How Manchester United Will Line Up Against Arsenal
With Arsene Wenger's team top of the table by five points—eight points ahead of United who lie in eighth position—it looks as though one of English football's grandest competitive rivalries is set to be reignited, and in some style.
Although the Gunners may have already triumphed in pivotal games away to Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund and at home against Liverpool, a result at the Theatre of Dreams would confirm the early leaders' credentials as legitimate front runners for the title.
However, should David Moyes' much maligned team flip all expectations and halt Arsenal's advance, those who suggested that their comeback win against Stoke City in October would prove to be a turning point for United's season could be vindicated in the most dramatic of fashions.
Much will come down to what team Moyes selects over whether their mini-resurgence—United are currently on an eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions—can be sustained.
While Arsenal's gap at the top has lead to talk of the Gunners heading to Old Trafford with zero pressure to perform and nothing to lose, Wenger himself has cited the game as a vital "benchmark" according to Sky Sports.
We're still within touching distance and to get a victory on Sunday will put us in a great position I think. It is the perfect fixture for us. Arsenal are obviously doing really well but with our current form, it is a chance for us to get a bit closer in the table.
The pressure will be on both teams to prove their value to the title race, with question marks lingering over Arsenal's ability to hold their nerve for a full season and United's competitiveness in the post-Ferguson era.
As a result, viewers of the Premier League could well be in for a treat as both these two storied clubs collide once more to test their mettle and their quality.
Rafael missed out on playing against Real Sociedad in the week and he remains a doubt going into United's home game versus Arsenal.
There's also uncertainty over the fitness of Danny Welbeck, Michael Carrick and Jonny Evans.
For Arsenal, Mathieu Flamini is set to return to action following a groin injury, with Jack Wilshere's involvement dependent on a late fitness test.
Theo Walcott, Yaya Sanogo, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby all remain out with long-term injuries.
What Threats Will Arsenal Bring to Bear at Old Trafford
Before the summer, Arsenal's squad was said to be missing a few vital recruits in defence and the defensive midfield slot, yet it was the blockbuster signing of an attacking midfielder, Mesut Ozil, that appears to have spurred the Gunners on into becoming title challengers.
The German's technical excellence has inspired his new teammates into raising their own games, with midfielder Aaron Ramsey so far having scored 11 goals in 17 games and Olivier Giroud emerging as one of Europe's most sophisticated and slick target men up front.
Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky have also been in good form with the two playmakers complementing the creative hubbub through the centre and on the flanks.
Flamini's arrival has also been key, with the former Gunner's return adding some much needed tenacity to their midfield pivot while Mikel Arteta has continued to impress as the team's passing hub and defensive interceptor.
At the back, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny's individual flaws have been largely cancelled out by each others' strengths.
Together they have formed an exceptional partnership which has proven to be a sum greater than its parts of late.
The league leader's weakness at present lies out on the flanks, with the absence of wide-men such as Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain meaning that Arsenal can lack width at times.
This hasn't been a problem in their recent outings due to their excellence playing through the middle, with the close control of Ozil, Cazorla and Rosicky allowing them to pass through opponents within tight spaces, and work the channels rather than heading for the byline.
Yet hitting Arsenal high and wide, and at speed, could be enough to knock them out of their confident stride, with Rooney and Robin van Persie adept at gobbling up crosses and cut-backs across the box.
Without the deterrent of their own pacy wingers, the Gunners may struggle to pin United back out wide should they attempt to overwhelm the flanks.
Moyes would do well to set up his team to counter, parrying the visitor's thrusts forward and throwing it back at them down the wings and on the overlap.
Bringing United's full-backs into play could be vital, with another big performance required of Patrice Evra down the left. The uncertainty over Rafael's fitness should be a major concern.
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
When he's fit, he plays.
Give it a few seasons and he'll be as synonymous with United's No. 1 shirt as Peter Schmeichel and the Spaniard's idol, Edwin van der Sar.
Central defence: Phil Jones and Nemanja Vidic
With Evans' fitness uncertain, Jones and Vidic look to be the strongest defensive duo available, with the Serbian's awareness key to ensuring United's lines remain impregnable and the Englishman's mobility a useful counterbalance for covering his experienced captain.
Chris Smalling is another option with his strong aerial abilities and confidence on the ball, especially if Moyes feels that Jones' presence would be better served in midfield to disrupt Arsenal's passing game.
Full-backs: Patrice Evra and Rafael
Ensuring that Rafael is available to face Arsenal is a race that United's physio team must win.
The Brazilian is not only a fierce competitor at right-back but also an important part of the team's attacking jigsaw both out wide and as a support runner through midfield.
His combination with Antonio Valencia down the right will be vital, as will Evra's emerging understanding with Adnan Januzaj.
If Moyes can make the most of these partnerships down the flanks, his team could enjoy a similar level of advantage and dominance out wide as Arsenal are likely to achieve through the middle.
Central midfield: Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini
For all their issues when it comes to pace and mobility, Carrick and Fellaini remain United's first-choice partnership in midfield.
Both players are likely to sit back and soak up pressure with a remit to intercept and break up play before feeding the ball to the flanks.
Asking either of United's main midfield two to perform a more adventurous role in support of the strikers up front would risk giving Ozil and Co. space to play through the middle.
Carrick and Fellaini must be disciplined, play safe and stand firm in the face of Ramsey, Cazorla, Arteta, Rosicky and the threats they pose.
Wings: Adnan Januzaj and Antonio Valencia
With the midfield locked down, United must look to the flanks for some attacking agency.
Considering the club's troubled start to the season, Januzaj's emergence has been a huge positive point, and the young Kosovar-Albanian has offered far more than just hype since his promotion to first-team football.
As well as offering plenty of impetus going forward, he has also been a reliable presence when tracking back and covering his full-back, showing a level of work rate and awareness that Evra has clearly appreciated.
Januzaj's ability to go fast and wide to cross or cut inside to contribute to the build up play through the centre will be vitally important for ensuring Rooney and van Persie are not starved of service and support in attack.
On the right, Valencia will be expecting to harass opponents and drive to the byline, with his crossing ability slowly beginning to return to form.
The link-up play between United's wingers, full-backs and forwards will be the deciding factor in whether Moyes can overcome Arsenal at Old Trafford.
Strikers: Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie
Everything hinges on United's two star strikers and their excellent understanding up front.
While van Persie will lead the line, Rooney will be required to drop back into midfield. His roaming runs in search of the ball should act like a reinforcement of Carrick's and Fellaini's positions in the middle with Arsenal's players likely to overload the middle of the park.
Rooney's tendency to drop deep will also be useful for bringing Januzaj, Valencia, Evra and Rafael into play, linking up the various elements of United's counter-attack into a fully fledged goal threat.
Last year it was said that van Persie's goals won United the title with the club's midfield nowhere near the level it needs to be.
Arsenal's visit to Old Trafford could prove to be a microcosm of that idea, and the Dutchman must be at his best to snaffle any opportunity that comes his way.
How Will United Line Up Against Arsenal?
Here is how Moyes could set up his side to face Arsenal at home in the Premier League:
GK: De Gea
DF: Rafael, Jones, Vidic, Evra
MF: Valencia, Carrick, Fellaini, Januzaj
ST: van Persie
Expect to see United drop back into two rigid banks of four when out of possession with the whole team springing forward to counter when the opportunity arises.
As already mentioned in the previous slides, the team's wide play will decide whether or not they will be able to consistently trouble Arsenal rather than just rely on individual brilliance.
That will play its part, too, however, and both Rooney and van Persie will need to be on match-winning form in order to put the Gunners in their place.
Fellaini could be key. His ability to break up play and bully opposing midfielders could be exactly what's needed to restrain Ramsey and Ozil, but discipline will be key, especially considering his dismissal for a second yellow card against Real Sociedad in the week.
United can win this game, but to do so they must rise to the level of champions elect with Arsenal, for once looking like the real deal at the top of the table.
Prediction: United 2-1 Arsenal