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After back-to-back wins over Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace, last weekend saw Arsenal drop points for the first time this season. Mikel Arteta’s men fell behind to Fulham within a minute of kick-off.
They later fought back to lead 2-1 and appeared to be on the path to all three points when Calvin Bassey, an opposition defender, was sent off. Instead, Arsenal conceded a late equalizer and Fulham headed home with a draw.
It was another instance of the Gunners failing to come out on top at the Emirates Stadium. Their home form was essentially what cost them in the Premier League title race last term. Whereas Arsenal had the best away record in the division, they collected seven fewer points than Manchester City in front of their own fans.
Their biggest issue has been defensively. The fact that three of the last nine visitors to the Emirates have scored in the first 60 seconds suggests a problem with concentration. Just as worryingly, Arsenal have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last eight home games.
Arteta has sprung a surprise at the beginning of the campaign by leaving out Gabriel Magalhaes. Ben White has moved to center-half alongside William Saliba, with Thomas Partey used as a right-back who inverts in possession. The jury is out on that experiment.
There are other question marks too. Declan Rice has impressed following his move from West Ham United, but fellow new boy Kai Havertz has yet to win over the Arsenal supporters. Arteta has publicly backed the German but he has had an underwhelming start.
There is no need for doom and gloom. Only Manchester City have accumulated more points after three rounds of fixtures. Arsenal are still expected to be in the mix for the title. But Arteta has one or two teething problems to fix.
Manchester United have six points to their name but it could easily be fewer. The Red Devils are yet to deliver a convincing performance across 90 minutes in 2023/24.
On the opening weekend, they were extremely fortunate to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0. Their opponents had better chances and would have departed Old Trafford with maximum points had they been more clinical in front of goal.
In gameweek 2-0, United suffered a 2-0 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur. Erik ten Hag’s side played the better soccer in the first half, but they lost control after the break and allowed Spurs to dominate.
Last time out, United beat Nottingham Forest 3-2. They showed great character to come back from two goals down, but their defensive vulnerabilities were clear for all to see as Forest went 2-0 up inside four minutes. There is plenty for Ten Hag to think about.
The principal problem is stopping opposition counter-attacks. Ten Hag stiffened up his midfield against Forest, bringing in Christian Eriksen for the injured Mason Mount. But United still looked vulnerable when their opponents broke forward at speed.
United will struggle to achieve their objectives - finish in the top four and get closer to the title - unless they address that issue.
The attack has not clicked yet either. United have scored only two goals from open play. Marcus Rashford looks out of sorts, Antony has yet to win over his doubters, and the injury to Luke Shaw robs the team of an overlapping left-back. Still, a win in north London on Sunday would lift the mood substantially.
The games between this pair last season were very entertaining. At Old Trafford in September, Manchester United ran out 3-1 winners - although Arsenal were the better team for long periods of the match.
The Gunners got their revenge in the reverse fixture, triumphing 3-2 in a brilliant match at the Emirates. There is reason to believe this latest meeting will also feature goals at both ends and at least three in total.
For starters, it is a wager that would have paid out in each of the last four matches involving these teams.
In addition to that, we have witnessed Arsenal and Manchester United’s defensive deficiencies early in the campaign. The Gunners struggle in that regard at home in particular, while United’s inability to snuff out counter-attacks will leave the likes of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli licking their lips.
All in all, this promises to be an end-to-end affair with plenty of chances in both penalty areas. Recent history indicates that we should not expect a tight and cagey game between these two teams.
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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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