Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side host Manchester United on Sunday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist James Robson for their views.MICHAEL COXSir Alex Ferguson’s 13th title-winning Manchester United side won’t be heralded as his greatest team when the Scot finally announces his retirement, but he has used his squad excellently throughout the season, rotating players to get vital moments from various individuals.
Although Ferguson experimented with a diamond midfield at the start of the campaign, he’s generally favoured a traditional United system: two banks of four, and two central forwards.
Shinji Kagawa was seemingly purchased to play as a No 10, but the subsequent arrival of Robin van Persie saw Wayne Rooney deployed in that deeper role - and their combination for Van Persie’s stunning second goal in Monday night’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa was a fine illustration of their different responsibilities.
"Michael Carrick has been United’s most consistent performer, enjoying the best season of his career. Only Mikel Arteta has played more passes than the deep-lying midfielder"
Danny Welbeck has impressed with his tactical discipline and energy, although he has scored only once. He and Javier Hernandez have been used as substitutes more frequently than they’ve started.
United’s major problem has been the poor performances from wingers - Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Nani have all struggled for form, and have contributed only two league goals between them, so in recent weeks Kagawa has been pushed to the left, from where he drifts inside quickly.
Michael Carrick has been United’s most consistent performer, enjoying the best season of his career. Only Mikel Arteta has played more passes than the deep-lying midfielder, and while his completion rate is slightly down on last year, that’s partly because he’s attempted more ambitious forward passes.
He could do with a reliable partner, however. Tom Cleverley appeared to be part of Ferguson’s big-game XI earlier in the campaign but hasn’t started the last eight matches. Ryan Giggs has featured regularly in the centre and helps United retain the ball, while Phil Jones would provide energy and tenacity.
Having kept just three clean sheets in the first half of the campaign, United have now recorded eight in their last 10 league fixtures.
Surprisingly, this has been achieved despite constant rotation at centre back, as United are gradually evolving to depend less on Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, and more on Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling.
Equally crucial to United’s title has been the contributions of the two full backs. The signing of Dutch left back Alexander Buttner seemed to re-energise Patrice Evra, who has enjoyed his most consistent spell for a couple of seasons, while Rafael da Silva has finally established himself as a reliable attacking right back in his fifth Premier League campaign.JAMES ROBSON, MANCHESTER EVENING NEWSI don't think it's been a shock in the way that Man United have come back after losing the title last season but I don't think anybody could have expected that they would win it in the way they have. They've been absolutely outstanding. I think it would be fair to say that even the Manchester City of last season would have struggled to live with the sort of form United have shown. We couldn't expect anything else from Ferguson to be honest. The one thing that he's always done throughout his career is respond to disappointments. When Arsenal won the Double in 1998, he came back and won the Treble the next season. Arsene Wenger had transformed English football with the expansive, European style of Vieira, Petit and Overmars and you wondered then what future there would be for United and then he came back and won the Treble.
"It's very hard to judge United's team this season because Ferguson's used the squad so well. You could imagine as many as five or six changes for the Arsenal game and it wouldn't be a weakening by any stretch"
It's difficult not to use the term 'the difference' when you talk about Robin van Persie. That's how Roberto Mancini has described him and you can't deny it. Last season, United lost the title by a hair's breadth and this season they've won it by a chasm. I don't subscribe to the opinion that they are a one-man team but you cannot deny that his form, particularly in the first two thirds of the season, allowed United to get a stronghold on the title. He's scored against all the big teams and I think that just shows his important. There was a period between November and February where he scored 12 goals in 14 games.
It's very hard to judge United's team this season because Ferguson's used the squad so well. You could imagine as many as five or six changes for the Arsenal game and it wouldn't be a weakening by any stretch. On Monday he played Phil Jones and Jonny Evans at centre back. He could quite easily play Vidic and Ferdinand on Sunday. One thing that Ferguson has promised is that there will be absolutely no slacking off after winning the title. He wants Chelsea's points record and if United win the rest of their games they will finish with 96 points, one ahead of what Chelsea got. I think they will definitely be going for the win.
Ferguson has been irked by the suggestion that this team isn't as good as his previous teams. I don't think he believes that they've had the credit they deserved. He keeps saying that nostalgia can play tricks on people's imagination. If they were to go and break the Premier League record, it would be virtually impossible to criticise them. That will be a motivation for Ferguson and all the players.
It's a tough one to predict. I'm going to go for a draw. I think it will be a high-scoring 2-2.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.