Opposition Insight: Arsenal (H)

How could Mikel Arteta set his side up this weekend?
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Manchester United will host Arsenal at Old Trafford on Sunday night, looking to record a second impressive result of the week.

United romped to a 5-0 win against RB Leipzig on Wednesday night but now must return to winning ways in the Premier League.

Let's take a closer look at The Gunners...

MIKEL ARTETA’S PREFERRED XI

Mikel Arteta has used a 3-4-3 formation four times already in the Premier League this season, and it’s how he’s expected to line up against United too.

Arsenal have a solid goalkeeper in Bernd Leno, and in front of him should be a back three of David Luiz, Gabriel Magalhaes and Kieran Tierney, with Rob Holding ruled out.

Hector Bellerin is enjoying a fine season at right-wing-back, with Bukayo Saka also providing bundles of energy on the left flank.

A genuinely top-class midfielder Thomas Partey is bound to start alongside either Granit Xhaka or Dani Ceballos.

Arteta’s preferred front three, either in his regular 3-4-3 or in a 4-3-3, has been either Willian or Nicolas Pepe on the right, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left, and Alexandre Lacazette up front.

With Aubameyang seriously misfiring so far this term, Lacazette has taken up the role of primary goalscorer in, on paper, could be an attack that causes problems.

STAR MAN – Hector Bellerin

Lacazette has enjoyed a solid campaign so far, but Arsenal’s stand-out player under Mikel Arteta, for me, has been Hector Bellerin.

The wing-backs are always a crucial aspect of a three-at-the-back formation, and along with Saka, Bellerin has proven to thrive in Arteta’s system as he’s reignited his career.

Bellerin has registered three assists this season, more than any other Arsenal player, but has shown pure class to also effectively cover the somewhat unreliable David Luiz and Shrokdan Mustafi at the right side of the defence.

Amongst the Arsenal squad, only Ceballos has made more tackles and interceptions than Bellerin, with the Spaniard also maintaining an 84% pass accuracy whilst averaging 30 passes per game.

He’s an absolute menace down the right flank, and with his opponent for the day likely to be Luke Shaw, he could find plenty of joy going forward and stretching United’s defence.

STRENGTHS

RESTRICTIVE SHAPE > COUNTER-ATTACK

The way Arteta sets Arsenal up is more restrictive than expansive – its purpose is to stop other teams from playing, rather than dominating the ball.

With the likes of Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang in attack, and good passers like David Luiz and Ceballos further back, it’s proven to be a very effective style of play.

Expect this game to be similar to the Chelsea one last week, in the sense that Arsenal are going to have men behind the ball and then look to burst forward with their front three.

Hopefully, United can find a way around it this time out.

FLUID PRESSING

Under Arteta, Arsenal have found effective ways to press, whatever shape the opposition pose on the ball. Without the ball, Arsenal look to press high in a 5-2-3 and go man-to-man with the opposition’s build-up shape.

If they face a back three, the three forwards will press their individual men, with one of the two midfield men behind getting close to the opposition’s defensive midfielder, and the other covering behind.

Arsenal were very passive under Unai Emery, but are now lively off the ball and try and force players into mistakes. Off the ball, they revert to a 5-4-1 shape, with an energetic midfield and both wingers ready to charge up field on the counter.

Although they’ve improved off the ball under Arteta though, they’re still not great in possession…

WEAKNESSES

KEEPING POSSESSION

Before Arteta took charge, Arsenal were averaging 55.34% possession per game in the 19/20 season, for the remainder of that campaign when Arteta arrived, that dropped to 53.86%.

Now this season in his 3-4-3 formation, Arsenal have averaged just 46.74% possession. Whilst this is no surprise considering their counter-attacking style, it also highlights their lack of quality on the ball, and lack of ball retention off it.

If United can aggressively press and force Arsenal into mistakes ourselves, leading to situations where Rashford and Greenwood can run at that back, it could work wonders.