Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Man United preview: More of the same, please

Today’s game against Man United takes place after Man City’s inevitable 6-0 demolition of Wolves (Haaland 4, Gundogan, Grealish), at which point our lead at the top will be cut to just two points (albeit we’ll have a game in hand after our game).

It’s a scenario we’ve faced more than once this season, but it will be a reminder that things can change very quickly in football, and that there is still a long way to go this season. Of course there’s nothing we can do about City, all we can control is our game and our performance, and today we face the only team to have beaten us far in this campaign.

The defeat at Old Trafford was a touch unfortunate, a touch careless, and a touch influenced by VAR chalking off an early Gabriel Martinelli goal for a ‘foul’ by Martin Odegaard which they later admitted was not sufficient for VAR intervention. Hopefully a measure of injustice is part of our pre-game build-up, but I worry about VAR today. When you see the penalty Brighton didn’t get yesterday, how can any football fan not have concerns about the standards of officiating and decision making? That was absolutely nailed on but Lee Mason just decided to ignore the obvious foul. How can that happen?

The Arsenal team news is there is no team news, at least not according to Mikel Arteta in his pre-game press conference. You never know what can happen in training before a game, as Mohamed Elneny’s absence last week showed, but assuming there’s nothing like that, it will be the same side that won the North London derby last week. What can you say but ‘More of the same, please’?

Where we do have a little extra today is on the bench, with the arrival of Leandro Trossard giving Mikel Arteta another experienced option for his front three. As we saw during the Newcastle game, that was something which could have been very useful, and fingers crossed the Belgian can make a Freddie Ljungberg-esque impact on his debut if called on against United today.

As for United, their improvement under Eric ten Hag is obvious. Having rid themselves of a preening, self-absorbed individualist, he is starting to create an actual team at Old Trafford. A useful thing given football is a team game, and not one designed to facilitate the goalscoring ambitions of a man whose Adam’s Apple looks like he’s swallowed a piece of pointy flint and it got stuck. They’re on a good run of form, and while I think they’re still some way from being the kind of United team we’ve come against in the past, they’re definitely better than they were.

They will be without Casemiro today, who decided to swerve today’s game by launching into a ludicrous challenge during their midweek game that could easily have been a red. He has been good for them, but as Mikel Arteta pointed out, they won the last game without him, so it’s down to us to make the most of his absence.

In terms of how they might rejig their midfield, the McFred combo seems the most obvious for an away game. Cristian Eriksen in midfield against this Arsenal team would be a bit of a gamble, so expect McTominay to leave one on one of our key players very early on. That might set the tone for how the game goes. If the referee is strong enough to deal with it, great. If not, I worry about how they’ll be allowed boot us with impunity then one of our players is booked for his first meagre foul (probably Saka).

Mikel Arteta says:

I think the history and the clashes and the way those two clubs have competed, it tells you everything that you need to know before the match. It’s a huge game in the league, in the country, around the world and we have to prepare for that. The table says what it says this season right now but our main focus is on being prepared for a big match.

United also played in midweek, so we might well have a bit of a physical advantage, especially in the second half. Fingers crossed at home, with a red hot atmosphere, and a result from earlier in the season to put right, we have what it takes to extend our lead at the top back to five points again.

For more on the game, we have our preview podcast for you over on Patreon. As ever, we’ll have live blog coverage of the game, and all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News.

Catch you later for all that, and come on you reds!

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