Arsenal vs Manchester United is now a battle between two highly-rated coaches who have their teams on the up. Mikel Arteta and Erik ten Hag took over teams who were going nowhere, tactically or performance-wise, and gave them identities.
Arsenal vs Manchester United predictions have been rolling in, but these are the three key tactical battles that will decide the fate of the game –
Bukayo Saka vs United’s left side
For Ten Hag, Luke Shaw’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. Sergio Reguilon has been signed, and even Diogo Dalot did well against Nottingham Forest as left-back, but against Arsenal, your left needs to be your strongest area.
That is because of Bukayo Saka. Arsena’s electric forward is a menace when he’s at full flow, a handful even for first-choice defenders, let alone a right-back playing out of position (Dalot), or a new signing made for six months as an emergency option (Reguilon).
His left-footedness means he regularly cuts inside to link up with Martin Odegaard and co to devastating effects. Arsenal’s overloads always leave the fullback with a tough decision- follow Saka inside and create a gap on the wing, or stay wide and have Arsenal create an overload in the middle?
Rashford’s role will be crucial in this. He will need to be at his attacking best to ensure Arsenal’s fullback can’t come forward to support Saka. Furthermore, when out of possession, he needs to track back diligently to help whoever his fullback is.
Declan Rice vs Bruno Fernandes
These are the sort of games Rice was bought for. Bruno Fernandes looked back to his leading best against Forest, dragging his team over the finish line that even Roy Keane would appreciately smirk at.
Back with his usual colleagues in Casemiro and Christian Eriksen, he was freed from ball-retention duties and ran forward to wreak havoc in attack.
Rice would be wise to Fernandes’ movements in the area just ahead the Gunners’ centre-backs. His movements out wide, where he helps create for Antony and Wan-Bissaka will also need to be tracked by Rice.
If Fernandes manages to stamp his authority on the game, it is game over for Arsenal. He’s at his best in an end-to-end, chaotic game and Rice will try to curb that chaos with smart positioning, anticipation, tackling, and interceptions.
Andre Onana vs Arsenal’s counterpressing
Mikel Arteta has Arsenal pressing the teams into oblivion, especially if they try to play out from the back. So far, every team United have played, with the exception of a half against Spurs, has sat back and dared them to break them down.
Arsenal will press, and so comes the first test of what Onana was brought for.
Ten Hag regularly reverted to playing in the air against pressing teams last season because the players, especially the goalkeeper David de Gea, treated the ball like it had a timebomb attached.
With Onana, effectively an extra player in the buildup, that should change.
For brave teams, the best way to play against a ferocious pressing team is to play through it and find themselves in space in behind.
Onana finally enables United to do that, and his effectiveness in doing so will vindicate Ten Hag’s decision to sign him in De Gea’s place.