The Manchester United defence has a point to prove against Arsenal
Over the past week many of the worst fears for this Manchester United side have been realised. Injuries to Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have exposed the lack of depth in attack while the midfield is unbalanced and lacking quality, especially when Paul Pogba is injured.
Solutions to those problems will not be straightforward to find and if all three of those players are missing when United take on Arsenal at Old Trafford on Monday, then it’s difficult to see how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side can find a way to win.
They’ve not scored more than one goal in 17 of their last 20 fixtures, and one of those three games where they did net at least twice was when two Pogba penalties beat West Ham at Old Trafford in April. With the World Cup winner unlikely to face the Gunners and Martial and Rashford also struggling, it’s difficult to see how United can plunder too many goals against Arsenal, even accounting for the defensive deficiencies of Unai Emery’s side.
So the pressure will be on the United defence, the one area of the team that does appear to be settled and reliable at the moment. A return for Luke Shaw in place of Ashley Young would give Solskjaer his first-choice back five, with David de Gea in goal and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire in the defence.
It’s a unit that had £125million spent on it in the summer, while De Gea and Lindelof have both signed lengthy contract extensions this month, as Shaw did last season.
All being well this will be United’s back four for years to come, so they need to prove they can be relied upon against Arsenal, who carry an attacking threat that can mask their defensive problems.
Even if United are to be successful this season then they will need that defence to shine. Wan-Bissaka has impressed since signing from Crystal Palace while £80million man Maguire has enjoyed a solid start to his United career, but the form of Lindelof will be a slight concern.
There have been signs that this defence can help to improve a wretched record at the back, with clean sheets against Chelsea and Leicester City at Old Trafford, although they are yet to keep the opposition out away from home this season.
The numbers suggest United’s defence has been performing this season. Their expected Goals Against (xGA) tally of 4.43 is second only to Manchester City, while they have an xGA per shot of 0.079, which shows the defence is restricting the opposition to low quality chances.
That was certainly evidenced against Leicester City in the last Premier League fixture at Old Trafford. After taking an early lead through Rashford’s penalty United were hanging on to an extent, but they did restrict the Foxes to very few opportunities, an impressive feat against a team that has already shown against Chelsea and Tottenham this season that it can hurt big-six sides.
The defensive unit will again be tested against Arsenal. Even if Alexandre Lacazette is still absent, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe have the quality to test the back four.
Fixtures between United and Arsenal have often turned into entertaining slugfests in the Premier League era, but there is a real sense that getting involved in such a back-and-forth battle will cost United on Monday night.
Instead they need their back four to again prove that defence is the one unit that is settled in Solskjaer’s squad.
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