Depay also moves into the centre, but usually having received the ball out wide - he loves dribbling and then shooting from range. It means United need their full backs overlapping to provide width, and therefore United can be caught out by counter-attacks into wide areas, as Swansea proved in a 2-1 victory.
Up front, Anthony Martial has been a revelation. Signed from Monaco, the Frenchman loves collecting the ball in inside-left positions before beating his opponent and bending the ball into the far corner, so comparisons with Thierry Henry were inevitable.
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