The Big Match Tactical View: Manchester United v Arsenal

Manchester United and Arsenal meet in the last FA Cup quarter-final tie on Monday evening, in what promises to be an excellent match. Michael Cox looks at the tactics, while professional trader Alan Thompson has the betting lowdown…

Manchester United v Arsenal
Monday 19:45, BBC One.
Match Odds: Manchester United 2.546/4, Arsenal 3.052/1, The Draw 3.55n/a.

Monday night’s FA Cup quarter-final tie is unquestionably the most mouthwatering game of this round, and Manchester United versus Arsenal remains one of the biggest games in English football. This could be a classic FA Cup encounter.

By now, it feels like Louis van Gaal‘s Man United side should feel more settled, and yet it still remains difficult to predict his starting XI – or, indeed, work out precisely what he’s attempting to build. Nevertheless, United’s results have been good, their defensive record remains impressive, and they clearly have the individuals to provide a moment of magic in the final third.

They also have a habit of grinding out results. The meeting between these sides earlier in the season was a good example: Arsenal dominated for long periods, yet a superb performance from David De Gea and some good counter-attacking meant United won 2-1. It remains to be seen whether United can play so reactively in this game, on home soil.

Arsenal, meanwhile, keep starting games slowly, enjoying a good spell when they score a couple of goals, before fading late on. That said, this pattern has tended to come against weaker sides – their most recent meetings with better teams, like Tottenham and Monaco, have resulted in disappointing defeats.

Van Gaal seemed content with his side’s performance in the narrow 1-0 win at Newcastle last week, and will probably stick to the 4-5-1 system that started there. Wayne Rooney – so frequently the scourge of Arsenal – played upfront and will probably continue as the lone striker.

Daley Blind seems set to anchor the midfield, but what happens between those two is almost impossible to predict, and United’s approach will be defined by the other midfielders.

Ashley Young should continue on the left after a good performance – and a late winner – against Newcastle last week, an his battle with youngster Hector Bellerin should be interesting. The Spanish right-back loves to fly forward and boasts incredible pace, so Young will have to rely upon the defensive knowledge he’s picked up from playing full-back this season, as well as testing him going in the opposite direction.

On the opposite flank, Kieran Gibbs was outstanding in the 2-1 win over QPR, although there’s a chance Nacho Monreal could be recalled to play against the out-of-form Angel Di Maria.

Arsene Wenger has a tremendous number of attacking options at his disposal, with the likes of Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain omitted from the starting XI for the win at Loftus Road.

It seems likely Wenger will make at least two changes in midfield and attack, probably with Tomas Rosicky making way for Ramsey. Wenger must also be tempted to hand Welbeck a start on his first return to Old Trafford, especially against a team that plays a high defensive line. Olivier Giroud‘s goalscoring record against quality opposition remains a concern.

It will be interesting to see which side controls this game – Arsenal are accustomed to possession dominance, but United have commanded the midfield well recently. A combination of Blind and Ander Herrera, perhaps, might be good enough to dominate against an Arsenal side lacking a genuinely top-class holding midfielder. The question will be whether have enough penetration.

Arsenal, meanwhile, might look to play on the break through Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, who have combined nicely in recent weeks.

Until we know precisely what Manchester United’s shape is, it’s very difficult to predict the tactical battle here, but Rooney has a fine record against Arsenal and is thriving in his favoured centre-forward role. I’ll back Rooney to open the scoring at 7.06/1.

Recommended Bet
Back Wayne Rooney as First Goalscorer at 7.06/1

The Betfair Trader’s View: Alan Thompson

The Gunners travel to Old Trafford on Monday evening for the tie of the 6th Round and this is realistically the only chance either side have at picking up any silverware this season. This is the first time the Red Devils have been drawn at home in this season’s FA Cup, reaching this stage of the competition by beating Yeovil 0-2, Cambridge after a replay 3-0 and Preston 1-3. Arsenal have beaten Hull 2-0 at the Emirates, a 2-3 win away at Brighton and they got past Middlesbrough 2-0 in the last round with two first half Olivier Giroud strikes.

The biggest problem for me in this game is who can you trust – United won again midweek BUT they have been incredibly lucky and for me a great bet is to lay them at 2.04 for a top four finishing position, they can’t keep performing as they are and getting results and a quick look ahead, their Premier League schedule couldn’t be any tougher; after this tie they face Tottenham, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Manchester City, and Chelsea in the league – I don’t see many points there!

Arsenal got destroyed recently at home to Monaco in the Champions League, a side who up utill then had only scored one away goal in the tournament and had only managed to win away against a top six side in the French League once all season.

In their only league meeting so far this season Manchester United won at the Emirates 2-1 and they have a good record against the Gunners, United have lost only once to Arsenal in the league (home or away) in their last 12 meetings, winning eight of them. Arsenal have won once at Old Trafford in their last 12 league visits.

I am sure neither of these sides would welcome a draw and because of Arsenal’s poor record against United – despite not trusting them, I will be siding with United in this one. I will backing Manchester United to win @ 2.52 in the Match Odds.