Preview by Numbers: Manchester United v. Arsenal

Old Trafford, Manchester
Saturday, November 19
7:30 a.m. EST, 12:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Andy Garratt
    • 4th Official: Michael Oliver
  • This Match, Last Year: Manchester United 3 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 81 Arsenal wins, 94 United wins, 49 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-D-W-D
  • Manchester United's League Form: W-D-D-L-D-W
  • Weather: Chance of Rain, 41 °F / 5 °C
November is officially happening. Arsenal fans have historically lamented the month of November, as it is often the first time the club stumbles in their hunt for silverware. There are many reasons that tends to happen; it largely comes down to accumulation of fixtures and those little knocks players pick up finally start to take their toll around this time of year. We're seeing that yet again now.

Before diving into the negative depths of the team news, a little perspective. Arsenal are unbeaten 16 matches across all competitions, yet they're merely tied for the top of their Champions League group and they're in fourth place in the Premier League table, two points back of first place Liverpool. It's starting to look like a problem that Arsenal have already dropped seven points at the Emirates this season. Arsenal actually have one fewer point through 11 league fixtures than they did last year. Of course, last year, Arsenal failed to win matches 12 through 14 and still ended up top of the table at the halfway point, so there's still a lot of evidence that proves the "it's a marathon, not a sprint" point.

Those of you out there who are proficient in playing Arsène Wenger bingo will recognize that this team has showed more "mental strength" this season than in seasons past, but there's no better place to prove that case than at Old Trafford, where Arsenal have not won in the league in over 10 years. Add our dear friend José Mourinho into the mix and you've got a recipe for some fireworks.

Some might ask if you'd be happy with a draw at this juncture, but I think that if Arsenal want to win the league this year, they need to win this one.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Bellerín (ankle,) Pérez (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Alexis (hamstring)

I mentioned the negative depths of the team news in the intro and that largely centers on the ankle of Hector Bellerín, who has been ruled out for four weeks. Doesn't sound that bad at first, until you realize that Arsenal will play eight times in those four weeks and then travel to Manchester City in four weeks and two days' time. So, really, this is a terrible time to miss four weeks.

Is Carl Jenkinson up to the task? Do we still have Mathieu Debuchy? Like, has anyone seen him? Does he still want to be here? I've heard he has a calf injury, too?

Shkodran Mustafi has played at right back, including a start at that position in the 2014 World Cup Round of 16 match against Algeria. Mustafi had started the World Cup as a substitute, as Germany started Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker in the middle with Jérôme Boateng on the right, allowing them to utilize Phillip Lahm as a deep-lying central midfielder. When Mertesacker couldn't start anymore, Boateng moved to the center and Mustafi got the start on the right against Algeria, but injured his thigh on 70 minutes, thus ending his World Cup. Lahm then moved back to the right back position where he is probably the best in the world, and the rest is history.

So, there's a good chance Arsenal can use Mustafi on the right if they need to while bringing in Gabriel or Rob Holding in the center. Good news, kinda.

Now, to Alexis Sánchez and the saga surrounding his leg muscles. If you've not been following the Chile national team, Alexis missed a World Cup qualifier against Colombia late last week, but slotted back in, all taped up, to start and score twice against Uruguay. Alexis has texted Wenger to say that he's fine, but let's face it, Alexis Sánchez could literally be on fire and he'd say "what, no, put me in, I'm good..." He'd probably say it in Spanish, though, so it'd be more like, "Es solo fuego, estoy bien."

Lucas Pérez remains out, so Olivier Giroud will start if Alexis needs the rest. Santi Cazorla's timeline for return, however, is still a bit of a mystery.

Also, Nacho Monreal scored for Spain while we were away, so let that sink in. Nacho. For Spain. In a World Cup qualifier. Nacho. Spain. Goal. Yeah.

Predicted XI: Čech, Mustafi, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Coquelin, Walcott, Iwobi, Özil, Alexis.

Manchester United Squad News

Out: Fellaini (calf,) Smalling (toe,) Bailly (knee)
Doubts: Rooney (knee,) Valencia (arm,) Shaw (leg)
Suspended: Ibrahimović (one match, accumulation)

Zlatan Ibrahimović will miss the match as he serves a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation, while Wayne Rooney is a strong doubt with a knee injury, one that forced him to return early from England duty. That would likely leave Marcus Rashford to start up top for United, which certainly hasn't hurt Arsenal in the past, I don't know what you're talking about...

Ander Herrera will return to the side after missing their win against Swansea through suspension, but United will be without three parts of their back line, as Antonio Valencia is a major doubt with an arm injury, Chris Smalling is out with a broken toe, and Eric Bailly is out with a knee injury. Luke Shaw is struggling for fitness with a leg injury, which could force Phil Jones into action at center back; Jones started against Swansea two weeks ago, but it was his first start since January. If that's the case, then Daley Blind would slide out to left back.

I've seen conflicting reports on whether Marouane Fellaini is out or just doubtful with a calf injury. Even still, Manchester United have such a glut of midfielders that Henrikh Mkhitaryan, purchased from Borussia Dortmund for £26 million this summer, has only started once in the Premier League, and even then he was removed at halftime.

Predicted XI: De Gea, Darmian, Jones, Rojo, Blind, Carrick, Herrera, Lingard, Martial, Pogba, Rashford.

Current Form

So, it's 16 unbeaten for Arsenal now, but the results aren't quite as positive as they were at other points in the season. It's been a bit of a roller-coaster unbeaten run, if such a thing is possible, but drawing twice at home in consecutive home league games tends to indicate that the unbeaten streak is really just a statistical quirk. As such, as mentioned at the top of the preview, Arsenal are a point behind where they were after 11 league games last year, though by this point they were staring European elimination in the face and were already out of the League Cup, so there's been marked improvement on those fronts.

Manchester United, on the other hand, are in a distant sixth, six points behind Arsenal (who are tied with Manchester City for third) and eight points behind Liverpool at the top of the table. It's no surprise that the top two clubs in the table right now are not playing in Europe. In the David Moyes era of Manchester United, the club had 20 points through their opening 11 games, so they actually have two fewer this season at this juncture. That Moyes team also went unbeaten in their Champions League group (en route to a quarterfinal loss to Bayern Munich.) This team, under Mourinho, is currently third in their Europa League group, having already lost twice away from home.

But, in a fixture like Manchester United v. Arsenal at Old Trafford, form goes out the window, so feel free to ignore everything I just said.

Match Facts

Arsenal split their league meetings with Manchester United last season, with each side winning at home. Arsenal won the meeting at the Emirates last October by a comprehensive 3-0 scoreline. The Gunners began the match on the front foot and didn't let up until they had three within 20 minutes. Alexis Sánchez scored in the sixth minute, Mesut Özil scored in the seventh, and Alexis scored again in the 19th. Arsenal took their foot off the gas a bit at that point, so by the end, United ended with 62% of the possession and twice as many corners as Arsenal, but Petr Čech made five saves to pick up the clean sheet.

Ah, but Arsenal's voodoo at Old Trafford did not mitigate when they met in Manchester last February, even though United were decimated by injuries at the time. Enter Marcus Rashford (oh, that's what you were thinking in the team news section...) who scored twice on his Premier League debut, as United beat Arsenal 3-2, which was the start of the ruin of Arsenal's title hopes last year. Arsenal did, of course, win that dramatic FA Cup tie at Old Trafford in March of 2015 as they were on their way to their second straight cup title.

Before that FA Cup tie, United had been unbeaten in ten home matches against Arsenal, winning nine of them (and clinching the league title with the one draw.) September 17, 2006 marks Arsenal's last league win at Old Trafford. That match ended 1-0; Emmanuel Adebayor had the 86th minute winner. In 2006/07, Arsenal actually won both league meetings between the sides. Since that year, across all competitions, United have met Arsenal 22 times. Arsenal have won four of those matches, drawn five, and lost 14.

The Referee

The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner. Of course, having Marriner for a big away match in the early Saturday time slot will ring alarm bells for Arsenal fans; Marriner, of course, sent off the wrong man as part of Arsenal's 6-0 loss at Chelsea in 2014. Many people forget that that red card was rescinded entirely; since the shot was going wide, it was not denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

Anyway, after that incident, Arsenal won five straight with Marriner in the middle before losing to Watford in last year's FA Cup sixth round. The five wins came against Southampton, Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham, and Manchester City. That win over Spurs came in last year's League Cup, when Mathieu Flamini scored twice. The win over Newcastle came at St. James' Park last August; the other three wins were at the Emirates.

Manchester United have seen Marriner once this season already, a match they won on opening day, 3-1 at Bournemouth. Last year, United split their two results with Marriner in the middle: they lost 2-1 to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light but beat Everton 1-0 at Old Trafford.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Manchester City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Swansea City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Liverpool; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Bournemouth; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Hull City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Watford v. Leicester City; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. West Ham United; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (late): Middlesbrough v. Chelsea; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Monday (night): West Bromwich Albion v. Burnley; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and vaudeville comedian. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat  for bad jokes and neat animal tricks.