Manchester United welcome Arsenal to Old Trafford this Sunday, November 1st. The match might not be the title decider it used to be back at the turn of the century and for much of the 2000’s, but it remains one of the most explosive on the calendar.
Now billed as “The Football Twitter El Clasico”, it promises to be an intriguing clash. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has carved a reputation as a manager whose team performs best against the bigger teams, while Mikel Arteta has shaped his team into a group solid enough to comfortably frustrate big teams as well.
The two managers have only ever faced each other once, on 31st January, with Arteta emerging on the right side of a 2-0 result. Arsenal have, however, not won at Old Trafford in fourteen years and come into this game in indifferent form having lost two and won two of their last four games.
In contrast, United have been resurgent since the 6-1 shellacking to Tottenham Hotspurs, taking three wins and a draw. This game could likely be decided upon some individual battles, including the following:
1. Aaron Wan Bisakka vs Pierre Emerick Aubameyang
Fresh from helping to nullify PSG, Chelsea, and Lepzig frontlines all in the space of a week, Wan Bisakka is up against another world class forward in Arsenal, captain Aubameyang. The Gabon international is yet to reach his customary dizzying heights in terms of goal scoring, partly because he has been often deployed on the left of a front three.
That is his likely starting position on Sunday, which puts him in direct opposition to the former Crystal Palace man. Aubameyang’s potent mix of explosive pace and devastating finishing continues to be a foundation upon which Arsenal’s attack is based. How he fares against arguably the league’s best one on one defender will be key to the result of this game.
2. Harry Maguire vs Alexander Lacazette
Maguire found himself in the news for all the wrong reasons at the beginning of the season, and his form suffered heavily as a consequence. He has looked like a man steadily getting his groove back since being sent off for England against Denmark, and put in a solid shift against both Chelsea and Leipzig.
Even then, he retains a clumsy streak and will have to be maximally disciplined to shut out Lacazette, who started the season well but has suffered a slump in form of late. Lacazette has a great partnership with Aubameyang, with his excellent hold up play enabling his strike partner to flourish and silencing him will also be key.
3. Marcus Rashford vs Gabriel Maghalaes
Rashford is a man on fire. Leading the line in the absence of the suspended Anthony Martial, he scored and assisted twice against Newcastle. He came off the bench to grab a hat trick in midweek, having also scored against PSG.
He almost won the game for United against Chelsea, but was denied by the brilliant Edouard Mendy. He is up against Gabriel who has introduced a much needed solidity to the Arsenal backline since joining from Lille in the summer.
With David Luiz absent, Gabriel will be tasked with keeping Rashford quiet. How he goes about this will be crucial for his team’s prospects.
How Arsenal and Manchester United approach the game will be determined by their tactics and key players
4. Bruno Fernandes vs Thomas Partey
Fernandes has continued a barnstorming start to his English Premier League career into a second season. Naively quoted as a penalty merchant by some, he leads his teammates in chances created, and shots on target since joining in January.
He comes up against another new Arsenal man in Partey, scooped up from Atletico Madrid on deadline day. The Ghanaian international got his first league start against Leicester, and should be fully match-fit for this one. He will be tasked with nullifying the threat posed by Portuguese international Fernandes and should he succeed in doing so, Arsenal could get the result they want.
5. Ole Gunnar Solskjær vs Mikel Arteta
Solskjær has often been criticised for lacking tactical acumen, but successive masterclasses against two of Europe’s highest rated young managers in the Champions League have somewhat reduced the heat. He comes up against another highly touted young coach, Mikel Arteta whose impact on Arsenal, especially in defence, is palpable for all to see. Arteta’s side is compact and well organised, but this has come at the expense of creativity and imagination.
Man United still get accused of being unable to unlock defences that sit back and if Arteta sticks to form, this could be another encounter for the Norwegian to set his players up against a manager who is not shy to put men behind the ball. Whoever comes out top in this battle of wits could very well walk away with maximum points.
Author: Timothy Ainebyoona
Timothy is a dynamic analyst passionate about news and all things sport.