Not only will be they be up against arguably the most in-form team in Europe and the current leaders of the English Premier League, at an individual level they’ll be facing not one but two of the world’s best playmakers in Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil.
It’s little surprise that since moving to London, Ozil has turned Arsenal into title contenders once again. He and Cazorla have accounted for 32 goalscoring chances between them (at an average of over 2.5 chances per game) and have scored three goals.
More importantly, the pair have given the Gunners’ midfield an added strength it didn’t have last season.
Arsenal’s midfield maestros are a big problem for United to deal with, and stopping them (along with Aaron Ramsey) will no doubt be David Moyes’s biggest concern on the day.
So how exactly can United shutdown the duo? Here’s two options.
Option 1: Stick Fellaini on Cazorla
What we’ve seen most clearly from Ozil this year is that despite playing as a central attacking midfielder (and a No. 10), he’s actually most effective when he comes in from wider areas. His Total Chances Created Map shows just how varied he’s been in creating goalscoring opportunities this year, but given that most of his time has been spent in the middle, such variation shows that he’s going to be an absolute nightmare to try and man-mark on the day.
So while United shouldn’t 'forget' about marking Ozil, they shouldn’t try and stick a body on him like they did with Phil Jones on Gareth Bale or Cristiano Ronaldo last year. Ozil is going to drift, and the onus must be on their wide men—particularly whoever plays at left-wing—to drop back and force Ozil out of his favoured flanks.
That leaves Cazorla in the middle, and this is an area United can exploit. In recent games, we’ve seen the Spaniard dropping deeper and deeper down the field to more of a regulation centre-mid at times - thanks to Ozil and Ramsey pushing ahead of him - but that’s something United can use to their advantage.
Marouane Fellaini has struggled this season without a real task in the middle of the field, so why not give him one on the day? Stick him on Cazorla, allow him to drift around the field like the Spaniard does and let him try and bully him out of the game.
Cazorla is 168cm and 66kg. Fellaini is 194cm and 85kg.
The Spaniard’s take-on win rate (for his on-ball talent) really isn’t that high, and with a body on him in Fellaini, he could start to struggle. Also, what better way to allow Fellaini to both press forward into the attack but also cover as a defensive midfielder than to mark Cazorla? Following him when he drops deep into midfield but also when he pushes high into the attack.
It might finally be a chance to see him play the box-to-box role well.
Option 2: Play Adnan Januzaj, Exploit Ozil in Defence
Arsenal love to keep a high defensive line at the back. They love to throw the likes of Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs forward when they can to contribute to the attack, and in doing so, they often leave a mountain of space in behind the respective wingers to be exploited—something that United could do down Ozil and Sagna’s side this weekend.
In his seven Premier League appearances so far for Arsenal, Ozil has made just four successful tackles from seven attempts. He has made just one interception and two clearances in total, and while it’s hard to fault him too much for his lack of defensive activity given that it’s not really his role in the team, it’s still something that United could exploit in Ozil by playing Adnan Januzaj down his wing and trying to utilise the youngster on quick counter-attacks.
After picking up United’s player of the month award this year, Januzaj is no doubt high on confidence and feeling that he can do almost anything. He’s been a star in the Red Devils’ midfield (already ranked as their second highest midfielder this season), and has shown to be a great weapon on the break down the left.
Januzaj has completed 14 successful take ons from 22 attempts in just three starting appearances, and with space likely to be aplenty in behind Ozil (and perhaps even Sagna as well), he could again find much success in attack on the day.
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