Thoughts On The Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Manchester United

Nothing like a big game to get over big disappointment, eh!

The beauty of these kinds of games is that it can work both ways. If Arsenal can get a positive result this will turn out to be the perfect end to a couple of disappointing weeks and set up a tantalizing endgame. If the Gunners fail it will turn a bad period into a disastrous one.

Before I get into any thoughts about this game I want to reiterate a simple fact. Under Wenger, Arsenal have scored more than one goal in a game at Old Trafford only once, that was in the 03 FA Cup. So don’t expect too many goals from the Gunners in this one.

Arguably, United are in their own spot of bother at the moment after two successive League defeats against the other two teams that formed the erstwhile ‘big four’. They also have some key players missing. Kung-fu specialist and central defender, Rio Ferdinand, will miss this game along with Nani who suffered a deep gash to his shin from a shocking tackle at Anfield. I’m not sure about this but Park Ji-Sung, who has been Arsenal’s nemesis of late, is also likely to be out of the squad. This game might also come too soon for Antonio Valencia who is returning from an injury usually reserved for the Gunners.

It seems safe to say that both teams have a lot at stake in this fixture. If we go by the FA Cup history, the teams have alternated wins in the last few years. United embarrassed a makeshift Arsenal side in 07-08. Interestingly, all eleven of that Ferguson side are still at Old Trafford and many are likely to start again tomorrow. Arsenal had won the 04-05 Final on penalties after losing the 03-04 semi-final during the invincibles year. If we go by the theory of alternating success Arsenal are due a win and that suits me just fine.

More recently and in all competitions though, Arsenal have been quite poor against the hosts losing five and winning none of the last six meetings between the sides. Having successfully beaten other big sides like Chelsea, City, and even Barcelona (at least in the home leg) this season, one could consider that United are logically the next scalp on the list as this squad matures and improves.

Tactically, I expect United to play a similar game to Sunderland. Only they have much better players, superior counter-attacking tactics, quality on the crosses, and impeccable discipline and organization at the back. Without Nani and Valencia though, they’re likely to miss the X-factor that has troubled Arsenal a lot. It will be interesting to see whether Fergie goes for Berbatov or Hernandez. The first choice will be a positive, high technical quality option whereas the Mexican will represent pace and a counter-attacking philosophy. In either case, Giggs and Rooney are likely to be the key players for the hosts.

It is not difficult to understand the reasons behind Arsenal’s lack of goal-scoring success at Old Trafford. Most teams find it hard to break down Ferguson’s system. They’ll not give Arsenal any room to breathe. The following image is just a random example from the last game but for the duration of this game, whenever Arsenal get the ball, one can be certain that the United players will get tight on their man.

While defending Manchester United’s defenders will be just around or inside their penalty box with the midfielders diligently marking the space in front. They’ll try to force Arsenal wide at all times as the Gunners are weaker when attacking from the flanks.

I’m also quite curious to see Arsene Wenger’s tactics for this game. Le Boss claimed that he did not send his team out just to defend at the Camp Nou but the players found it hard to get past Barcelona’s asphyxiating pressing in the first half. It wasn’t exactly the same but still quite similar to the problem Arsenal had at Old Trafford earlier this season where they did a decent job of defending in the first half but couldn’t really create anything of significance.

For a while now, Arsenal’s weakness has been in finding the right balance between attack and defence. This season the tactical system seems to have worked fairly well against smaller teams and Arsenal have cut out the counter attacking opportunities offered to the big sides in the previous couple of years, but the Gunners haven’t found the right balance against the top sides, especially away from home. This has led to a great deal of pressure on the back five and an odd mistake/goal before half-time, which is enough to decide such a tie.

If Arsenal go with a cautious approach in this game, neither side will create too many clear-cut chances. It will then boil down to an individual mistake or a moment of genius.

The mistake, if it happens, is likely to come from some confusion among Arsenal’s back five as Almunia hasn’t played regularly this season. The Gunners will be fine if he adopts the Szczesny approach and leaves bulk of the work for the defenders while focusing on saving anything that comes his way. United will put in some dangerous balls into the box and the defenders will have to take charge of the situation.

Both sides have three or four players capable of creating a moment of magic. Arsenal’s likely front three, Nasri-RvP-Arshavin, can all produce something out of nothing and the same can be said about the likes of Giggs, Rooney, and Berbatov. The past and the future of England’s midfield will also have a say on the game.

I expect the following starting line-up,

Almunia – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy – Diaby, Wilshere, Denilson – Nasri, RvP, Arshavin.

Arsene might play Nasri in the middle for either Denilson or Diaby and bring Eboue on the right. That way Arsenal will have a fresher pair of legs on the pitch and Nasri will see more of the ball. When the Frenchman plays on the flanks and the midfield struggles to bring the ball out, he is rendered ineffective for periods of the game.

On the other hand, as Nasri tends to dwell on the ball a bit more and likes to run with it, the team’s passing and movement is not the same when he plays down the middle.

It’s a tricky decision for Arsene and both strategies could work or back-fire so we’ll just have to see how the game plays out.

Chris Foy is the ref so I don’t have any hopes of a controversy free game. Depending on your perspective, a massive blunder or an instance of genius could come from the ref.

Arsenal’s recent away record isn’t very good whereas United’s home record is enviable to say the least. My suggestion is don’t watch this game expecting a thriller or a comprehensive Arsenal win. At best the Gunners are likely to get a scrappy win but I’ll be more than happy with a draw.

With the replay scheduled for next Friday that will lead to the postponement of both sides’ League games. In that case, Arsenal could benefit in both competitions. Ferguson will send his team out to settle this game tomorrow and Arsenal will have to defend against an onslaught if United aren’t winning in the final quarter of the game. Since the hosts haven’t played in mid-week they’re likely to finish this tie stronger. Arsenal will have to do most of their work early in order to make a record 27th appearance in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

Here’s hoping for that fraction of luck that the Gunners deserve.

39 Responses to Thoughts On The Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Manchester United

  1. crazygunner says:

    nice article with deni starting the game i expect arsenal to be a tad slow at the middle.if abou plays as well as i know he can then the win would be sure.i would love arshi to play the cesc role……have a nice day gunners….

  2. arvind says:

    Hi Desi

    What about throwing on Ramsey at some point? I think that he can add a new dimension to our attack and he does well with wilshere. may be yes as a sub, but lets see.

    I hope we win…God we need a pick me up so badly!

    • desigunner says:

      Yeah he could come on as a sub but he has been away from this level for so long that it’ll be tough. Wenger hasn’t been able to ease him in. The Orient game would have been perfect but unfortunately he was cup tied.

      • arvind says:

        I think for the team, seeing him come on will be an emotional lift and that might be enough to take us over. I guess a tight game. Man u scores first..,.. we score late….a draw would be my prediction. If so, no worries, we kill em at the Emirates!

  3. Kubla Khan says:

    Man United will win this match. In the next few matches, expect howlers from Almunia. United are great at battling, at grinding results. One remembers Arsenal leading 4 -2 against Spurs two years ago and it was the 89 th minute and the match ended 4 -4. Afterwards Wenger said that the team should have gone for the 5th goal.
    Wenger is his own caricature now, his own parody.

    I hear rumours that he will sign Lehmann as goalie cover! I hope this is rubbish. Wenger is like Gaddafi or even Comical Ali, believing his own fantasies, his own rhetoric. I pray Arsenal finish 2nd in the league. That will be a great thing for this team that lacks balls. I also hood Wenger learns humility, which he showed a lack of, after the Barca match. Instead of bowing to them, he blamed the referee.


  4. Charlie says:

    Desi you mention that United might finish stronger but they need to win on Tuesday night or they will be out of the Champions League and Arsenal have had 4 days to recover which is surely long enough. Fergie might feel the need to rest players, can Giggs and Scholes complete two full intense matches in 3 days ? Also without Nani or Valencia he doesn’t really have the players to go for the jugular even if he wants it to be over in the first tie, other than the strikers. I predict a draw and Arsenal winning the replay.

    • desigunner says:

      I don’t watch the French League much so not sure how good Marseilles are. Will United be worried about a home game against them?

      • Charlie says:

        I hate to be right when we’re losing but as i said, Giggs and Scholes can’t last the 90mins and play against Marseille so he’s gone with full backs to provide some threat on the wings. Boring boring Man U playing defensive at home. Denilson really adds nothing with his poor covering, poor tackling and 10 foot passing, normally backwards.

  5. Charlie says:

    sorry, 2 games in 4 days and they would earn extra time with a 0-0 after 90mins on Tuesday. Still difficult balace for them

  6. goonerabroad says:

    I think it will be interesting to see how much Foy lets Fletcher get away with, you know that he will be there kicking and fouling, hope he tries it on Jack as he will give as good as he gets

  7. augustus ighonmieyetan says:

    united 0-2 arsenal…i expect d gunners to win u will missing js park and nani.these are united most dangerous players against d gunnerz in recent years.they are a big big loss for sir Alex

  8. Gomih says:

    We pray to defeat them and i no we can do it.

  9. D-Gooner says:

    Even though I do not agree with the line up as I would prefer Aaron Ramsey any day of the week than Diaby or Denilson, it’s a good read as always. Check out my blog @ there will also be posters from time to time… currently available is a welcome back poster of Aaron Ramsey… thx

  10. Dr Boris says:

    I have come to believe Arsene Wenger is doing a very good job at Arsenal.The lose to Barca didn’t pain me because arsenal would have qualified if not for bussacca,the ref.Well,i believe we can win man u.Just keep the faith.Go gooners

  11. dw says:

    . . . . . . Almuina
    Sagna. . Dj. .kos. .clichy
    . . . . Diaby. .wilshere
    . . . . . . .ramsey
    Nasri. . . . . . . . .ashavin
    . . . . . . . .RVP

  12. peter parker says:


    really good to see someone eating humble pie, if not directly admitting that.

    In my comments to previous post re spare a thought for players, I made the point with regards to lack of balance in the side in terms of attack and defence (square pegs in round holes!). This stems from the fact that there are lack of adequate quality cover in the key areas hence people are asked to fill in instead of naturally fitting in.

    Second admission was being flat track bullies and found wanting against quality opposition, which you indirectly admitted here! Thank you.

    That goes to show that you read and listen (unlike our dear manager) though admission will come in time!

    I may not be a football manager or free enough to write my own blog, but like many others fans, have enough knowledge of the game to have an informed opinion based on facts.

    Thank you

  13. alphie says:

    desi…excellent post as is ur standard.

    an honest opinion…i believe diaby with an excellent run in the side and the competition jack and ramsey will offer will bring the best out of him.

    BUT….DENILSON….will be competing with frimpong and francis of lorient for back up. i think denilson has ablility but i cant see apart from short accurate passes that keep the build up ticking and long distance shooting. what is his real qualities. i believe denilson is similar to parker of WEST HAM but hasnt developed yet. the denilson who arrived and the one now…is it a total lack of games or what….he’s the only player in this arsenal squad i cant put my analysis on…

    i think todays line up will be influenced on fitness more than anything else…midfield onwards will be the selection headache.

    i’d also love to see ramsey get atleast 30 minutes irrespective of how the scoreline is….

  14. Baskar says:

    Desi i think without their Wingers ManU s not the same. I also believe our defense is pretty good. In my opinion despite their positions in the field, If Wilshere and Nasri see a lot of ball I cant see why we win this one. No Nani, No Park. It all depends on ManU’s tactics. I honestly believe we’ve a shout at this one.

  15. Arun says:

    My prediction is a 0-0 draw or a 1-0 win for Arsenal. I’m totally convinced, we can keep a clean sheet if not for a howler at the back. With the make shift defense they have, I feel we can score. Full backs are their strengths so we need to break them through the middle and at the same time, we need to take Fletcher out of the equation. That should be our strategy.

  16. JP says:

    This team has no balls. Koscienly is shit, he has cost us imeasurably.

  17. critic says:

    Same old arsenal. Players looked tired after 2nd goal of utd went in.

    I have never turned off my tv before completion of the match before. It was so predictable. Game of 1st goal. Injury, blah blah.

    In a way we should thank utd for putting us out of our misery. Arsenal should focus only on title from next season. Play loanees in every cup. That way we can go with relatively less injuries.

    • critic says:

      Man o man, we can’t even beat 2nd grade utd. This is totally amazing!!!! A lot of players were just jogging in the park after the 2nd goal went in.

      It must have been a pain for u desi to watch the whole game.

      Thank you sagna. Who needs djorou anyway.

    • critic says:

      Sorry, but really frustrated.

  18. peterparker78 says:


    don’t say a word about Koscielny on this blog, he is the most improved defender and one of the best Wenger bought. You should not criticize Denilson either for attempting half hearted tackles in the middle of the park and then casually jogging towards own penalty area while letting the runner get away for the first goal. Wenger says he does not get the credit he deserves; I am sure ManU are grateful for leaving the middle of the park open for their counter attack.
    However, brace yourself for another article and criticism about referee for his poor performance and how much possession we had and how many shots on goals we had but these same people were writing couple of days ago about Barca possession and shots on goals that it meant nothing.

    Now Djourou is out for possibly 6 weeks if not longer, the title is going down the drain as well with Squallaci and Koscielny as our main defenders and Vermaelen out. Board and Wenger can stick all the profit up their arses for not signing defenders and defensive midfielders when we needed most.

  19. arvind says:

    3 cups gone in 2 weeks. wow.
    Wenger needed to improve the team and buy new players. the team is too shallow in depth.

    we are always hanging by a string.
    Its true what Mourinho said….AW is under no pressure to win titles at his club. The board see him as great as he saves the club money and lines all the pockets of the up aboves. This is disgraceful.

    • peterparker78 says:

      He will not buy and even if he does, it will be shit like Squallaci and Koscielny and Chamakh again, welcome to the bargain basement my friend.

      It’s not only Mourinho who said that, Pep said the same as many others. Board are happy with the profits and he is happy to walk away with 5 millions in salary every year, and players like Denilson, Diably, Rosicky, Koscielny etc with 50,000 per week in salary, so why should the change or bother leaving. Those stupids who buy season tickets need to wake up and stop doing so for board and Wenger to realise. With all the teams wobbling around us, this was a great chance to win something this year but it’s not going to be. Don’t expect United and Chelsea, City and Spurs to sit back and do nothing in the transfer window while our dear manager is sitting on his laurels.

  20. Charlie says:

    I was amazed that United sat back at home and it shouldn’t have worked. It worked because Denilson made no contribution in an attacking sense and because he didn’t track his players as a defensive midfielder. The best you can hope for from him is that he doesn’t make a mistake. It worked because Song is injured and there is nobody to replace him. It also worked because the finishing was not good enough and Arshavin having a sulk shortly before being substituted, trudging around the pitch and not trying, is unacceptable. The positive to take from this is that Ramsey is back and Denilson should never be picked again, but he will be. Chamakh needs a goal, he was very bad today in front of goal. We do need many new signings but should still win the league, this current United team is nothing, it’d be terrible to let them be Champions.

  21. Claver says:


    Denilson not playing doesn’t make Wilshere any better.

    Is Wilshere to take over Fabregas? Lol.

    What a waste, all hype and hot air.

    Wenger’s insistence on playing Wilshere in the middle instead of Denilson has backfired!!

    How on earth will Wenger defend this colossal collapse?

    0 OUT OF 3.

    Wenger get rid of Pat Rice for crying out loud. How can someone so close not see the flawed tactics?

    It was obvious ManU would defend. Why not take it back to the Emirates?

    Come on Arsene, your Assistant is your worst enemy!!!

  22. Charlie says:

    What some of you fools don’t seem to realise is the difference between defending with 10 men and defending with 4. That’s what we saw today. If you want to complain then mention the tactics, the fact that we let them sit back and pick us off. The attacking players were clearly better than those Man U players that you’re so jealous of. The defensive players were made to look bad because they were usually left 3 vs 3 or worse. If you want to see a more defensive Arsenal team then fair enough state your case but FFS stop just saying that all the players are c**p (except Denilson who clearly is) because it just shows how little you know about football. Besides all that Arsenal had enough clear chances to score more than 2 goals, the finishing let us down today.

  23. Charlie says:

    Incidentally Claver, if you think Wilshere is anything other than brilliant you probably thought Thierry Henry was a donkey too, fooool.

  24. Claver says:


    I’m assuming you ARE an Arsenal supporter, so I won’t say anything bad about you personally. I’ll overlook your insult. It’s child-ish.

    I think that Wilshere is FAR from brilliant. He should be on the bench. Arsenal is not Bolton.

    As far as I’m concerned Henry is the best player to have ever played in the EPL to date.

    The likes of RvP, Nasri, Arshavin, Rosicky, Wilshere etc are nowhere near his level and consistency.

    These guys are too fragile, too hyped with average ability.

    The only breakthrough ability I see, in my view, are Walcott, Koscielny, Ramsey and Djourou.

    The rest are just too fragile, too inconsistent and lacking in guts.

    However, if we keep these guys for next season and add to the squad we should do well.

    As well as get rid of Pat Rice. Too many opposing teams know our tactics too well.

  25. alphie says:

    i mean DESI come on….u’ve got at some point to admit denilson is shit for this arsenal team. he is STILL a GOOD PLAYER but he IS NOT A DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD PLAYER.

    i believe denilson is not a defensive midfielder but credit where its due…he’s improved his tackling and a bit of strength but sadly for me its not enough.

    how can ramsey who’s been out for so long just come on and play way better than him…

    DESI …RESPOND TO THIS POST PLEASE…i wish denilson all the best, i’d honestly track his progress with another team.

  26. […] Thoughts On The Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Manchester United Nothing like a big game to get over big disappointment, eh! […]

  27. Charlie says:

    I’m sorry for being ‘childish’ but what i really consider childish is the constant criticism of every player in the squad. This hasn’t been a bad season and yet some fans behave like it’s been a disaster. i just hope they are big enough to hang their heads in shame and admit they were wrong when this team wins the Premiership but I suspect that they still won’t be happy. The lack of support is a disgrace, just my opinion. Have a long chat with a Liverpool fan and perhaps it’ll put things into perspective. Now we’re writing off a 19yo lad in our team who’s almost first choice for England already, FFS. That’s just insane.

  28. Claver says:


    Apology accepted. Perhaps my criticism is out of order. However, even you must admit that his performances have been lacklustre of late.

    My point is that for him to have a regular first team spot he must add something to the team. At th emoment he isn’t adding anything that makes a difference to the team.

    2009-10 we had Denilson scoring goals for us, he was on the way up. Now, we have put Wilshere in there who seems to need special attention.

    i.e Wilshere plays best with Song, or with Fabregas etc.

    Denilson went many games without Song or Fabregas but played consistently at a high level.

    If we were winning these games I’d have no problems with Wilshere. But we aren’t even creating as many opportunities as we were at the start of the season.

    Wilshere should have a couple of assists by now, even goals. But nada.

    What’s happened is that Arshavin, Nasri and Song are having to track back to cover positions vacated by Wilshere but if our central mid was strong enough to close out passes there wouldn’t be that problem.

    More than anyone else, Wilshere has been in the middle this year. That has cost us badly. Goals have been drying up and gaps appearing in the center.

    Arsenal are completely different from Bolton. The players surrounding Wilshere at Arsenal are more mobile, changing positions fluidly, whereas at Bolton the players were more static and defensive.

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