What a difference a year can make- at the end of last year’s Premier League season, arsenal had slipped out of the top four and into a Europa league spot in fifth place, while Manchester United had just barely hung onto their spot in sixth. Now, the Gunners have a commanding lead atop the table, while United are in third, viewed by many as one of the few remaining teams with a chance of sorts to challenge for the trophy. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for this big-time Premier League Sunday clash.
Arsenal vs. Manchester United Odds
The league leaders are -115 favorites at home, while the visitors United have +310 odds and the draw is set at +285. For a goalscoring line of 2.5, the over is set at -145, and the under at +115.
Arsenal vs. Manchester United Prediction & Pick
It’s another big match for Arsenal, but if they keep performing this way, there won’t be many big ones left; they’re on the verge of turning this year’s league into a true runaway. They’re not there yet, but another win against a top-tier opponent would put them just that much closer to securing their first Premier League title since the legendary “Invincibles” side of 2003-04. So far, they’ve done it on the strength of skipper Mikel Arteta’s excellent tactics, and a truly balanced roster of contributors. Arsenal have aced most tests thus far with flying colors, but this will be the first time in awhile that they’ve come up against a side that’s almost as hot as they are.
That side is Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United, who haven’t lost a match since returning from the World Cup, although they did follow up the huge win over hated rivals Man City with a shocking late draw against Crystal Palace. The success is a bit out of nowhere; the team of course has struggled for years, and had its occasional hiccups in the earlier parts of the season. But right now, they’re playing some great football, as all of the talent is finally coming together under the guidance of their new leader.
This match is a truly tough call; both teams are playing great football right now, but I’m inclined to side with the league leaders playing at home. I’m not sure I’m in love with the value of betting them in minus-odds, but Arsenal -115 is the only call to make; they’ve played better in just about every aspect of the game, and United will be missing Casemiro, probably their most influential player from end to end. For the same reason, I’m locked in on the under 2.5 goals at +115 wager, as I’m expecting Arsenal to eventually take the lead and sit back, making for a cagey, tentative matchup where the game doesn’t open up enough to let the goals really flow. It’ll be interesting to see if and how new signing Leandro Trossard impacts the match; if the winger is available and plays, will he help kick Arsenal’s attack into the next gear, or will there be some growing pains as he and his new team adjust to one another?
United Attack vs. Arsenal Defense
The most likely outcome to ruin my pick of a draw- and also to help the under- is United getting shut out. They’ve been in better form lately, but on a basic level, we’re looking at the 9th-highest scoring side in the league going up against the second-best defense. That’s not ideal from a United standpoint, and they’ll surely be anxious to get on the scoreboard, so let’s take a look at the guys who will be at the center of that pursuit. To start things off, we’ll go to the literal center; the striker position. Normally, that would be Anthony Martial’s spot, but he’s injured. He has returned to practice and might be in the squad for Sunday, but I wouldn’t imagine that he’ll start. Instead, it’ll be the towering Dutch newcomer Wout Weghorst, who made his team debut against Palace. Jadon Sancho is also hurt but has not trained recently; he’s out, so the wing options are essentially just Antony, who has had a bit of an uneven start to his United tenure, and Marcus Rashford, the hometown hero in absolutely phenomenal form as he’s scored in nearly every match since Christmas. The attack is in great form, as United have scored in every match since the post-World Cup restart, and have only twice been held to a single goal. The question is just whether or not they’ll be able to do it on the road against one of the top defenses in the league.
The defense in question just put together another big-time clean sheet in a rivalry match, as they held steady and blanked Tottenham all game long. That being said, Spurs surely did have some chances. Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was forced to be particularly outstanding, the man of the match by some accounts, as he held the shutout intact while making 7 saves on shots that generated a total of 2.55 xGOT. That’s not to say his defenders played poorly; the centre-back duo of Gabriel and William Saliba were generally effective, although it was neither player’s marquee performance of the season. The fullbacks, Oleksandr Zinchenko on the left and Ben White on the right, were a bit brighter, as they both defended well and contributed some nice progressive passes, both holding up the standard they’ve created for themselves over the course of the season. It wasn’t the best game of the year for Arsenal’s back line, despite the clean sheet, but they got the job done, against an attack more prolific than United’s. If they’re anywhere close to their best, they’ll be up to the task this weekend too.
The Midfield Battle
For United, one bigger issue than breaking Arsenal’s back line will be possessing the ball enough to hold it up in the attacking third. The Red Devils are missing their top midfielder, and potentially their best player, Brazil and formerly Real Madrid star Casemiro, as the box-to-box maestro was suspended as a result of his fifth booking of the season. This makes the recent season-ending injury of Donny van de Beek all the more painful; the Dutchman hasn’t had an excellent run at Old Trafford, but this would’ve been a good time to have him. In his stead, either Scott McTominay, or more likely Casemiro’s countryman Fred will step into that key role in United’s lineup; whoever it is, it’s not super probably that they’ll provide the same impact as the suspended star. The good news for United is that their other two starting midfielders, although they play much different roles than Casemiro, are both active and in good form. Bruno Fernandes should be up top at the CAM spot, linking the midfield to attack and I must begrudgingly say, doing a great job of it; he is in what is likely his best form since his explosive entrée into the Premier league several years ago. Lastly, there’s Christian Eriksen, one of the great feel-good stories in recent memory, who by far leads the team with 7 Premier League assists so far this season. This group is solid for sure, but there will be a major hole left behind by the team’s best new addition of the past summer.
They’ll be scrapping for possession against possibly the best midfield in the league this year, and maybe one of the two or three best in the World. Martin Ødegaard has been an absolute revelation in year 3 with the club; with a team-high 8 league goals and 5 assists as well, he’s truly been at the center of everything and is proving that he might just about be, as the catchy song says, the strongest of them all. The young Norweigan’s predecessor as captain, Granit Xhaka, is also having one of his better seasons, although it’s been somewhat overshadowed by those of his counterparts. His 3 goals and 4 assists put him on a pretty rarified pace by his own standards, although so much of what he brings to the table is not captured on the scoresheet. And lastly, in the middle we have Thomas Partey, who is also coming into his own in a huge way during his third season in North London. He’s established himself as one of the very best holding midfielders in the World, and has even begun to look a bit dangerous with the ball at his feet; he’s scored a couple of lovely goals this year, and almost had an absolute dandy of a volley go in against Spurs, but it instead rattled the frame and failed to hit the goalscoring over I projected for that match. All of that being said, there’s not a ton of depth; those are really the main contributors as far as true midfielders go, which may come back to bite Arsenal as the season drags on to its grueling, bitter end. But in this match specifically, they’ll all be healthy and able to give a solid 90’, meaning that this Arsenal team should be a true juggernaut.