Manchester United’s title challenge may be well and truly over, but they could still take Arsene Wenger’s team with them should they snatch some points away from Arsenal in the mid-week fixture at the Emirates. With their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League in the balance, what team should David Moyes select to win all three points?
Once the butt of a few too many jokes following his arrival in England, the Spaniard has become United’s rock at the back. His averages of 63% for successful distribution and rate of 2.20 saves per game could be key in helping his side grab and protect a lead at the Emirates.
Often written off as a reckless wing-back, Rafael has in fact contributed an average of six defensive actions per game this season, regularly bailing out his colleagues with clearances down the right flank.
With an average of 13 defensive actions per game this season, Vidic remains a monster at taking responsibility for clearing his lines and protecting De Gea’s goal. Though he may not be the player he once was, he remains a force to be reckoned with in the air, on the ground and in the tackle.
Arguably the club’s best all-round defender at present, Evans has the mobility, aerial strength, technique and positional awareness to help out the slowing yet potent Vidic keep track of Arsenal’s runners from out wide and deep.
Evra’s time at United is coming to an end, largely due to his new manager’s demands rather than his own failings. Moyes appears set on the idea of left-backs that function more like delivery platforms for crosses from deep rather than over-lapping auxiliary wingers intent on dribbling past opponents and cutting it back to teammates in the box.
The latter description follows the school of thought that allowed Evra to shine brightest at Old Trafford over the years, with crossing rarely being cited as one of his strong suits. For the time being, however, there exists no real alternative to the French international, with Alexander Buttner insufficient in defence and inefficient in attack.
A goal-scoring turn against Fulham means that Carrick is once again in the headlines for the right reasons. Yet, the Englishman’s performances this season have paled in comparison to what he offered up in Ferguson’s final year. He remains United’s best midfielder by virtue of the lack of better options, yet with six defensive actions per game he remains an important figure when it comes to intercepting opponents’ passes.
If the midfield is to be reduced to a defensive shield for the club’s all-star quartet up front, then Carrick will need help winning and securing the ball through the middle. Fletcher’s current average pass accuracy rate of 89% isn’t to be sniffed at, especially considering his average pass length is 19 metres—he has made 18 successful long balls in five appearances.
With three assists in his first three games for United, albeit one the club’s record-breaking January signing hasn’t struggled to make his mark even if his productivity has come in a far more rigid role than many would have liked to see him play.
It wasn’t so much the emphasis on crossing that capsized the endless waves of attacks from out wide against Fulham, but a policy of quantity over quality when it came to deliveries in from the flanks. Ashley Young made just one successful cross from 15 attempts before being replaced by Januzaj, who proceeded to add a touch more sharpness to Moyes’ flawed tactical plans with five completed crosses out of 12 attempts.
Playing a two-man midfield can be a risky proposition at the best of times, and against Arsenal’s roster of highly skilled and fluent passers and creators, some may even consider it to be tactically suicidal. Yet in Rooney, United have long had the ideal makeweight to help tip the scales, allowing their undernourished undercarriage to simper on thanks to the striker’s penchant for dropping deep, snapping at heels and getting stuck into the midfield battle himself.
He may have looked slightly out-of-sorts against Fulham, at least compared to his form of last season when he seemed ready to finish any half-chance put in front of him, but van Persie remains the player most likely to be the difference for United when he’s on the field.
The Dutchman’s ability to make space for himself and others will also be key against his former club. With an average take on success rate of 56%, van Persie’s ability to take defenders out of the game with his clever movement could well decide whether he is able to celebrate a win at his old stomping grounds, as he did at Old Trafford back in November.