The weekend’s big game sees Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United travel to the Emirates to take on Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. Last season, fans endured rather than enjoyed this game, a grim goalless stalemate played out in mid-February after a lacklustre performance from both sides. Arsenal missed their chance to return to the top of the Premier League following a 5-1 mauling at Liverpool, while then United manager David Moyes was desperate to bounce back from the 2-2 draw at home to bottom club Fulham.
There wasn’t much to say about this game; both managers seemed so keen to avoid defeat that they wouldn’t countenance much in the way of creative attack. Apart from a flurry of half chances in the opening and closing minutes, the result in truth suited neither manager and ended in yet more frustration from the watching support.
Arsenal had the best of the early chances, with former Arsenal striker Robin van Persie, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla, Laurent Koscielny and Tomas Rosicky all requiring saves from United keeper David De Gea. Wayne Rooney and Van Persie had done little all match, but nearly went ahead with 11 minutes left, Rooney’s cross finding Van Persie at the far post but with Szczesny in place to push the Dutchman’s header on to the bar.
Moyes left the Emirates still seeking a win at Arsenal in his managerial career while United Manager Van Gaal will be seeking to set this standard much earlier in his.
To see how fans of both Clubs may be thinking about this game, we looked at the Beat Your Manager! Fantasy Football data from this fixture last season, to see what players were picked for the lineups last year.
Beat Your Manager! Fantasy Football is a game similar to “Football Manager”, but applied to live football, where you manage your favourite Club and pick lineups, bench, formations and substitutions, all in real-time. When fans play the game, the Beat Your Manager team can measure the popularity of different players, by looking at how frequently they are selected for the starting lineup, substitutes bench or not selected at all.
The app ran for the 2013/4 EPL season and is currently inactive while the developers are creating the revised version – we’ll keep you posted on when it’s going to re-launch.
Formation: 4-4-2 by far the most popular choice, but double-pivot the 2nd favourite for both
39 per cent of Arsenal fans went for a 4-4-2 formation for this game last season, with a double-pivot 4-2-3-1 further behind in second place, selected by 21 per cent. A whopping 57 per cent of Man United fans went for a 4-4-2 formation, with the more flexible 4-2-3-1 and a more aggressive 4-3-3 tied on 14 per cent.
Goalkeepers: Perfect scores for both sides
Fans of both Clubs selected their regular number 1s for this fixture and confidence in their respective keepers was never higher. Both Wojciech Szczęsny and David De Gea got perfect 100 per cent scores with fans for this game, taking up two of the four most-popular player spots.
No quibbles from the Managers, who started both players, both of whom are also expected to line out on Sunday, although there is some concern over De Gea’s finger injury on international duty with Spain.
Defenders: A completely new back four on Saturday for United
The other two most-popular player spots went to Arsenal defenders; Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna also recording perfect 100 per cent scores. Laurent Koscielny was only slightly behind, on 91 per cent, but with Thomas Vermaelen out injured, 4th-choice defender Nacho Monreal lagged much further behind with Gunners fans, on 58 per cent.
United fans had two clear fan favourites in defence, with Nemanja Vidić (97 per cent) and Patrice Evra (95 per cent) leading the charge ahead of Rio Ferdinand (62 per cent) and Rafael (55 per cent), grouped much further behind. With Jonny Evans injured, Phil Jones pushed Rafael close for inclusion in the fans’ lineup by also getting a 55 per cent vote of approval; unfortunately his bench stats were lower and so Rafael got the nod for our lineup instead.
Moyes started Chris Smalling (34 per cent fan rating) instead of fan-pick Ferdinand, but brought Rio on at half-time for the ineffectual Rafael. Wenger similarly made one switch from the fans; fielding Kieran Gibbs (33 per cent fan rating) instead of Monreal.
Vermaelen now plays for Barcelona and will miss this game again while Sagna is now at Manchester City. Koscielny will miss this year’s fixture due to an Achilles injury, while new boy Mathieu Debuchy is still out with his ankle, so expect to see Calum Chambers line up on Saturday.
Van Gaal has serious concerns in defence for this fixture; fan picks Vidić, Evra and Ferdinand have left the club, while Rafael is injured. Marcos Rojo is also out while Daley Blind, Evans, Jones and Luke Shaw are all in doubt.
Midfield: With four high-profile injuries, Arsenal’s choices were clear in midfield
With Abou Diaby, Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott all injured, Arsenal’s remaining midfield selection was made clear for Gunners fans for this game; all four midfielders rating over 90 per cent. Mesut Özil was Arsenal’s most popular midfielder, his 97 per cent fan rating making him the Club’s 4th-most popular player, putting him just ahead of the other three midfielders, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Cazorla, all tied on 91 per cent.
By contrast, United’s midfielders didn’t fare nearly so well; Juan Mata scoring highest and matching Özil on 97 per cent from Manchester fans, followed by Michael Carrick (81 per cent) and Antonio Valencia (59 per cent), with Adnan Januzaj (38 per cent) way behind.
Wenger went with the same four midfielders picked by the fans, but also fielded Tomáš Rosický (24 per cent fan rating) in a fifth-midfielder role, eventually replacing him with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (42 per cent fan rating). Moyes fielded Tom Cleverley (36 per cent fan rating) instead of Januzaj, but otherwise went with the fans.
Diaby will again miss this fixture following his calf injury, while Özil and Arteta are unavailable this year. However, Flamini, Ramsey and Walcott are all available and Wenger can now call on the attacking talents of new boy Alexis Sánchez this season.
United’s midfield on Saturday will see some changes; Cleverley has been offloaded to Sporting Lisbon while Carrick is a doubt for this game. Ashley Young and new boy Ángel di María are also in question, so fans should expect to see Ander Herrera partner a reinvigorated Fellaini in midfield.
Forwards: Welbeck welcomes old friends
Danny Welbeck will be eager to prove a point with both fans and manager when his previous team-mates arrive at his new club on Saturday. With van Persie (98 per cent) and Rooney (97 per cent) dominating fan choices upfront for this game last season, Welbeck managed only a meagre 10 per cent with United fans.
Following his switch, he’s likely to score much higher with his new club, as Olivier Giroud (73 per cent) and Lukas Podolski (61 per cent) didn’t exactly fire the imagination of Gunners fans for this fixture last season. Moyes with the same front two, while Wenger dropped Podolski to accommodate the extra man in midfield.
Both Welbeck and Giroud are in doubt for this fixture, so expect Sanogo to definitely start, while Van Gaal is also expected to start the same two front men, with new-boy Radamel Falcao possibly out for this game.
Fan-selected lineup, bench, not selected ratings Arsenal vs. Man United 2013/4 EPL Season: