Manchester United’s clash against Arsenal on Saturday already looks like it will have a massive impact on the rest of of their season.
If they win, it will go some way towards getting their rather shaky campaign back on track – if they lose, however, they risk losing further ground on the top of the Premier League and at that stage they would have collected just two points (assuming they even draw) in their matches against the Gunners, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool.
It’s a match that José Mourinho dare not lose, but he has a bit of a problem. His side has a number of injury concerns going into the Old Trafford clash – with reports this week claiming that as many as seven players could be out – and another makeshift starting eleven could be on the cards.
With that in mind, how should Mourinho line up against his most bitter foe Arsene Wenger this weekend?
David De Gea
No explanation necessary.
Right-Back: Matteo Darmian
Centre-Back: Phil Jones
Centre-Back: Daley Blind
Left-Back: Luke Shaw
In their last outing against Swansea, Manchester United played a backline of Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Michael Carrick and Matteo Darmian – it didn’t cost them at the Liberty Stadium but Arsenal’s attack could eat that alive.
The first-choice of Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling will both miss out, so it’s contingency plan time. In other circumstances Luke Shaw wouldn’t be risked (as his fitness is still an issue), but short of moving Darmian to left-back again and playing one of Young or Timothy Fosu-Mensah on the right, Mourinho doesn’t have a lot of options as Blind is needed in the centre.
To that end, Blind and Phil Jones is probably the best pairing Man United could put out (with Marcos Rojo very much on the bench), and while there were media murmurings that Antonio Valencia could return at right-back but that would be a massive risk.
Defensive Midfield: Michael Carrick
Centre-Midfield: Paul Pogba
Centre-Midfield: Ander Herrera
Marouane Fellaini is a serious doubt for the game (though he may not have started anyway), but Man United’s midfield is one of the few areas not to be affected by the various injuries and suspension.
Herrera and Pogba return from the international break unscathed so seems almost certain they will play, with the former returning from suspension, but the third midfielder could be an interesting one. At is it a home fixture, Mourinho would probably be expected to play a number ten (i.e. one of Juan Mata or Wayne Rooney) but in a side that likes to dictate the tempo from midfield as much as Arsenal do, it might be worth deploying Michael Carrick in there.
In any event, Rooney faces a race to even be fit for the game having withdrawn from the England squad earlier this week.
Right-Wing: Juan Mata
Left-Wing: Anthony Martial
Striker: Marcus Rashford
The inclination here would be to start Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the right for this fixture, but Mourinho is unlikely to and nor should he.
That’s not to suggest that the Armenian international should’t be in this team going forward – he unquestionably should – but the last time he was dropped into the starting lineup for a match of this magnitude was the Manchester derby, where he was hauled off at half time and hasn’t played in the league in the two months since.
His failure to adapt to the Premier League immediately against Man City made him a scapegoat in Mourinho’s eyes – he needs to be deployed in a much less high-profile match to get his bearings properly in England. It’s the manager’s fault that Mkhitaryan isn’t ready for this match, not the player’s.
That being said, by all means have him in reserve as an impact sub to exploit tired Arsenal legs towards the end of the match.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s suspension will surely allow for Rashford to get his chance up front – Mourinho has a choice between the promising striker or a half-fit Wayne Rooney to lead the line. Logic would suggest that Rashford will start (and he should), but that’s no guarantee that José will go with the logical choice.
Read More About: ander herrera, anthony martial, Arsenal, Ashley Young, chris smalling, daley blind, david de gea, eric bailly, henrikh mkhitaryan, jose mourinho, Juan Mata, luke shaw, Man United, marcos rojo, marcus rashford, matteo darmian, michael carrick, Paul Pogba, phil jones, Wayne Rooney