Arsenal vs United: The Race For The Top Four
March 8, 2019
The race for Champions League qualification is on, and it looks destined to go right down to the wire. Manchester United travel to the Emirates this Sunday in a clash that has the potential to mix up the top four rankings even further and neither team can afford to lose.
Currently sitting in the desirable fourth place spot, the Red Devils have the opportunity to widen the gap between themselves and Arsenal to four points. Having already beaten the Gunners on their home turf in January, United will arrive in North London looking to defeat Arsenal at the Emirates for the second time in a calendar year – something they have never achieved before.
Unai Emery had looked to have turned things around at the start of February, winning five games on the bounce before drawing to Tottenham and then crumbling miserably in France against Rennes. Their shock 3-1 defeat was not exactly ideal preparation for the upcoming fixture, but at the Emirates, you never know which Arsenal are going to turn up.
A Story Of Two Tales In France
Form is usually an influential factor coming into a game of this magnitude and the two teams could not have experienced different outcomes in their last game.
With the odds stacked against them, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history against Paris Saint Germain, doing what was necessary of them and defeating the French side by two clear goals. This was the first team that a travelling side had achieved this at the Parc de Princes since Barcelona in 2015, much to the joy of the away crowd.
It wasn’t just the result that had fans and pundits alike praising Solskjaer’s team, but the manner in which they did it. Away at one of the toughest grounds in Europe, the young and fearless academy products stepped up and put on an industrious display, snatching the win in the last minute. Momentum could be key in Sunday’s fixture and we don’t think that the red side of Manchester has stopped bouncing since Marcus Rashford’s penalty hit the top-left corner of the net.
In stark contrast to their opponents, Arsenal have the difficult task of lifting themselves back up after a humiliating night in Rennes. Heading into the fixture, Emery’s side looked in good form but history always seems to repeat itself with the Gunners, as it was defensive errors that lead to their downfall. A red card for Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the 41st minute didn’t help causes, before a Nacho Monreal own goal summed up the evening for Arsenal.
Defensive mishaps at the back always seem to get the better of Arsenal, who are still yet to shake away their fragile mentality since Arsene Wenger left the North London club in the summer. Emery has improved some aspects of the Gunners’ play, but it is clear that for some of their players, when the stakes are raised, the invisibility cloaks tend to come out. They will need to try shake off Thursday’s woes quickly, before they face the most form team in the country this weekend.
Without doubt the best piece of footage of Rashford's winner last night.
— The Peoples Person (@PeoplesPerson_) March 7, 2019
Injuries To Affect Starting XIs
Despite their miracle in Paris, the result was perhaps overshadowed the desperate situation that United’s squad is actually in. With up to ten first team members out with injury, the Red Devils will again be travelling with a very depleted looking squad and they will step onto the field as the slight underdogs on the day.
Most notably, Solskjaer will be without Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera, the two players who have successfully implanted a solid foundation in the middle of the park during the Norwegian’s reign. Scott McTominay won over fans with his display in France and the Scott will most likely be trusted with the holding role again at the Emirates.
The back-four currently chooses itself, and Diogo Dalot should find himself deployed directly in front of Ashley Young down the right-wing. Against PSG, the Portuguese talent showcased his dribbling abilities and offered United a different form of threat going forward. Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku are also in red-hot form and have struck up an effective relationship up-top. The two strikers will need to pinpoint and press the space in-behind both Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal, both of whom have looked vulnerable in recent weeks.
Arsenal do have a little more luck on the injury front, but they will be without the suspended Lucas Torreria for the game. Arguably, this is the main player who the Gunners would have liked to have been available, as he would have been the man to target and press Paul Pogba. Inevitably, Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi will make the base of the midfield two, putting emphasis on Aaron Ramsey to be the frontrunner off the ball, a player whose runs into the box could hurt United.
Going forward, there isn’t any real consistency when it comes to Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The latter is usually the main starter, but we have often seen the two alternate between being the lone man up top and being placed out on the left as the inside forward. I would predict the Frenchman to be dropped with Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan occupying the wide spaces. Young and Luke Shaw will need to manage the wingers and not stray too much inside, whilst also balancing their duties to go forward and exploit a rather weak Arsenal backline.
Who Are The Favourites For A Top Four Finish?
Of all the four teams challenging for those desirable Champions League spaces, it is actually Arsenal and Manchester United who are being considered the small underdogs behind both Tottenham and Chelsea.
A United victory on Sunday would, however, swing the odds massively in their favour. They hold the potential to extend their gap over Arsenal to four points and with just eight games to play, Solskjaer will consider it a healthy position to be in. Neither side has to visit a top six side after the upcoming fixture, so some positive momentum at the weekend is pivotal for both sides.
Arsenal are considered the biggest outsiders to be playing in the Champions League next season at 15-8 with Betfred, but when the pressure goes off, they tend to perform a little better. Favourable home fixtures against Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Brighton look like a promising run in for Emery, whilst United still have both City and Chelsea to visit Old Trafford. Still though, with Ole at the wheel, the bookmakers fancy their chances over the Gunners.
Regardless of the result on Sunday, the top four race will not be finalised. However, depending on the eventual victor, the losing team could face some serious implications. This relates more to Arsenal, as a loss would put them way behind the Red Devils, who are currently looking relentless. A victory for the Gunners though could kick on some late season momentum.
Although United are high and flying, the performance over PSG will have taken a lot out of the squad and a draw looks inevitable at the Emirates. Both teams will be wary of their opponent’s attacking threats, so expect some deep defending from each side. However, neither club have exactly been ‘clean sheet specialists’ this year and a score draw looks likely to occur.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-1 United – 17/12 with Unibet
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As an experienced sports writer, Josh has been published across various different platforms, writing about his beloved club Manchester United and other footballing topics. He also covers a range of other sports, specialising in UFC and Formula One.