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Back Arsenal to beat Manchester United
The Gunners got back on track last time out and will fancy their chances against lackluster opposition.
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After a recent run of four defeats in five games, Arsenal went from favorites to outsiders in the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League. A trip to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday looked daunting, with the Gunners widely expected to lose another match and hand more of the initiative to Tottenham Hotspur. When the starting XIs were revealed, pessimism among Arsenal supporters only grew further.
Yet Mikel Arteta’s men delivered a fine performance in west London. They went 1-0 and 2-1 up, but were pegged back by Chelsea on both occasions. Second-half goals from Eddie Nketiah (his second of the match) and Bukayo Saka saw Arsenal move clear of the hosts, who had no response. A 4-2 win not only moved the Gunners back level on points with Spurs, who they face next month; it also restored confidence to the squad and the fan base after a disappointing downturn.
The key now is for Arsenal to build on that morale-boosting triumph over Chelsea. In some ways, a kinder fixture might have been welcome this weekend, but facing another big side in Manchester United might actually help the Gunners. They struggled to break down Crystal Palace, Brighton & Hove Albion and Southampton in matches earlier this month and may benefit from the extra space they will be afforded by United.
It will be interesting to see whether Arteta sticks with the 3-4-2-1 formation he used at Stamford Bridge. The system certainly worked well on Wednesday, but the Spaniard employed it partly because Chelsea use a back three. It might not necessarily have the same success against United, although it would be a bold decision to move away from a configuration that produced such a good display last time out.
It feels remarkable that Manchester United are only three points adrift of the top four. They have played one more game than both Tottenham and Arsenal, but wins in each of their last five matches could see the Red Devils sneak into the Champions League qualification spots. They do not really deserve it based on their performances for most of the campaign, but United still have something to play for.
Missing out on the top four would make this a disastrous season for the club. United finished second to Manchester City in 2020/21. They then spent big money on Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho last summer. A title tilt was anticipated this time around; at the very least, United were expected to compete for top spot. Instead, they sit sixth with just a month of the season remaining.
Erik ten Hag was confirmed as the club’s next permanent manager on Thursday. United fans will hope that news sparks the team into life this weekend, but their dismal display in a 4-0 demolition by Liverpool in midweek does not offer much hope of Ralf Rangnick’s side picking up a positive result at the Emirates Stadium.
The return of Cristiano Ronaldo to the team after the tragic death of his baby son will aid United’s chances of victory. The signing of the Portugal international has not worked out. United are in a worse position now than they were 12 months ago. Yet it is hard to point the finger of blame at the man himself. Ronaldo has scored 15 times this season – only two players sit above him in the top scorer rankings.
One player does not make a team, however. There is no shame in losing to this Liverpool side. Even Manchester City did recently. But the manner of United’s performance at Anfield was embarrassing. They barely laid a glove on their arch-rivals. There was a lack of effort and application. United are an inferior soccer team to Liverpool right now, but most damning is the fact they do not work as hard.
None of which is to say United will necessarily suffer another loss this weekend. Arsenal have lost four of their last six matches. The home fans may well grow nervy if United take the lead on Saturday. The young players within the Arsenal side would be tested by such a development.
Yet for all of Arsenal’s shortcomings, there is at least a clear idea behind their play. Their attacking players are dynamic, creative and in tune with one another. The same cannot be said for United, who are far too reliant on individual moments of magic (usually from Ronaldo) in the final third. Put your money on Arsenal to win this one.
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|Arsenal vs Manchester United Information|
|Teams||Arsenal vs Manchester United|
|Location||Emirates Stadium, London, England|
|Time||Saturday, 23 April 2022, 7.30 AM EDT|
|How to watch||USA Network|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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