Arsenal travel to Old Trafford this Saturday where they’ll take on Manchester United. This is always a highly anticipated match and the outcome this weekend may have more importance than in recent past seasons. An Arsenal win would push Man U nine points out of the top for and keep the Gunners within two points of the top of the table.
This weekend also sees Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho renew their rivalry. As usual, Wenger downplayed the rivalry claiming he’s only focused on his squad and confirmed he would shake hands with his counterpart before the match. Mourinho, though, has been uncharacteristically quite in the lead up to this match.
Arsenal will have to do without Hector Bellerin, Santi Cazorla, and possibly Alexis Sanchez. Bellerin will miss the next four weeks with an ankle injury, Cazorla continues to deal with an Achilles problem and his return date is unknown, and Alexis played with a hamstring injury while on international duty and has to be assessed by the club on return.
Speaking on his squad selection, Wenger admitted he’ll have choices to make at right back and center midfield, but couldn’t comment on Alexis’ availability as yet. The most likely scenario sees Alexis on the bench with Olivier Giroud starting. The manager will also have to decide what to do with Aaron Ramsey, who recently returned from injury and could play in central midfield or the wing. Ultimately, Wenger’s selection decisions will all revolve around the availability of Alexis, as the manager will need to find the right balance.
Arsenal have struggled at Old Trafford during the Premier League era. They have three wins in 24 attempts away to Man U since the 1992/93 season. A win this weekend would also give Wenger his first competitive win against Mourinho. The only other time the Frenchman bested his Portuguese counterpart was in the 2015 Community Shield.
Here is Arsenal’s most probable starting lineup against Manchester United Saturday.
Goalkeeper – Cech
Petr Cech starts in goal. He spoke about the importance of getting full points this weekend.
Right Back – Jenkinson
Carl Jenkinson starts in place of the injured Bellerin. There is some concern regarding this position because Jenkinson has only just returned from a serious knee injury and Bellerin’s pace was an important part of the Gunners’ system.
Mathieu Debuchy will backup Jenkinson once he returns from a calf injury that’s kept him out all season.
Center Backs – Mustafi & Koscielny
Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny start in the middle. They’ll work hard to make sure Jenkinson is comfortable and confident.
Mustafi’s experience as a right back may also make him an option in that position with either Rob Holding or Gabriel able to fill in the middle.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended this weekend so Mustafi and Koscielny will be dealing with Marcus Rashford and possible Wayne Rooney if he’s fit.
Left Back – Monreal
Nacho Monreal starts at left back. His good form has seen him recalled to the Spanish squad in place of the injured Jordi Alba. Monreal subsequently scored his first international goal this past weekend.
Defensive Mid – Coquelin
Francis Coquelin starts as Wenger seeks midfield balance and defensive cover in what will be a high paced away match. Granit Xhaka may start here but that would mean Ramsey starts in central midfield and an Xhaka-Ramsey partnership does not provide as much defensive cover.
Until Xhaka and Ramsey develop a repertoire, expect Coquelin to be a feature in midfield to provide some much needed cover. Especially in big matches like these.
Central Mid – Xhaka
The manager has to choose between Ramsey and Xhaka in central midfield. Ramsey is one of Wenger’s favorite players and he usually finds a way to force the Welshman in the starting elven. He can’t do that this weekend.
Ramsey just returned from injury and hasn’t flourished next to Coquelin in the past. Xhaka is a better defensive player and an excellent deep passer. He complements Coquelin well in this type of match. Eventually Xhaka and Ramsey will be the preferred option, but that partnership has to develop still.
Ramsey will be an excellent option off the bench because of the energy he brings and the danger of his runs from behind.
Attacking Mid – Özil
After not featuring for his nation over the international break, Mesut Özil is well rested and primed for a top performance in a big match.
Özil has taken on more of a leadership role this season. That was evidence in his pre-match comments when he spoke of the need for Arsenal to approach every match like they did against Chelsea in their 3-0 win earlier this year.
Wide Right – Walcott
Theo Walcott starts on the right. His best match last season came against Manchester United in a game Arsenal won 3-0. His form has been excellent this year and he’ll look to carry over that form from the international break.
Wide Left – Iwobi
Alex Iwobi starts on the left. He seemed to hitting a wall before the international break and there was some speculation Wenger could look to rotate him more often. But, he had a successful international break, impressing for Nigeria and could come back to London feeling confident.
Striker – Alexis
Based off of everything Alexis has said since Chile’s 3-1 win against Uruguay on Tuesday, the striker could very well start. He told Chilean journalists that he feels good, will travel to London on Wednesday and will be ready to play Saturday. Wenger didn’t rule out the Chilean and seems open to the idea of playing him depending on what the medical team says.
Considering the importance of the match, the performance Alexis put in on Tuesday, and the collective words of both player and manager, Alexis is likely to start. Giroud will be on the bench and will have a good shot of starting on Wednesday against PSG.
Via – Lineup Builder