The Breakdown: Manchester United preview

We're back in Premier League action this Sunday when we face Manchester United at Emirates Stadium.

Ahead of the game, tactical expert Michael Cox and former Gunner Adrian Clarke assess our opponents to find out about their strengths and areas that we can exploit.



MC: Jose Mourinho’s first season at Old Trafford has seen Manchester United win the League Cup and reach the semi-finals of the Europa League. They’re also on a 25-match unbeaten Premier League run, although many of these have been draws – United’s 14 is by far the highest figure in the league. Mourinho has created a defensively solid side without creating an overwhelmingly defensive side.


MC: Mourinho has tended to use a 4-2-3-1 system this season, although he’s rotated in the attacking midfield positions, where he’s still trying to find the right balance. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has led the line effectively this season, but he’s out for the campaign and Marcus Rashford provides a different threat, sprinting into the channels more which means United play more through-balls.
AC: I would say that with Rashford up top, they have more of a license to press high up the field, to be more energised, but they didn’t do that against Manchester City at the Etihad. They kind of parked the bus, sacrificed possession and said, ‘Come and break us down’. They played on the counter-attack and used Rashford and Lingard’s pace. You’ve got Mkhitaryan and Martial as well, so you’ve got a lot of speed. I would expect Manchester United to try to force Arsenal to have the ball, and then break at every single opportunity because they have the players who can hurt on the counter. 


MC: Only 25 goals conceded in 34 matches is an outstanding defensive record, and owes much to the solid shape of the side overall, rather than simply the performance of the back four. Sometimes United play without a natural holding midfielder, but Ander Herrera has adjusted his game impressively and shields the defence in a disciplined manner.


MC: Some believe Paul Pogba has endured an underwhelming campaign, but the Frenchman has nevertheless commanded plenty of matches in a left-of-centre midfield role, and is capable of spraying brilliant passes into attack. Arsenal must shut him down quickly.
AC: The key matchup will be Koscielny v Rashford. Koscielny has a big job to do and he has had mixed fortunes against Marcus Rashford in the past. When Rashford burst on to the scene, he gave Koscielny a really tough time, and his runs into the wide areas will have to be tracked every step of the way by Arsenal’s captain. 


MC: Manchester United have struggled at centre-back recently, with Marcos Rojo out for the rest of the campaign, and Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly all suffering from injuries. Arsenal may look to target this weakness.
AC: They’re really down to the bare bones [in defence]. They’ve got Valencia and Darmian fit, Carrick who they could put at the back but that’s not ideal. When you look at their injury crisis and also their fatigue, it’s really important to consider because they’ve had a back-breaking schedule recently. This is a good time to play them. I know that some people might think, ‘You’re tempting fate’ but you can’t deny that it’s a good time to play Manchester United. 

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