Arsenal vs Manchester United: 3 key battles

The upcoming showdown between Arsenal and Manchester United is set to be decided by a series of key battles across the pitch.

The Gunners and Red Devils, of course, are set to go face off in the headline fixture of the upcoming Premier League weekend.

Sitting pretty at the summit of England’s top-flight, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal will welcome United to north London, in the knowledge that a victory will not only strengthen their position in top spot, but all but bring to an end to the feint title hopes of their upcoming opponents.

On the flip side, should Manchester United emerge from the Emirates triumphant, they will close the gap on Arsenal to a far from insurmountable five points.

Safe to say, then, that a whole lot is riding on the eventual outcome in England’s capital on Sunday evening.

In turn, we at 101 have taken a look at where the clash could be won or lost, based on individual battles between the two sets of players.

Marcus Rashford vs Ben White

Should Arsenal hope to hold Manchester United at bay across the 90 minutes on Sunday, then keeping the electric Marcus Rashford in check is likely to prove the key.

Wide-man Rashford has of course established himself as one of European football’s most in-form players over the course of the last couple of weeks, spearheading United’s resurgence courtesy of a scintillating stretch in front of goal.

All told, across his last eight appearances, the rejuvenated English international has directly contributed to ten goals.

Will such production, though, be thwarted by Ben White?

Big-money Arsenal stopper White has himself enjoyed an excellent term to date, slotting in at right-back under the watch of Mikel Arteta with absolutely minimal fuss.

Significantly when it comes to the Gunners’ hopes this weekend, the former Brighton standout has also come out on top in more or less every one of his individual battles with opposing wingers, a record which set to be put firmly to the test against fellow countryman Rashford.

Martin Odegaard vs Fred(?)

Turning attentions towards the other end of the pitch, from a United perspective, integral to stopping the Arsenal juggernaut in north London will be keeping quiet the man who makes the Gunners tick - in Martin Odegaard.

Norwegian international Odegaard has taken his game to a new level across the season thus far, standing as, in the eyes of more than a few, the Premier League’s standout midfielder.

Almost all that Arteta’s side does well is funnelled through their captain and chief creator, whose tally of four goals and three assists in his last five appearances will undoubtedly serve as a source of concern for Erik ten Hag on Sunday.

Just how, then, will Manchester United’s widely praised boss go about limiting Odegaard’s influence?

The Red Devils’ best chance at doing so was of course eliminated in heartbreaking fashion in midweek, when midfield mainstay Casemiro was suspended for his side’s trip to the Emirates, owing to an accumulation of yellow cards.

The onus, as a result, looks most likely to fall on the shoulders of Fred.

Despite no longer acting as first-choice in Manchester, Brazilian international Fred has been routinely praised for his performances when afforded the chance to impress over the course of the last couple of months.

He, in turn, could well be tasked with a man-marking job of sorts on Odegaard at the Emirates, the success of which will prove absolutely crucial to United’s chances of emerging with all three points.

Eddie Nketiah vs Lisandro Martinez

Whilst other battles across the pitch on Sunday may well prove of a more high-profile nature, the importance of Eddie Nketiah to Arsenal’s fortunes against Manchester United cannot be understated.

Without Gabriel Jesus for an extended stretch owing to a knee injury picked up late last year, the leaders in England’s top-flight have been forced to rely on their backup centre-forward on a far more regular basis than would have been hoped heading into the campaign.

To his credit, though, particularly of late, Nketiah has stepped up to the task.

Five goals in his last six have seen Arsenal’s oft-criticised frontman take his tally for the campaign to a none-too-shabby seven goals, enough for a share of the top scorer title in Mikel Arteta’s squad.

What last weekend’s North London Derby proved, however, is that, on his day, Nketiah is capable of providing so much more than just goals.

Linking midfield to attack and dragging defenders out of their favoured positions time and time again, the 23-year-old proved a perhaps unexpected thorn in the side of Tottenham’s backline all evening long.

Will he be able to do the same up against a pairing of Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane, though?

The former, for the most part, is expected to be tasked with keeping tabs on Nketiah at the Emirates, with Martinez’s ability to will opposing centre-forwards into submission now a central component of Manchester United’s setup.

Nketiah’s ability to not only act as a central outlet, but get in behind the defensive line will be put to the ultimate test by United’s no-nonsense central defensive pairing on Sunday.

Should Martinez manage to shut the Englishman down, though, then Arsenal may well be forced into an overly heavy reliance on possession out wide.

Whatever ultimately proves to be the case, a fascinating encounter no doubt awaits in north London...

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Conor Laird

Conor Laird

Die-hard Juventus fan with a love for all things Italian, and a real soft spot for Arsenal cult heroes. Emmanuel Eboue, Nicklas Bendtner, Philippe Senderos... Give them all statues outside the Emirates.

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