Arsenal v Manchester United
Emirates Stadium, 10th March, kick off 4:30pm
by John Spillane
Sunday at the Emirates brings a meeting between two English sides who travelled to France in midweek for European ties, but came home with contrasting 3-1 outcomes, as fourth place Manchester United come to London to face Arsenal who lie fifth one point in arrears.
Arsenal's steady progress to the later stages of the Europa league suffered a setback on Thursday evening when they went down 3-1 to Rennes. Fortunately they have an upcoming return leg to recover the situation in a competition which coach Unai Emery built his reputation, winning three times in a row with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016. In the meantime they return to Premier league action for a vital clash in what looks to be a four way fight for qualification for next season's Champions league places, with only two places on offer.
Last Saturday's draw with Tottenham could have been an even better result if top scorer 16 goal Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had managed to convert a late penalty to seal a deserved victory. However it finished with Lucas Torreira being sent off, ruling him out of this clash. His presence in midfield will be missed, and Arsenal will look to Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi to protect a leaky defence. Mesut Ozil remains a bit part player and in his absence the team will again look for creativity from Henrik Mkhitaryan, supported by Alex Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey. Having missed out through suspension against Rennes Alexandre Lacazette (12 goals and looking to score for the sixth home league game in succession) may be preferred to Aubameyang upfront. Emery has been reluctant to pair the two, giving them no starts together in the last seven outings and results have been good.
Tuesday's success in Paris, with an injury hit team, continued the remarkable form of a United team who have a Premier league record of W10, D2 since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over in December. Backed with nine successive wins away from home, in all competitions, they return to the scene of their 3-1 FA Cup success in January. On that occasion they allowed Arsenal possession in midfield but were then able to cause trouble on the counter attack. The quick passing and combinations of Paul Pogba with Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial was more than the Londoners could handle. Pogba, missing in midweek, will return and the Arsenal defence will have to be switched on at all times if they are not to suffer a similar fate.
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If Shkodran Mustafi lines up at emergency right back, in place of the injured Hector Bellerin, expect 12 goal Lukaku (who has scored twice in each of his last three games) to target him and drift to that side, with additional support coming from Luke Shaw. With Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Martial possibly returning after injury, United's squad won't be as stretched as it was in midweek.
With memories of January's defeat fresh in their mind Arsenal may set up cautiously and treat the match as an away game as such. Much like they faced up against Tottenham a week ago they are likely to keep the match compact and tight. They have won their last eight home League games, with champions Manchester City in August the only side to win, and also prevent them scoring, at the Emirates this season.
The battle between two sides, both looking to maintain their league positions, may result in them cancelling out each other, leaving Tottenham and Chelsea by default as the game's main beneficiaries.
Suggested bet : Draw (13/5 at bet365)
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