Arsenal are heading to Old Trafford on Sunday, but how will the Gunners line up?
The game against Barcelona on Tuesday night was encouraging, and tthe performance of some players could play into Arsène Wenger’s thoughts heading into Sunday’s crucial match.
Gabriel could return, but we are expecting the boss to stick with his usual defence. Despite a couple of blips on Tuesday, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker both played well throughout the match and it isn’t worth risking Gabriel’s fitness with even more fixtures coming quickly. Obviously Héctor Bellerín, Nacho Monreal and Petr Čech will make up the back five. So far this season they have all been nothing short of superb, consistently and reliably delivering.
In the midfield, Francis Coquelin is fit and should start again alongside Aaron Ramsey. The pair did well in midweek, and have shown their discipline. The defence was rarely exposed in the game against Leicester City, and Ramsey has the drive to provide us with an extra burst offensively from midfield.
Mesut Özil will play in attacking midfield, drifting around and hoping to carve open the Manchester United defence. To do that to the best of his ability he needs someone to pass to, so I’m predicting starts for Alexis and Danny Welbeck on the flanks.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is out injured and Welbeck’s workrate is more reliable than Theo Walcott’s, so expect him to earn the nod on the right. He offers incredible energy, doesn’t shirk the challenge of a big match and will be fired up against his former club again. On the opposite side, Alexis looked better on Tuesday and will hope to influence the big occasion to truly declare himself ‘back’.
Up front is a tough call. Giroud could bully Daley Blind and – if he has to play centrally – Marcus Rojo in a way that Theo Walcott can’t. Walcott, on the other hand, can stretch that backline and create space for Alexis and Welbeck in a way Giroud can’t.
Neither player is in top form, but I’m guessing Wenger will go with Giroud up front to try and hold the ball up in a game where Arsenal could be playing without it for extended periods.