Preview by Numbers: Manchester United v. Arsenal

Old Trafford, Manchester
Sunday, November 10
11:10 a.m. EST, 16:10 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Simon Long
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • This Match, Last Year: Manchester United 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 79 Arsenal wins, 91 United wins, 47 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-W-W-W
  • Manchester United's League Form: L-L-W-D-W-W
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 8 C / 46 F
This was going to be the week that defined whether or not Arsenal were truly contenders. The pundits tried to write off Arsenal's run of form, claiming they hadn't played anyone of note (despite home wins and clean sheets against Tottenham and Napoli during the course of the streak.)

Then, Arsenal lost 2-1 to Borussia Dortmund, beat Crystal Palace unconvincingly, then crashed out of the League Cup to Chelsea. With Liverpool, Dortmund, and Manchester United on the horizon before the international break, this was certainly the week to scrutinize Arsenal's pedigree.

Well, two games down, two wins, three goals scored, none conceded, and one very big match-up at Old Trafford to play.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Wilshere (ankle,) Flamini (groin,) Walcott (stomach)

We start with the news that Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere have been called up to the England squad for two friendlies during this upcoming international break. The news about Wilshere is most interesting, because he remains a doubt with his ankle injury (again, it's not that ankle this time.) According to Roy Hodgson, he'll only be called into the England squad if he passes fit for Arsenal at the weekend, so methinks it might be wiser just to shut him down until after the break. The midfield has been clicking well, but the lack of options from the bench is what's worrying, which is why this decision could go either way.

Mathieu Flamini may come back into the squad after picking up a groin injury two weeks ago, so that remains to be seen. I've listed Theo Walcott as a doubt, but he wasn't named in the England squad at all, suggesting that he's almost certainly out until after the break.

If there are, in fact, no new returns, then I can't see the boss deviating from the recent XI too much.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud.

Manchester United Squad News

Out: Rafael (ankle,) Fletcher (illness,) Evans (back)
Doubts: Welbeck (knee,) Cleverley (double vision,) Carrick (calf)

United lost three players to injury during their 3-1 win over Fulham at the weekend: Rafael with an ankle injury, Jonny Evans with a back problem, and Tom Cleverley with double vision. Cleverley trained with the team, but did not make the trip to Spain, the other two missed training.

Michael Carrick sat out training before the trip with a calf problem and is a big doubt in the center of midfield; I believe it'd be Antonio Valencia starting in that place if Carrick misses out, but I honestly try not to watch a lot of United... Danny Welbeck also trained, after missing the Fulham match with a knee injury, though he did not make the trip to Spain either.

Tactically, in my predicted XI below, I've got Chris Smalling starting with Rafael missing out, Valencia in place of Carrick, Nani and Adnan Januzaj starting on the wings, and Wayne Rooney playing behind some traitor.

Predicted XI: De Gea, Smalling, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Valencia, Fellaini, Nani, Januzaj, Rooney, Van Persie.

Current Form

Arsenal extended their unbeaten streak away from home to 15 games on Wednesday, with their accomplished 1-0 smash-and-grab against Borussia Dortmund, which left them again on top of the Group of Death in the Champions League. Since losing at Tottenham in early March, Arsenal have beaten, in order, the likes of Bayern Munich, Swansea, West Brom, Fulham, QPR, Newcastle, Fenerbahce, Fulham again, Sunderland, Marseille, Swansea again, Crystal Palace, and Borussia Dortmund, with a league draw and a League Cup draw that was won on penalties against West Brom at the Hawthorns. That's 13 wins and 2 draws at West Brom away from home over the last nine months. It's been enough to be at the top of the table in Europe two-thirds of the way through the group stage and five points clear at the top of the Premier League after 10 games.

Manchester United, on the other hand, have struggled  under new manager David Moyes. Their league results have turned around a little bit after losing three out of four earlier in the season, but their four match unbeaten run has been against Sunderland, Southampton, Stoke, and Fulham, winning three and drawing the upstart Saints. They're unbeaten in eight across all competitions, and doing moderately well in Europe, but have drawn both of their road matches, against Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Sociedad, the latter 0-0 earlier this week, after Robin van Persie missed a penalty.

Match Facts

Manchester United have had the better of Arsenal in recent meetings, which you probably know already (possibly because I copied and pasted a lot of this section from my last United preview.) In 2006/07, Arsenal won both league meetings between the sides. Since that year, across all competitions, United have met Arsenal 16 times. Arsenal have won two of those matches, drawn three, and lost 11.

In this corresponding fixture last season, United dominated after scoring pretty much right away in the most cliched way possible. Vito Mannone kept Arsenal in the match with a string of good saves and Wayne Rooney missed a penalty, but Jack Wilshere was sent off with the match already at 2-0. Santi Cazorla scored a consolation goal with the last kick of the match to make the scoreline look more respectable, but that was just papering over the cracks. On the day, Arsenal were the much lesser team.

Then, of course, in April, United came to the Emirates having already won the league earlier in the week. That time, it was Arsenal that opened the scoring pretty much right away through Theo Walcott, but that guy again scored from the penalty spot to make it 1-1 at halftime. It was a much better performance from Arsenal and a vital point in the hunt for fourth place.

United are unbeaten in their last nine home matches against Arsenal, winning eight of them (and clinching the league title with the one draw). September 17, 2006 marks Arsenal's last win at Old Trafford, during that aforementioned season when Arsenal took six points from United. That match ended 1-0; Emmanuel Adebayor had the 86th minute winner. Since then, in nine matches at Old Trafford, United has outscored Arsenal 22-5.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. This is Oliver's second Arsenal match this season and the second time it's been a rather huge fixture; Oliver took charge of the North London derby and Arsenal's 1-0 win in early September. Last year, Arsenal drew Everton 1-1 at Goodison Park and beat Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup with Oliver in the middle.

This will be Oliver's first Manchester United match of the season. Last year with Oliver, the Red Devils beat Wigan 4-0, drew at Swansea 1-1, and drew at West Brom 5-5 on the final day of the season.

Oliver, who turned 28 in February, is the youngest referee to ever work a Premier League game, a record he took from Stuart Attwell (who has since been demoted.) Oliver's biggest honor to date was to referee the FA Cup semi-final between Wigan and Millwall last year; he was also the fourth official at last year's League Cup final and this year's Community Shield.

He recently came into some controversy however, awarding Tottenham a borderline penalty for handball against Hull on October 27, which Roberto Soldado converted to give Spurs a 1-0 win, because of course. Oliver was then dropped last week, only to then be given United v. Arsenal at Old Trafford, which seems a bit counter-intuitive when you think about it.

Still, it's better than Mike Dean or Howard Webb or Phil Dowd at Old Trafford, so let's count our blessings and thank the FA.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Aston Villa v. Cardiff City; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. West Bromwich Albion; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Everton; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. Fulham; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Hull City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday (late): Norwich City v. West Ham United; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Sunday (very early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Newcastle United; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (regular early): Sunderland v. Manchester City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Sunday: Swansea City v. Stoke City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea