Manchester United and Arsenal clash in the Premier League at Old Trafford this weekend (12.30pm Saturday, Sky Sports 1).
Manchester United returned to winning ways before the international break, beating Swansea City 3-1 after a run of three draws (against Burnley, Stoke City, Liverpool) and a defeat by Chelsea. It was a much-improved performance from Jose Mourinho’s men, who demonstrated much more of an attacking threat and cutting edge going forward than in previous weeks.
It is unclear whether or not they have the capacity to haul themselves back in the title race this term, though. The Red Devils find themselves in sixth place heading into the division’s resumption this week, with a return of 18 points from 11 matches leaving them eight adrift of table-toppers Liverpool. Mourinho would probably be content with a top-four finish this year, however, and Saturday’s clash is an excellent opportunity for them to demonstrate their credentials in that regard.
Arsenal extended their unbeaten run in the top flight to 10 games last time out, drawing 1-1 with north London neighbours Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners started slowly in front of their own supporters, with Spurs’ new-look three-at-the-back formation initially causing them problems. Arsene Wenger’s charges soon found their feet and in the end were perhaps a little unfortunate to pick up just a single point from the encounter. Overall, it has been a promising start to the season for Arsenal, who have won seven, drawn three and lost one of their opening 11 fixtures to sit in fourth place in the standings, with just two points separating them from Liverpool in top spot.
The big piece of team news from a Manchester United perspective is the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will serve a one-game suspension after picking up his fifth yellow card of the campaign in the triumph over Swansea. Eric Bailly (knee) and Chris Smalling (toe) are still sidelined but Antonio Valencia could return after breaking his arm last month, although the status of fellow defender Luke Shaw is uncertain. Mourinho publically implied that the England international lacked character and bravery for asking not to play against Swansea due to a knock he was carrying. Even if Shaw has now recovered, the former Chelsea manager may choose to leave him out once more.
Santi Cazorla (pictured) could return in the middle of the park, though, while Aaron Ramsey is also in contention for a starting spot after his own lay-off. Lucas Perez (ankle), Hector Bellerin (ankle) Per Mertesacker (knee), Danny Welbeck (knee) and Chuba Akpom (back) will all miss out. The Gunners’ midfield is likely to be made up of Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin for the second match in a row, while the usual front three of Alex Iwobi, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott will attempt to break down United’s backline with their fluidity and speed of movement. Olivier Giroud, who is taller, stronger and more of a threat in the air, represents a ready-made plan B on the substitutes’ bench if Arsenal’s initial approach is not bearing fruit.
Our betting tips’ verdict for this preview is that Manchester United can come out on top against Arsenal this week. Wenger has a rotten head-to-head record against Mourinho – the long-serving Gunners boss has never got the better of the Portuguese in 13 competitive meetings – and may once again finish Saturday’s game second best, with United likely to line themselves up in a shape and system which frustrates their opponents’ attacking unit. Ibrahimovic is a big miss for United, which means the best bet for an any time scorer could be Mesut Ozil, who has been significantly more productive in front of goal so far in 2016/17.
So, to summarise, this preview’s betting tips are:
- Manchester United to beat Arsenal at biggest betting odds of 13/8 with Unibet.
- We expect Mesut Ozil to score at any time at stand-out odds of 51/10, again with Unibet. That’s a price that may not last as it is significantly bigger than that offered by most of the online bookies that JustBookies recommends.
Greg Lea is a freelance sports writer. Read the articles that he has written at Just Bookies.