When the wrapping paper on a brand new set of Premier League fixtures was eagerly ripped off back in June, Arsenal’s battle with Manchester United at the Emirates was viewed as a test; of both a title challenger’s credentials and a rebuilding project’s progression.
As the day for the Red Devils’ trip to London nears, few had Louis van Gaal’s visitors cast in the starring role, with Arsene Wenger’s club the work-in-progress.
However, elements of United’s season – Anthony Martial’s cosiness as a number nine and Chris Smalling’s calming defensive presence to name two – have caught the Premier League by surprise. The Dutchman now takes his troops to play the Gunners as league leaders for the first time in his tenure.
Meanwhile, in north London, the idea that Petr Cech’s signing alone was enough to propel the club back to greatness is being undermined by the manager’s decision to play the stopper’s understudy in the Champions League.
The public’s perceptional U-turn on the two clubs makes combining their squads into a Mix ‘n’ Match XI – a favourite Ladbrokes pastime – an interesting task.
Is Cech’s acquisition more important than United keeping hold of David De Gea? How much better off would the Gunners be had they landed the deadline-day capture of Martial instead?
These questions find definitive answers in the below combined XI, in which the Gunners pip their rivals as the most represented.
It’s surely a good omen for anyone looking to back Arsenal to win on Sunday, which Ladbrokes offer at 1/1, with United 13/5 outsiders and the draw at 5/2.
Anyone who watched David Ospina and/or Wojciech Szczesny’s Champions League performances this week will know that Cech’s presence between Arsenal’s sticks makes for a securer defence.
However, De Gea is making more top-flight saves per 90 minutes than his opposite number and is pulling off stops that seem impossible.
United’s injury woes at full-back help Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal push their case for inclusion, despite being hard pressed by Matteo Darmian. In between, Smalling – who is arguably England’s best centre-back these days – is joined by Arsenal’s undisputed back-line leader, Laurent Koscielny.
Morgan Schneiderlin, who fits the kind of midfield profile that the Gunners still lack, takes his place alongside creative-force Santi Cazorla around the centre circle, with the London side providing half of the forward line ahead of that pair.
Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez join up with Juan Mata and Martial in that department, leaving Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney kicking their heels on the sidelines.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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