Ole Gunnar Solskjaer takes charge of Manchester United for the 100th time on Sunday, and though the Norwegian approaches a landmark centurion status, the 47-year-old continues to divide opinion.
In the opposite dugout at Old Trafford this weekend, Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta will stand on shaky, but common ground.
Like Solskjaer, the Spaniard has seen his lack of experienced weaponised and used against him following the Gunners’ lacklustre start to the 2020/21 campaign, and with dissenting voices becoming more audible, both managers will feel they have points to prove and critics to silence.
Check out our compressive match preview of Sunday’s game in our Manchester United vs Arsenal predictions.
2020 records paint promising picture
In a landscape where negativity is the big seller, much of Solskjaer and Arteta’s good work this year has been swept aside to allow the headline spinning off-days to take centre-stage, though a glance at Man Utd and Arsenal’s respective records in 2020 reveals reasons for optimism.
In terms of overall results, only Man City have won more games than United and Arsenal since January 1st in all competitions, while champions Liverpool (57) and Pep Guardiola’s Citizens (48) are the only teams to have gathered more Premier League points in the calendar year so far (United 42, Arsenal 41).
In 2019/20, Arteta led Arsenal to their first piece of silverware in three years when the Gunners landed the FA Cup, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer masterminded a third place Premier League finish for United with the division’s youngest team, and reached the semi-finals of three other competitions.
However, the hordes of detractors were adamant that good wasn’t good enough, dismissing talk of platforms to build on and upward trajectories, and this season, the pressure on both managers has been cranked into overdrive after stuttering domestic starts.
Unflattering comparisons between Mikel Arteta’s and compatriot Unai Emery’s first 26 games in charge have also emboldened critics regularly taking aim at Arsenal’s style of play and lack of verve in the final third under their newest Spanish boss, and the Gunners’ poor attacking output is one of the biggest talking points ahead of Sunday’s game.
While results in Arteta’s and Emery’s first 26 fixtures were largely similar, the drop off in the Gunners’ numbers up front jump off the page, and away from the raw data, Arsenal do look a little ponderous and unimaginative in the flesh.
With a frontline sprinkled heavily with underperforming big names, and a style of play out of sync with the Gunners’ attacking traditions, Arteta will need more than defensive improvements to win over his swelling band of faultfinders.
Keep up to date with the latest odds and shifting favourites in our continually updated Premier League sack race feature here.
Creative absence thwarts Aubameyang
This season, the sparkle in Arsenal’s forward play has been dimming even further, and their diminishing returns as a team have run parallel alongside the alarming subdual of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
With the usually prolific Gabon international so uncharacteristically out of sorts, only Crystal Palace (7.7), Newcastle United (8.2) and West Brom (8.2) are averaging fewer attempts on goal per Premier League game than Arsenal (8.8) this season.
From an individual stats perspective, Aubameyang’s numbers have halved this term, dropping from 2.6 attempts on goal per game in 2019/20 to just 1.3 per appearances for the current season.
With fewer opportunities to score, the 31-year-old has notched just once in six Premier League appearances in 2020/21, while his current run of just one goal in seven runouts in all competitions is Aubameyang’s worst spell since he joined the Gunners from Borussia Dortmund in 2018.
Over at bet365, they have price up with a unique market, allowing customers to predict and back their estimated 2020/21 Premier League season goal totals for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Check out FST’s predictions for the striker’s haul below.
Winterburn attempts to solve the puzzle
Speaking to FST this week, Arsenal legend Nigel Winterburn attempted to shed some light on why Auba’s goals have dried up, saying:
“It is hard to say whether he would be more effective playing down the middle because he has been pushed wide to fit in Alexandre Lacazette.
“However right now, Lacazette is going through a dry patch in terms of scoring goals and not being that game changer for Arsenal that he once was.
“You have to consider that maybe he is not getting the service into the box, so when your team isn’t creating as many chances, there is always the claim that Aubameyang should play through the middle and be the main centre forward.
“Arsenal have many options in the wide areas, with the likes of Pepe, Willian and the Bukayo Saka. Mikel Arteta may look at it and think it hasn’t been working and change it.
“The fans will be rightly frustrated because he is the top goal scorer and currently, he is not putting the ball in the back of the net, not just because he is playing out wide, there is a lot more to it than that.”
From the outside at least, it looks as though Aubameyang – who scored at least 20 league goals in each of his last six campaigns – is being stunted by a system still leaning heavily on the defensive foundations laid by Arteta in the opening months of his tenure, and a low-scoring overall campaign for the rapid forward could follow.
FST’s Manchester United vs Arsenal #OddsOnThat
- Man Utd win,
- Over 2.5 goals,
- Rashford anytime,
- Partey & Shaw carded
With confidence soaring following their equal parts unexpected and scintillating 5-0 hammering of RB Leipzig in mid-week, Manchester United will have exorcised a few demons at the Theatre of Dreams.
Winless at Old Trafford this season until Wednesday’s five-goal showing, United should finally have a spring their step at home to the Gunners on Sunday, and with Arsenal’s key-performer Aubameyang looking a shadow of his former self, the Red Devils are favoured to triumph.
Eight of Manchester United’s nine competitive games this season have featured three or more goals, and the host’s penchant for mixing dynamic attacking play with moments of absurd defending should ensure we are treated to goals again on Sunday.
Mid-week hattrick hero Marcus Rashford will be wielding a potent cocktail of self-belief and energy this week, having played just 27 Champions League minutes against Die Roten Bullen, and with the 22-year-old’s nose for the big occasion well-established, we fancy him to make his mark again.
Lastly, while United/Arsenal rivalry doesn’t burn quite as ferociously as it once did, we’ve picked out two players worth keeping an eye on the card market for Sunday.
Hard-hitting fullback Luke Shaw has already been cautioned twice this season, and the 25-year-old has collected a bone-crunching 21 yellow cards overall in his last 54 Premier League appearances.
On the opposite side of the dividing line, Thomas Partey will be keen to make an impact in the biggest game of his Arsenal career to date, though the no-nonsense’s Ghanaian has already been booked twice in just three run-outs for his new club, and the 27-year-old has a disciplinary record as long as the reach of his tackles during his career overall.
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