Sunday sees league leaders Arsenal head to Old Trafford. United have enjoyed an improvement lately, but still sit eight point behind Arsenal, meaning that they can afford nothing short of three points if they want to force their way back into the title race.
David Moyes will also want to get a result in a big fixture, following the 4-1 defeat at the Etihad earlier this season. For Arsenal, having seen off Liverpool last weekend they'll want to build on this with a strong outing at Old Trafford, a ground where they've had little joy in recent years. Manchester United are still favourites at 2.20 for the win, with Arsenal at 3.30 for the win and a draw available at 3.40.
Manchester United may well ring the changes from the team that drew in Spain midweek. Javier Hernandez will likely be dropped back to the bench in place of Robin van Persie while Adnan Januzaj should return to the side in place of Shinji Kagawa.
Arsenal will be recalling Mathieu Flamini, who should be fit for this tie. This could see Aaron Ramsey move to a more advanced position, where he has enjoyed a lot of success this season.
Manchester United's use of width
One interesting facet of Arsenal's play has been an obvious lack of width. Arsenal don't have any wingers fit at the moment and are opting to play five central midfielders, with Santi Cazorla playing wide left and another midfielder, likely to be Ramsey, playing wide right. This has worked well as they have overloaded the central areas of the pitch and subsequently dominated the midfield battles.
The lack of width is a clear weakness in this system though, if it’s effectively exploited. This works both ways, as it means that they have to be wary of width when they are defending as Cazorla and Ramsey will attack centrally and thus not be best placed to track back on the flanks if they lose the ball. This also has implications as both full-backs can leave space in behind if they look to burst forward.
United have a player tailor made to exploit this in Antonio Valencia, who had a good game away at Fulham on the weekend:
The above action-areas graphic for Valencia shows how much he clings to the wing, particularly in high areas. This could create a very interesting battle between him and Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs, who won't get much protection from Cazorla. Valencia has been quite inconsistent this season, but if United can get the ball out wide to him, we could see him do some damage to Arsenal in what is a crucial tie for United.
Can Manchester United contain Mesut Ozil?
Ozil has been in brilliant form since joining Arsenal from Real Madrid. The German play-maker has been at the heart of everything good about Arsenal in an attacking sense and only David Silva has created more chances than Ozil's 22. Manchester United will no doubt be wary of Ozil's threat, particularly as the side do not really possess a midfield enforcer to marshal him effectively.
As we can see below from Ozil's heat-map from Arsenal's 2-0 win over Liverpool, he drifts onto the flanks from central areas, making him very hard to track:
Ozil will regularly interchange with Cazorla, drifting onto the flanks and generally floating around the attacking areas. Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini will have their hands fall tracking him and it remains to be seen if either player has the pace or discipline to play him out of the game, especially in the context of how tricky Ozil’s movement can be.
There could thus be a case to play Phil Jones in the midfield with the task of shadowing the German play-maker, as failure to do so will surely result in United conceding goals and conceding the midfield battle to Arsenal.
Despite being at home, this could be a nervy match for Manchester United who have started to show some better form under David Moyes. The club will be desperate to close the eight point gap at the top with a victory, whilst Arsene Wenger knows his side do not travel well to Manchester. How the game pans out will depend on United's ability to nullify Ozil, as well as whether United can exploit space down the flanks. Regardless, this is a crucial Premier League tie that will certainly be one not to miss on Sunday.
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