The race for the top four is hotting up, with three teams still in the frame. Arsenal host Manchester United in the early kick-off on Saturday and it is a game that will have huge ramifications on the state of play at the top of the table. The visitors really need to win if they are to force their way into the top four, but their recent performances suggest they aren’t at the required level to finish above the two North London clubs. The Gunners were in a state of panic after three successive defeats, but their convincing win over Chelsea during the week will give them confidence.
Arsenal are level on points with Tottenham, but their local rivals have the superior goal difference. The pair meet in a few weeks time and that will be looked upon as the key fixture when it comes to finishing in the top four. However, the Gunners need to avoid dropping points until that game. The recent run of form has been a concern, but the performance against Chelsea will inject confidence into the squad. They scored four goals against one of the best defences in the league and they will fancy their chances against Manchester United. This is an opportunity for Arsenal to knock one of their rivals out of the race for top four.
Manchester United have been in a state of rebuilding since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. This summer is another reset and it will be led by current Ajax manager Erik ten Hag. The appointment has now been formally confirmed and the club can start to plan for the future. It is clear that Ralf Rangnick doesn’t rate a lot of the current squad as their attitude has frustrated the interim manager in recent weeks. He was angry at the manner of the defeat to Liverpool and there could be changes made for this weekend.
Arsenal had six Englishmen in their starting eleven against Chelsea. This is the first time this has happened since 2001.
Only six teams have conceded more goals than Manchester United in the Premier League this season. They have conceded 48 times in 33 matches.
It has been an excellent season for Bukayo Saka, as he has emerged as the talisman in the Arsenal attack. After a disappointing end to the summer for England, it shows great character to bounce back in the manner that he has. On Wednesday, he showed his great character once again as he stepped up to take his first penalty since he missed in the European Championship final shootout. It was a great spot kick and underlined the confidence radiating through his game at the moment. This season, he has contributed ten goals and five assists in the Premier League. Saka is averaging a goal involvement every 167.3 minutes. At the age of 20, he has the world at his feet and he is already emerging as one of the best players in the Premier League. Saka will want to help Arsenal finish in the top four, as he will want to test himself in the Champions League. He is already at the required level and this is another chance for him to show his quality in a big game.
The midweek defeat to Liverpool was an evening to forget for Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese international was forced into a deeper role, due to the midfield problems that Manchester United have at the moment. He wasn’t very effective and he picked up a booking towards the end of the game, showing his frustration. Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to miss out again for personal issues and that should lead to Fernandes being given a more prominent role in attack. He is a player that can produce match-winning performances in matches like this one. Like Saka, he will believe he should be playing in the Champions League, but it is up to him to prove that with a much better showing on Saturday. His contribution of nine goals and six assists isn’t his best return for a season, but he is still contributing regularly in a dysfunctional team.
Takehiro Tomiyasu is closing in on a return, but he remains a doubt for the weekend. Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey are both ruled out. Alexandre Lacazette is fit to start, but Eddie Nketiah’s brace against Chelsea could see him keep his place.
Fred is likely to miss out again and Paul Pogba has joined him on the treatment table. Raphael Varane could be available again. Ronaldo is expected to miss out again for personal reasons. Edinson Cavani and Luke Shaw are other absentees.
After watching the two teams in midweek, they are chalk and cheese at the current point in time. Arsenal are playing with fluency and there seems to be cohesion between the squad and coaching staff. The same isn’t true for Manchester United. They were disjointed against Liverpool and it is difficult to see a significant improvement this weekend. A home win is the likely result, which will end Manchester United’s top four hopes.
Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United