After the high of Manchester United‘s dramatic Champions League win against Paris Saint-Germain in midweek, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his. coaching staff have to switch attention to the Premier League‘s top four race, with a crucial clash against Arsenal, one point and one place behind fourth-place United, coming up on Sunday.
Solskjaer has already masterminded one away win over Arsenal this season, when a classic counter-attacking performance saw his side emerge 3-1 winners in a FA Cup fourth-round meeting, and he’ll be hoping for more of the same this weekend.
Here’s a look at the key tactics the United manager could employ against their old foes.
LUKAKU ON THE RIGHT A TRIED AND TESTED TACTIC
Romelu Lukaku on the right wing against Arsenal is a tried and tested tactic. It came off with aplomb with Everton in a 3-0 win over Arsenal in 2014, and United repeated the strategy in their 3-1 FA Cup win earlier this season.
Arsenal have no effective way of guarding against it. Lukaku’s size means he will have an advantage over whoever he is matched up against for the Gunners at left-back, while his pace and technical ability allow him to either cut in and shoot, beat his man, slide in clever reverse passes for attacking runners from the centre, or deliver a cross from the wing.
The only drawback of stationing him on the right is that it would put on hold his budding partnership with Marcus Rashford. But the Englishman will profit nonetheless, either from Lukaku’s skills as a right-winger or by linking up with the left-sided attacker.
FRONT THREE OR TWO WIDE FORWARDS?
Depending on fitness, one of Martial or Lingard will play, though the availability of both to start remains in doubt. If they are available, Solskjaer will have a decision to make. Does he revert to a front three? If Martial is in the XI, he can play wide left, with Rashford through the middle in a classic front three. Otherwise Lingard will play as a false nine, a role in which he thrives as it allows him to bring his excellent movement to the fore while pressing the opposition midfield in defence.
The other option is to have a No 10, either Lingard or Andreas Pereira, and Rashford and Lukaku as wide forwards. That allows the central player to drop into midfield when United aren’t in possession, while both Lingard and Pereira are capable of linking up well with their forwards.
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.