You would be hard pressed to find Premier League coverage this season that has not involved Arsenal or Manchester United storylines. With United searching for momentum while Arsenal is aiming to keep theirs, Wednesday’s encounter could very well be season-defining.
As the biggest club in the country and arguably the world, United have fallen from grace. Despite recent Europa League success and strong domestic form last term, this season is categorically average. Currently sitting seventh in the table and one of only two sides in the top-half with negative goal difference (-1), Jose Mourinho has overseen a current period of regression not even Louis van Gaal or David Moyes could have perpetrated.
Arsenal, on the other hand, is enjoying a period of growth; rebirth even. Though the final two years of Arsene Wenger’s reign were not nearly as bad as the media and fanbase loved to suggest, a change was required. It certainly has been what most of us wished for.
After a scintillating result against that lot down the road at the weekend, Unai Emery’s troops are just one point from third, not having tasted defeat since matchday two. The only dropped points since have come in only three of the subsequent twelve fixtures.
Though the point differential in the table is substantial, the current form of the protagonists in Wednesday’s clash at Old Trafford is not too dissimilar. Arsenal has picked up twelve points from a possible eighteen in their last six fixtures (3-3-0), while United have hauled nine from the same amount (2-1-3). During this period, both sides earned a credible win against Bournemouth, while United drew Chelsea and Arsenal gaining a point against Liverpool. The pair, however, would also share struggles against Palace, a fixture they both drew. Further points eluding them against bottom-half opposition with Arsenal ending level against Wolves and United being held by Southampton.
Arsenal’s Dominant Chance Creators
When you crunch some of the numbers heading into Wednesday’s tie, both Arsenal and United have allowed a worryingly high amount of chances relative to the number they create. Arsenal is slightly better than their counterparts in this regard, but their 146 shots generated from open play barely overshadows the 141 they have allowed. Such figures are hardly supporting the notion that results will remain sustainable without additional work.
In comparison, Mourinho’s men have fashioned 133 attempts but allowed 134, which makes for a frustrating read for the Red Devils faithful. The Gunners have created just a shade under one additional chance per match during the run of play over the course of the league campaign; our twenty-three goals to United’s fourteen being the major difference between the two.
Despite similar shots generated, it should not come as a surprise why our goal record is markedly better. Arsenal can boast six players whose KP90 (passes leading to a shot per 90min) is 1.76 or better, five of whom are 2.13 or higher. Perhaps surprisingly, one of them is Sead Kolasinac, whose marauding runs as a left wing back have given him a new lease on life at the Emirates. In contrast, United struggle mightily in this area, boasting just three players to hit the 1.50 mark, and only one of them eclipsing 2.00; Alexis Sanchez at 2.84, which is better than any Arsenal player apart from Danny Welbeck.
Shots do not always indicate a high-quality chance created, but what it does lend weight to is that we are finding our goal threats far more regularly than our opposition. Data collected shows Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexandre Lacazette, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all averaging 2.67 shots/90min or better. The result is PEA (10) leading the Premier League goal charts, and Lacazette (6) also featuring in the top ten, one goal behind the likes of Eden Hazard, Mohamed Salah, and Callum Wilson, despite a decent chunk of his appearances coming from the substitutes bench.
Even more encouraging are the struggles of Aubameyang’s opposite number. Despite Romelu Lukaku’s impressive overall strike rate for club and country, the big Belgian is in danger of registering his worst goal return since he became a Premier League regular. After finding the net four times in United’s opening five league fixtures, he has only added one to his tally in his eight appearances since, this past weekend away against Soton; it was his first strike since the fifteenth of September.
There Is No Better Time Than Now
United are there for the taking. Beyond their struggle for consistent goalscoring, their poor defensive record should boost our confidence. No team in the top half of the table have allowed more goals (23) than Mourinho and co, and only the bottom five sides in the league have surrendered more at the other end.
If there are concerns, it is the notion that this fixture is a symbol of much pain and disappointment. Since the 2007/08 season, Arsenal has managed just five wins in all competitions against United, and an additional six draws, for an overall record of 5-6-16. Only one of those five wins came at OT, during the 2014/15 FA Cup quarterfinals. To compound matters, of teams we have featured against fifty times or more, United stand as our second-worst record against; 34-27-45 (32.1% win ratio).
But history is just that, and new chapters will undoubtedly be written. There is surely no better time to take on one of our biggest domestic rivals. If one thing is certain, it is that we will not be losing 8-2.