Manchester United vs. Arsenal: Analyzing Strengths and Weaknesses of the Gunners

Vijay MuraliAnalyst INovember 9, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 19:  Mesut Oezil of Arsenal (11) celebrates with Aaron Ramsey as he scores their fourth goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at Emirates Stadium on October 19, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

In a week which consisted of tough games against Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United, the Gunners are into their final test before the international break having negotiated two hard fixtures. Arsenal played brilliant football at the Emirates against Liverpool while they showed their resilience and mental strength against the Reds and secured two very important victories.

As a result, the Gunners are currently five points ahead at the top of the Premier League while they are also on top of their Champions League and in pole position to qualify from their tricky group.

Next up for the Gunners is another difficult away fixture against Manchester United on Sunday, which will be another test for the high-flying North Londoners. Arsenal have been extremely consistent, especially away from home and will look to continue their consistent run.

Since the arrival of Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Flamini to the team, the Gunners have looked a confident, well-oiled unit capable of beating the best in the world and will be confident heading into the game at Old Trafford.

Despite the injuries to several key players like Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal have been able to secure enough points to put them in a good position after the first 10 league games of the season. For the game against Manchester United, Arsene Wenger has confirmed that it is likely that Jack Wilshere and Flamini will be available and it is a huge boost to the Gunners, whose depth has been severely tested.

Wenger has hardly been able to rotate his team due to the various injuries and it has meant that some players like Aaron Ramsey, Ozil and Olivier Giroud have played so many games without being rested. For the game against Manchester United, there is no chance of Wenger resting his key players but he will be aware of the fatigue factor in such a key game.

The Red Devils have been inconsistent following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, and David Moyes has not had the best of starts to his Old Trafford career. They suffered defeats against Liverpool and Manchester City but in the recent past, have shown signs of being back to their best. In the game against Stoke City, they bounced back twice to win the game 3-2 while they delivered a comprehensive win against Fulham last week in the Premier League.

Ahead of the key game between Gunners and Red Devils, it is important to locate the strengths and weaknesses of Arsenal which could determine the outcome of the game against Manchester United.


Midfield Movement

Due to the injuries to Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Podolski, Wenger has been forced to use five central midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 formation with Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla occupying the flanks with Ozil starting from a central attacking role. Though it has contributed to a lack of width at times, the passing and movement of the midfielders has been superb and the intelligence of players like Cazorla, Rosicky and Ozil has meant they have bamboozled their opponents.

The interchange between the midfielders has been brilliant and they have produced some scintillating moments this season. With Giroud showing his quality in linking-up play, the midfielders have thrived making several intelligent runs beyond the main striker as well which has resulted in goals from midfield.

Form and Confidence of the Players

 Arsenal have a number of creative midfielders and their biggest strength lies in the creativity and combinations in midfield to fashion opportunities. The Gunners are brilliant to watch at their free-flowing best and can create goalscoring opportunities against any team in the world. When they have confidence, the passing moves are fast with no player taking more than one or two touches. When they are not playing well, they move the ball slower providing more time for the opposition to reorganize and maintain their shape.

Heading into the game against Manchester United, the confidence could hardly be any higher having beaten Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund in the same week. The likes of Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil and Rosicky are all capable of creating opportunities and at the moment, all of them are combining superbly to create problems for the opposition.

The Gunners have not lost in the Premier League since the opening day against Aston Villa and have been in excellent form this season. Even in the Champions League when they lost to Dortmund at the Emirates, they secured an away win against the same opposition. The players will believe that they are capable of beating United at Old Trafford and with players of the ilk of Ozil and Cazorla, there is no reason why they cannot.

Stability in Defense

Arsenal have been criticized for a long time for their poor defensive record but since the game against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, something has clicked right for the defense. The Gunners' defense was primarily responsible for their superb run towards the end of last season and barring minor blips this season, the Gunners have been superb at the back this season as well.

Per Mertesacker, who looked clumsy, awkward and average in his first season, has now established himself as the leader of the Arsenal defense. He provides the calmness and organization and his reading of the game is exceptional. His partner Laurent Koscielny has kept on improving since his debut season and his robust style complements the big German extremely well. Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna have also been extremely consistent this season and have contributed immensely.

In addition, they have been screened well by Mikel Arteta and/or Flamini in midfield, thus reducing the number of goalscoring opportunities for the opposition. The whole team has shown their spirit in helping out the defense, which has benefited them.


Counter-Attacking on the Flanks

With the Gunners playing two central midfielders on the flanks, both of them have a tendency to come inside and play more centrally. This provides the space for the full-backs Gibbs and Sagna to storm forward on the wings. However, the problem for the Gunners is when they lose the ball, it is possible to attack them on the flanks. For instance if Cazorla loses the ball in a central area, then it is possible to create a 2-on-1 situation against Gibbs with the right-back's overlapping runs.

Borussia Dortmund used this to good effect in the game at the Emirates and in the end, due to Arsenal's naivety, they were able to snatch the winner on the counter. West Bromwich Albion also used this to good effect and if Nicolas Anelka had been at his best, Arsenal would have left empty-handed from the Hawthorns Stadium.

Lack of Genuine Pace in the Forward Line

Giroud is a striker who has several excellent attributes but the one thing he does lack is the pace to break free of defenders. He manages to score and create opportunities due to his excellent movement and his understanding of the game helps him get into good positions. He benefits greatly when there is a fast player on the wings who can not only profit from his flick-ons but can also push the defenses back. 

In that respect, Walcott is an important player who is missing currently and due to his absence, Manchester United will be able to squeeze higher up the pitch. However, they must be on their guard for the midfield runners who will be willing to run beyond Giroud. In Giroud, Arsenal have a striker who is one of the best in linking-up play and Manchester United defenders must be alert to the danger if they are to curb his threat.

 Psychological Impact of Old Trafford

The Gunners have a poor record at Old Trafford in the last six years and the Red Devils will be confident of securing a victory yet again. Koscielny, Carl Jenkinson, Rosicky, Ramsey and Wojciech Szczesny are survivors from the Arsenal team that got beaten 8-2 at Old Trafford and will know the difficulty of meeting Manchester United. The Red Devils also beat the Gunners last season by a scoreline of 2-1, though it could and should have been a wider gap. 

Robin van Persie inflicted deep wounds when he left the Gunners to join their arch-rivals and he will be back to haunt his former club. Wayne Rooney has also done extremely well against Arsenal in the past and the duo will look to halt Arsenal's brilliant form this season. Arsenal have the technical quality to beat the best in the world as they showed against Dortmund but the question is whether they have the resilience and consistency to maintain their superb run in the Premier League.


The Gunners have a number of factors going in their favor and will head into the game with a lot of confidence. However, they will be wary of Manchester United's prowess, especially at home and the duo of Rooney and van Persie have the capability of beating any team. The Gunners themselves boast some exceptional players like Ozil and Cazorla while in Ramsey, they arguably have the player of Premier League so far in this season.

It is most likely going to be a close encounter between the two giants of the English game and there is no reason why Arsenal cannot emerge victorious in this difficult encounter.


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