Arsenal have a short time to recover from Thursday’s shambolic 3-1 loss to Rennes in the Europa League, as they face Manchester United on Sunday with just one point separating Unai Emery’s fifth-place side and United in fourth.
The two sides met in the FA Cup this season, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United emerging 3-1 winners on Arsenal’s home patch, and Emery will be keen to avoid a repeat this weekend.
Here’s a look at how he can set about masterminding a reversal of fortunes.
HOW TO COUNTER THE COUNTER
In the aftermath of United’s 3-1 win in January, the players revealed that they knew they’d be able to pick Arsenal off on the counter. Given the result, there’s no arguing that the tactics worked. So how does Emery respond this time around?
Though it may not sit well with the home fans, perhaps the Arsenal manager decides to avoid playing into United’s hands by ceding possession to the visitors instead. Instead of letting Solskjaer’s side hit them on the break, Emery could set his side up to co-opt that tactic, sitting deep themselves and using the pace of players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Alex Iwobi to hit United on the counter.
It would be a huge departure from Emery’s preferred style, and Arsenal’s, but if it led to a win, would anyone care?
FOUR AT THE BACK THE WAY FORWARD FOR ARSENAL
Though Emery has preferred a 3-4-3 formation during his time at Arsenal, he’s also thrown variations at opposition managers as he’s looked to adapt to find the best way to a win. The FA Cup loss to United featured a 4-2-3-1 formation, which is what he used last weekend against Tottenham to good effect, while January’s 2-0 win over Chelsea was achieved with a midfield diamond.
So what does he do on Sunday? The 3-4-3 would leave space behind the full-backs that would again leave Arsenal vulnerable on the counter. With four at the back, if Emery instructs his full-backs to not over-commit in attack – which they are obligated to do in a 3-4-3 – Arsenal could cover for United’s attack without sacrificing too much in their own.
Nacho Monreal wants Arsenal to take the first step towards their target of finishing in the Premier League top four by beating Manchester United on Sunday.
The Gunners host Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s in-form side and currently sit a point behind the Red Devils – with a victory at the Emirates Stadium enough to take the hosts back into fourth place.
Unai Emery was appointed last summer with the remit of returning Arsenal to the Champions League after missing out on the top four in the last two seasons under Arsene Wenger.
They face a battle with United – unbeaten on the road since Solskjaer was named caretaker manager in December – and Chelsea, while north London neighbours Tottenham, third in the table, could be also be sucked into the fight.
Sunday’s game is the last time Arsenal will face a member of the so-called ‘Big Six’ this season and have a favourable run-in compared to their nearest rivals and Monreal is keen to move back up to fourth, as well as exacting some revenge for FA Cup defeat to United in January.
“We lost against them in a different competition, they beat us in the FA Cup playing at home but now we are fighting for the Premier League,” the Spain international told the club’s official website.
“Our target since the beginning of the season is to finish in the top four and play Champions League football next year.
“We have the opportunity to get our target and the first step is Sunday. We play against them and we need to forget what happened in the FA Cup and we need to refocus in the next game and try to get the three points because if we do it we will be on a higher step to get to our target.
“There are still nine games to go and it’s going to be really tough until the end of the season – and we cannot forget that there is another club in Chelsea.
“At the moment there are three clubs fighting for one place, but obviously if we get the three points on the weekend it will be perfect for us.”
Emery will be without Lucas Torreira after the midfielder was sent off in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Spurs.
Long-term injury absentees Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck and Hector Bellerin are still sidelined but Emery can call upon the rest of his squad on Sunday.
The Spaniard saw his side beaten 3-1 in Rennes on Thursday night to leave their Europa League hopes in the balance – meaning a top-four finish could become even more important in the quest for Champions League football.
The fixture is one that has been littered by a variety of flashpoints when the sides have met in the past. Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at how this grudge match has developed.
Old Trafford brawl leads to points deductions
The 21-man brawl which marred the meeting of the sides in October 20, 1990, had been coming. Arsenal felt aggrieved by the dismissal of David Rocastle during a 1987 meeting of the sides – Sir Alex Ferguson’s first encounter with the Gunners – and United’s Brian McClair was goaded by Nigel Winterburn after missing a penalty in a 1988 FA Cup tie.
It all boiled over in 1990, as McClair took exception to a Winterburn tackle to spark the melee.
The Football Association took a dim view, deducting Arsenal two points and Manchester United one. The Gunners overcame that punishment to claim the First Division title.
In your face (part one)
Arsenal defender Martin Keown could not contain his delight when Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a decisive late spot-kick in a match between the sides in September 2003.
He goaded the Dutchman, screaming in his face and hitting him on the back, having conceded the penalty with a foul on Diego Forlan.
The miss was about as close as the Gunners came to being beaten that season, when they became ‘the Invincibles’.
In your face (part two)
The next league meeting of the sides in October 2004 saw Arsenal’s 49-match unbeaten run finally come to an end.
On the pitch, it was 2-0 to United but off it, it became known as the ‘Battle of the Buffet’ after another skirmish in the tunnel included a slice of pizza being thrown at Ferguson.
In 2017 Cesc Fabregas admitted on Sky quizshow A League of Their Own he was the guilty man.
Fabregas confirmed the pizza hit Ferguson in the face and added: “I apologise Sir Alex, really didn’t mean to do that.”
See you out there
What's your favourite thing about Sheasy's goal at Highbury in 2005?— Manchester United (@ManUtd) 9 March 2019
Ours? His reaction when it goes in 😮😅 pic.twitter.com/Bhd3NeV1oq
Simmering tensions were evident again when the sides met at Highbury in February 2005.
United captain Roy Keane took exception to what he thought was Arsenal counterpart Patrick Vieira trying to intimidate Red Devils defender Gary Neville.
The incensed Irishman had to be calmed down by referee Graham Poll and repeatedly warned Vieira: “We’ll see you out there.”
United went on to win a thoroughly entertaining game 4-2 with a brace for Cristiano Ronaldo and the visitors sealing three points via John O’Shea’s audacious chip over Manuel Almunia.