Football Features

Depleted Man Utd bid to bounce back in tough Arsenal test

By Will Evans | Twenty3

Published: 7:57, 10 May 2024

Manchester United’s season hit a new low at Selhurst Park on Monday.

The Red Devils were comprehensively beaten in South London, as Crystal Palace romped to a 4-0 victory.

But things could be about to get worse for Erik ten Hag’s beleaguered outfit, when in-form Arsenal head to Old Trafford this weekend.

Ahead of that clash, we consider how the Man Utd manager can steady the ship — and avoid another heavy defeat against the Gunners.

Shut up shop

There is little that Ten Hag can do about Man Utd’s defensive injury crisis.

They are currently missing Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw, Lisandro Martinez and long-term absentee Tyrell Malacia due to injury.

That forced Ten Hag into playing Casemiro at centre-back against Crystal Palace, with somewhat disastrous results. The Brazilian was dribbled past eight times and put in a particularly poor display.

It is likely to be the same personnel on Sunday, so Man Utd will have to find a way of being resolute against a rampant Arsenal forward line.

The solution may be to largely abandon any attacking intent, and focus on shielding such a makeshift rearguard.

Break at speed

If Man Utd do set up to counter-attack then they will need to maximise the direct running of Antony and Alejandro Garnacho.

The duo rank inside United’s top three players for take-ons attempted and completed per 90 minutes, as well as fast breaks and shots from counter-attacks per 90 (0.21 and 0.27 respectively for both metrics) — among players with a minimum of 630 minutes played.

Antony and Garnacho are also among the squad leaders for total xG from fast breaks (0.41 and 1.63), suggesting they will be the Red Devils’ best outlets for relieving pressure and maximising opportunities.

Midfield battle

Arsenal possess attacking threats across the pitch, from Bukayo Saka on the right flank to Kai Havertz up front.

But shutting down the Gunners’ midfield playmakers will be key to Manchester United’s chances of securing a surprise result.

Declan Rice has been in sublime form of late, contributing a goal and three assists in his last three outings, while Martin Odegaard has three goal contributions across his previous four appearances.

And the duo have created a significant 5.19 chances and 0.98 big chances per 90 between them in 2024.

The possible return of United’s own creator-in-chief Bruno Fernandes could make a significant difference to their attacking potency, but nullifying Arsenal in central areas should be the priority.

Kobbie Mainoo and Scott McTominay will need to put in a defensive masterclass if the Red Devils are to get their campaign back on track this weekend.