Before the Southampton match this week, the conversation revolved around making the decision to rotate the squad in the FA Cup worthwhile by taking all three points versus the Saints. Winning on Tuesday would justify Arteta’s decision in the short-term, it would kick off Arsenal’s hellish run of upcoming games in a very positive way, and continue to put themselves in positions where winning points would carry significant meaning.
With a 3-1 win over Southampton, Arsenal achieved the goals of keeping their form in the league rolling, justifying Arteta’s decision, and getting a win in a match they really needed to win. By getting that win over Southampton, Arsenal have put themselves in a position that sees them become a threat if they can put together a nice run of results, while not needing to win every one.
Arsenal have earned the right for this matchup with Manchester United, at the Emirates, to really count for something. It might be a bit of a stretch to stamp it with the fabled “six pointer” label, but the way the table lies, if you said Arenal are going to be in the hunt down the stretch, my guess would be that United are one of the sides the Gunners are in direct competition with.
A win today sees Arsenal climb up to 33 points, level with Everton and Tottenham who have games in hand, but this season has proven that points on the board are better than games in hand. Just ask Manchester United who will be kicking themselves for not getting a result against bottom of the table, Sheffield United.
It’s a big three points for Arsenal to get at home, but to do so, Arteta is going to have to get his selection right. Before we look at the lineup, let’s look at the team news.
For the second straight match, Arsenal have yet to release updated team news by the time that I am writing this blog, but we can scrounge up a little bit of interesting news from a few different sources and Arsenal’s training video.
Will not be available for Saturday’s match due to personal reasons.
Tierney featured in Arsenal’s practice on Friday and should be available for selection.
Partey reportedly participated in Arsenal’s practice on Friday and should be available for selection, although he wasn’t seen in Arsenal’s training video.
Ceballos featured in Arsenal’s practice on Friday and could be available for selection.
Waiting for team news but there was no update on him and he wasn’t featured in Arsenal’s video so he will likely be out.
No injury, but an update that he has begun training with Arsenal. Arteta commented on Ødegaard in his press conference saying, “It’s a little bit early to decide. Let’s see how he goes in training and we will see, don’t worry.”
Certain parts of Arsenal’s lineup are becoming pretty easy to predict. Most importantly, their center midfield trio. It’s a major step in the right direction from when Arsenal was operating with a midfield carousel.
For tomorrow, Leno in net. I selected Tierney under the assumption that he is as healthy as he looked in Arsenal’s training video. I have returned Gabriel to starting lineup as I believe Arteta needs to get his imposing figure back in the side and back in form. He was great against United earlier this year and needs a repeat performance. Next to him I put Rob Holding who has been a steady, consistent defending presence for Arsenal this season. Finally, on the right, I believe Arteta will continue to reward Cedric for his recent performances. Cedric played at left back against Southampton but he was fantastic. Arteta really likes what Bellerin offers on the right, but sometimes you just have to play the hot hand.
In the midfield, I suspect Arteta will continue to play the trio that has helped put Arsenal back to winning ways by selecting Xhaka, Partey, and Smith Rowe. There are a few people that will be looking for Ødegaard to come in and start, but it’s important to remember that he just arrived and hasn’t played a full match in almost 7 months. If he is involved tomorrow, I expect him to come off the bench. In the future, I also expect him to have to displace Smith Rowe if he wants time, but we will wait and see.
Up top – Pepe, Lacazette, and Saka. Lacazette and Saka are proving themselves to be staples of Arsenal’s attacking front and it’s hard to picture anyone displacing them at this point. The point of interest is the Pepe selection. There is plenty of reason to believe that it could be Martinelli that gets the call instead, given his right foot and Tierney’s left foot create the balance Arteta often looks for. However, given Pepe’s recent form, how big of a deal it could be for Arsenal to have Pepe find a groove, and Martinelli still being eased back into action, I think it will be Pepe’s spot to lose while Auba is out.
I expect tomorrow to be a tough, well-contested match from both sides, much like a few months ago. Home field advantage should help Arsenal, but it really might come down to which midfield can control the game — not just with possession, but defensively dominate the field position as well.
We know that Manchester will look to get Bruno Fernandes involved while Arsenal look to get the ball to Emile Smith Rowe. If Gabriel can dominate Bruno the way they did last time, and force him to come deep or wide to get himself on the ball, you have to like Arsenal’s chances.
Much like the last time, this match will probably come down to efficiency in front of net. I suspect there to be a few more shots than the 15 between the two teams combined last match, but I don’t expect this to be a 30-35 shot affair. Creating quality chances and capitalizing on them will be crucial in a match in which I suspect much of the play will take part in the center third.
Prediction: 1-1 (Hoping I’m wrong and Arsenal get the win!)