Manchester United vs Arsenal: The Underrated Rivalry


Keane versus Vieira. Ferguson versus Wenger. Manchester United versus Arsenal.


Once upon a time, it was a battle to conquer the Premier League. Recently? The loser comes away as England's biggest laughing stock.


Now? They may be back on the rise.


Today at 4:30 pm UK time, the two giants will face off again at Manchester's Theatre of Dreams.


But who will come out on top?


Let's have a look.


 

Mikel Arteta's men have been on fire this season. In the words of Jadon Sancho today, they have, "won five out of five, so we know Arsenal are going to be a tough game."


Up top, Gabriel Jesus leads the line and looks like the real deal after his summer transfer from Manchester City. Alongside Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, Arsenal's dynamic attack may provide problems for the United defence to deal with.


That said, Ten Hag seems to have found his best backline, with Malacia, Martinez, Varane, and Dalot all playing some of their best football in the last few games, having conceded one goal in their three matches played together.


At the back, Arsenal have settled on a solid centre-back partnership of Gabriel and Saliba, which has moved Ben White out to right-back. This is an unnatural position for the Englishman, potentially something for United's left-winger to target.


For the Manchester side, there is a lot left to desire. In his pre-match press conference, Erik Ten Hag said the team is 'constructing', pointing towards the undeniable progress made, as well as the similarly undeniable ‘room for improvement.’


On the ball, the players seem to be adapting to Ten Hag's demands. Distinct patterns of play and movement are looking more ingrained in the players as the games go on, which builds a level of confidence in themselves as well as their teammates. This will be needed against Arsenal, a team we need to keep the ball away from as much as possible.




 

Over the past year, Arteta has been praised for getting a sense of togetherness into his team, and a passion amongst the players to work for each other. This is something United have lacked for quite a while. One occasion that springs to mind is Matteo Darmian not closing down Leroy Sane in a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City back in 2019, leading to the famous Roy Keane quote, "it’s two yards man!”


This determination to fight for your team is something United fans, and all football fans for that matter, expect, but also love to see in their players. Ten Hag has finally got this into the United squad, explaining that, "I think what they do well is they cooperate, they do it together, they support each other, and then they have a good performance."


This was especially characterised amongst the defence by this video from Thursday night.



 

Predicting the starting lineup will be tough, and is almost never accurate due to the squad size and the eventual need for rotation, but as the speculative football fans we are, we'll do it anyway.


Potential Lineup


De Gea

Malacia, Martinez, Varane, Dalot

Casemiro, McTominay

Rashford, Fernandes, Sancho

Ronaldo


As we saw in the underwhelming performance against Leicester, the winning team is not always the right one, in which the United lineup may change.


“Today [Thursday], the subs who came on did really well so I’m happy with that. That is what we have to construct further."


In the midfield, Casemiro may get his first start. When asked if the five-time Champions League winner is ready to be 'unleashed' on Arsenal, Ten Hag replied, “I think so. He is used to playing big games."


As much as Ten Hag would like to control the possession, Arsenal are likely to see most of the ball, meaning United might sit a little deeper to defend, as shown against Liverpool. This requires players willing to run the miles, which is the reason McTominay could keep his place in the starting 11 following two solid performances in a row.


Playing Ronaldo up front seems to contradict this intensity, however another match of Elanga starting with Ronaldo on the bench will likely not go down well with the highest-scoring player in football history. Ronaldo remains a sensational goal scorer in big games, which will be needed considering the lack of chances we may get against a well-drilled Arsenal side.


On Ronaldo Ten Hag stated, “I will be his friend. Sometimes I will be his teacher — as we all know, he didn’t have the pre-season and you can not miss the pre-season. Especially the game we play, the way of play is not the type in comparison with last year."


“It depends, (and) demands, co-operation and demands certain positioning, in and out of possession. And the other thing is the fitness."


Speaking of fitness, Frenchman Anthony Martial is unavailable for the game, with the coach not knowing when he'll be back.


The North London side may still be missing their captain Martin Odegaard and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale for the fixture. In addition, it is unknown if Oleksandr Zinchenko will play, with Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny confirmed out due to injury as well.


As for new signing Antony, it seems unrealistic that he will start the game, however Ten Hag mentioned in his press conference that, "tomorrow [Friday], we have a team session, and on Saturday we have a team session, so I will think about it [Antony] and then we will take a decision", potentially hinting at a debut for the Brazilian.




At the back, Raphael Varane's minutes will need to be managed due to his injury record, however this hardly seems the game to do it in. The more likely scenario is that the defence is rotated on Thursday's Europa League game at home to Real Sociedad, with Harry Maguire looking to reclaim his place in the squad.


 

This game is a hard one to predict. As usual, United fans can never be confident their team will turn up on the day. That said, there does seem to be a good performance in the team that they’ll have to display, in a game that is guaranteed to have us on the edge of our seats, whether we like it or not.


Manchester United have finally got their fans looking forward to games though, however the overcasting issue of ownership is always something on their minds, with more vital protests planned for the match.


 

Look forward to a match review after the game on UtdActive, as well as articles keeping you up to date on all the latest news around the club, including transfer insight, analysis, and more.







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