Although Manchester United vs Arsenal may not be the heavyweight title clash it once was, Sunday’s game is still set to be a good one.
Both sides have endured difficult starts to the season with Arsenal in 11th, two points clear of 15th-placed Man Utd. Arsenal go into the game without a league win at Old Trafford since September 2006, when Emmanuel Adebayor scored an 86th-minute winner for Arsene Wenger’s side. But an interesting midfield battle could decide who gets all three points this weekend.
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Over the summer Arsenal were looking to bolster their midfield and were heavily linked with a move for Lyon midfield Houssem Aouar. For a long time it looked as though the Frenchman would be moving to the Emirates, but in the end it was Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey who joined.
Partey is a midfielder Arsenal have been missing for some time, capable of putting in work both in the defensive and attack aspects of the game.
Already in his two starts for Arsenal, fans have been treated to both sides of Partey. In his first start for the club, a 2-1 win over Rapid Vienna in the Europa League, Partey was the deepest of a midfield trio, deployed to hold and tackle, protecting his defence. That is not to say he didn’t contribute in attack. It’s just defence was his main priority.
In slight contrast, just days after the game in Austria, Partey started once more, as part of a duo alongside Dani Ceballos against Leicester City. But rather than being the defensive midfielder, Partey was given more freedom to roam forward, while Ceballos sat back and put the tackles in.
He was slightly more reserved in the defeat to Leicester, and the level of opposition will have played a role in his dominance against Rapid Vienna, but Partey can run the midfield for Arsenal and impose himself against a Man Utd side still struggling at home.
When the Red Devils took on Chelsea in the Premier League last weekend, Scott McTominay and Fred were both good, particularly the former. However, neither offered anything going forward, putting full responsibility on Bruno Fernandes, Juan Mata and Daniel James.
The McTominay-Fred pairing also weren’t really tested by Chelsea’s own midfield partnership of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho. A driving run from deep, something Partey can do, could have changed the game for Chelsea and it’s something Arsenal can profit from this weekend.
Man Utd vs Arsenal odds: Sky Bet
- Arsenal to win @ 23/10
- Both Score No Draw @ 11/8
- Thomas Partey to score anytime @ 15/2
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And Arsenal will have technical director Edu to thank for that should Partey pull it off. A central midfielder himself for the Gunners, part of their Invincibles side in 2003/04, it was recently reported that Edu and Arteta disagreed over which midfielder to sign this summer. Arteta favoured Aouar to add creativity to his side, but according to L’Equipe, Edu had his eye on Partey. As we all know by now, it was Edu who got his way.
Man Utd’s midfield selection woes
While Arsenal had to pick between Aouar and Partey, Man Utd signed Donny van de Beek from Ajax. But the Dutchman is yet to start in the Premier League, which has only added to the dilemma Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has regarding his midfield.
Adding Van de Beek to Paul Pogba and Fernandes, Solskjaer is realistically unable to play all three together. The trio are all comfortable in central attacking midfield positions, whether it be as the no.10 in a 4-2-3-1 or no.8 in a 4-3-3.
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher insists Pogba and Fernandes cannot play together, and it’s currently not hard to see why. They are similar players in terms of styles and the way they like to move around the pitch. When Man Utd play a 4-2-3-1, Solskjaer likes his team to have natural width, which is why he moved Marcus Rashford onto the left and has preferred Daniel James in recent matches.
Although Pogba has played out wide for Juventus, and thrived there, the Frenchman just hasn’t had that impact for Man Utd. And with Fernandes currently the darling of Old Trafford, Pogba and Van de Beek may be made to wait for their game time.