It’s always more than the three points that are at stake whenever Arsenal take on Manchester United. Sunday’s game at the Emirates is no exception.
Our soccer analyst is well aware that pride and bragging rights are solicited extras aside the maximum point that comes with victory. Edward Eboh, though, is prejudiced – he’s a Manchester United faithful!
“Well, I cross my heart and promise to use more of my head,” the 41-year-old architect said.
Let’s take his words for it!
The Red Devils are showing steady progress since Louis van Gaal took over after a torrid time with the Scot David Moyes. For the first time since 2013 when another Scot was in charge, United sit at the summit of the Barclays Premier League after seven games.
Five wins, a draw, a defeat at Swansea is not too bad for the most successful club in English football. But it’s too early to start thinking of the title!
The Gunners, on the other hand, had to recover from a disappointing start to the season. But three league wins in their last four games have propelled the north London club just three points behind United.
They suffered an embarrassingly 3-2 loss to Olympiacos last Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League and will be looking to bounce back with a victory against United.
The hosts will be without dependable defender Laurent Koscielny, who is out with of a hamstring problem.
Mathieu Flamini (hamstring), Mikel Arteta (thigh), Jack Wilshere (hairline fracture), Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck (both knee) are also sidelined.
Michael Carrick (knock) missed the 2-1 win against Wolfsburg in the Champions League, but the veteran midfielder is fit to face the Gunners.
Luke Shaw (broken leg), Ander Herrera (knock) and Marcos Rojo (hamstring) are all sidelined.
I am not going to talk about the two sides’ midfield because I see them cancelling each other out in the game. So, the focus shifts to attack and defence.
GABRIEL V ANTHONY MARTIAL
Arsenal’s Gabriel is set to return after his recent scrap with Diego Costa. Injury to Koscielny means it’s Gabriel’s task to stop Anthony Martial whose influence on the Red Devils’ game has been very impressive. Since the arrival of the precocious talent, United have scored nine goals in three Premier League games, having managed just six in the previous 10.
The 19-year-old striker is a fast, direct dribbler, keen to run at and beat defenders. In the league, the former Monaco player has completed seven successful dribbles from 10 attempts, beating a defender every 29 minutes! He has scored three goals and assisted another in 205 minutes of Premier League action so far.
Like I said earlier, Martial is fast and his fastest pace is measured at 33.2 km/h. But Gabriel, though, is faster than the Frenchman.
Of the 68 centre-backs measured in the league this season, the Brazilian currently ranks fifth fastest, and his top speed of 34.1 km/h actually makes him significantly quicker than Martial.
Losing Koscielny is a blow to the Gunners, but Gabriel’s combination of speed, physicality and one-on-one proficiency has the potential to ask more of Martial than he’s previously shown. I can’t wait to see out this encounter pans out.
WALCOTT V SMALLING
Smalling has greatly improved this season but he is sure to have his work cut out against the pace of Theo Walcott. Arsenal lost to Olmpiacos but they can take solace in the defeat with Walcott scoring.
Smalling was to blame for United’s goal against Wolfsburg. The England centre-half was drawn out of position leaving a gaping hole which the German’s exploited. He will have to be more disciplined against the Gunners because Walcott will look to pounce at any lapse in concentration.
I see Smalling sitting deep in an attempt to nullify the speed of his Three Lions teammate and use his own pace to pick the Gunners off on the counter.
HEAD 2 HEAD (last five games)
Sun 17/05/15 BPL Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal
Mon 09/03/15 FAC Manchester United 1-2 Arsenal
Sat 22/11/14 BPL Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United
Wed 12/02/14 BPL Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United
Sun 10/11/13 BPL Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal
The visitors have the momentum from their last four straight wins while Arsenal have the pressure from their recent Champions League disaster.
Those factors should work in favour of United. But the Gunners will have fresher players after the extra day of preparation, plus the players that were rested in midweek like Petr Cech.
Arsenal won just one of their six games against top-four opposition last season but I think they earn a point here. 2-2.
KEY MATCH STATS (SUPPLIED BY OPTA)
Arsenal have won just one of their last 13 Premier League fixtures against Manchester United (D4 L8).
Manchester United are unbeaten in four away games against Arsenal – they’ve never gone five without a loss away to the Gunners in the Premier League era.
Arsenal have a lower win percentage against Manchester United in the Premier League (24%) than versus any other opponent in the competition.
Wayne Rooney has netted 11 times in 25 Premier League games against Arsenal. The only sides he’s scored more goals against in the competition are Newcastle (12) and Aston Villa (13).
Rooney scored his first ever Premier League goal (Oct 2002), his first Premier League goal for Man Utd (Oct 2004) and his 100th Premier League goal (Jan 2010) against the Gunners.
Arsenal have the two players to have created the most goalscoring chances in the Premier League so far this season; Mesut Ozil (29) and Santi Cazorla (28).
Since making his PL debut back in August 2012, Santi Cazorla has provided more Premier League assists than any other player (32).
Theo Walcott has netted 12 goals in his last 13 Premier League starts for the Gunners.
Louis van Gaal has lost just one of his five meetings with Arsene Wenger (all comps), losing in the FA Cup last season after winning one and drawing one in the PL and winning one and drawing one in the 1999/00 Champions League group stages with Barcelona.
Anthony Martial has been directly involved in four goals in his first three Premier League games, netting three and assisting one.
PREDICTIONS OF OTHER GAMES
Crystal Palace 2-1 West Brom
Norwich City 0-1 Leicester City
Manchester City 3-0 Newcastle United
Aston Villa 1-1 Stoke City
AFC Bournemouth 2-2 Watford
Sunderland 0-1 West Ham United
Chelsea 1-1 Southampton
Everton 1-0 Liverpool
Swansea City 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur