All eyes are on the Emirates on Sunday, as Arsenal host Manchester United in a huge Premier League derby. We bring you a list of key players for Arsenal in this fixture, as they look to cement their position at the top of the league.
One thing has been clear this season – Arsenal will play their football, no matter the opponent. It even doesn’t matter if it is a home or away fixture. Mikel Arteta’s men stick to their guns and play their way. It was obvious from the first game against Crystal Palace that his philosophy and the way he wants to dominate the game is slowly but surely transmitting onto players.
Next match and the next big test for Arsenal is Manchester United at the Emirates. Manchester United are the only team that beat the league leaders this season, so it will be interesting to see where Arsenal stand compared to that loss in September. On top of that, this game will mark the halfway point of the season and could potentially either confirm Arsenal as the genuine title challengers and remove United out of the equation or add United into the mix for the title race.
Both teams are flying at the moment, having secured huge victories against their neighbouring rivals last weekend. It could be another Premier League classic on our hands, with so many battles on the field. But, from an Arsenal perspective, which player could be the deciding factor in what is expected to be a tightly contested game?
We bring you our top picks below and explain why they are so important for this Arsenal side.
The Ghanaian international is enjoying a fine run of form this season. Combined with the consistency of games, without any injuries, Arsenal fans are finally seeing the Tomas Partey they remember from his time at Atletico Madrid.
Thomas Partey has been crucial in all of Arsenal’s games against the top 6 sides and it doesn’t surprise that he wasn’t playing when Arsenal lost at Old Trafford. Let’s analyse his performance against Liverpool at home and in the most recent North London Derby and see how he fits into Mikel Arteta’s system.
Unique number 6.
It is a well-known fact that Arsenal need reinforcement in midfield, especially for Thomas Partey, as Elneny just isn’t on that level, and Sambi-Lokonga continues to struggle at his new club.
Well, it is easier said then done, because Partey is so much more than a classic number 6 type of player. He combines so many different attributes in his game, from a great range of passing to excellent positioning on the pitch and his reading of the game. He possesses a unique set of skills and that’s what makes him such a great footballer. His movement and composure on the ball make Arsenal tick and control games.
Tottenham and Conte for some reason chose not to press Arsenal that intensively, allowing Partey a lot of time on the ball. And if you give a quality player like him any time on the ball – he will hurt you. We can see that clearly in the build-up for Arsenal’s first goal against Spurs.
Kane shows no intent to press Partey, and with Son and Højbjerg also not pressing, Partey has time on the ball to find Saka with a long-ball, leaving him one-v-one with Sessegnon. This results with a goal and Arsenal take the lead in the derby.
Similar situation happened when Arsenal played Liverpool at the Emirates. We can see again on the image below that Partey has time to lift his head up and pick the pass for Jesus who is making a great run to stretch the Liverpool defence.
He is a great passer of the ball on the floor, but his long balls this season have been a great weapon for Mikel Arteta. His ability to execute this kind of pass is excellent for stretching the opposition’s defence, and making them maybe less aggressive in their press, because they leave themselves exposed at the back. And with Nketiah always being a willing runner, this could prove to be very useful against United.
Manchester United possess a threat on the counterattack and they showed it when two sides met earlier in the season. But this time around, they could play differently and engage in high press and that is where Thomas Partey is crucial in Arteta’s system. Unlike Sambi-Lokonga, who played at Old Trafford, he is very much a press-resistant midfielder, who is capable of not only beating press but producing a line breaking pass afterwards. We can see that on the example below.
Partey is first on the second ball and immediately under pressure by Højbjerg, with Sarr and Sessegnon also looking to close him down. He controls the ball and plays a pass to Saka who then goes on to assist Ødegaard for the second goal.
Partey is brilliant at reading the game and positioning himself on the pitch, which allows him to break up play and dictate the tempo. Sambi-Lokonga is not a number 6 and isn’t that aggressive. He also sometimes lacks positional awareness and that proved to be costly against United at Old Trafford. Not allowing United’s midfielders to turn and find a pass will be crucial in this game. Again, in comes Thomas Partey.
As Thiago plays a pass to Luis Díaz, Partey reads the danger and steps out to win the ball and regain possession for his team. We know how dangerous Bruno Fernandes can be if he is allowed any time on the ball. Partey closing him down is surely something Mikel Arteta will consider in his game preparation.
The former Manchester City man is another important piece in the Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal puzzle. Watching him play that inverted left-back role, you can see how comfortable he is playing there and the North London Derby proved once again how much he brings to this team. His understanding of the role and the positions he has to occupy makes him a vital role in Arsenal’s attacking setup.
Control in midfield.
When he moves inside, he opens up so many passing lanes and creates triangles in that midfield area, which helps control the ball. It also opens up space for a line breaking pass, of which he is capable of, towards Ødegaard, who is excellent at receiving on the half-turn and thrives in this space between the lines. Creating a double pivot with Partey also adds security and makes it easier to prevent any potential breaks from the opposition.
Kieran Tierney is a great full-back, and has improved in this inverted role a lot, but still, he doesn’t look as comfortable there as Zinchenko. Working under Pep Guardiola who also likes his full backs inverted, Zinchenko fits in perfectly into Arteta’s system. And in his understanding of the system, could Arsenal find a useful tool to break Manchester United’s defence on Sunday. Antony has improved his defensive output under Ten Haag, but still, he mostly wants to attack and is sometimes reluctant to help out at the back.
Zinchenko, Xhaka and Martinelli have almost perfected their rotational play on the left side and know exactly when and where they need to be in regards to the man on the ball when attacking.
We can see Zinchenko inverted, Xhaka dropping deep and drowing out Romero, with Martinelli hugging the touchline, potentially finding himself isolated against Doherty. Now let us see the same attack just a few seconds later.
Zinchenko has come all the way across, Xhaka is now stepping into his position and Martinelli remains wide. On a couple occasions we could see Martinelli in the half-space with Xhaka or Zinchenko wide. All this interchanging in positions makes it more difficult to track your man, as they are constantly rotating. It can be a very difficult thing to defend even when you have a support of your wingers, but with a winger like Antony, who probably won’t help his full-back for the whole 90 minutes – it could be a detail that decides the game.
It has been a long time since these two clubs played a game of such magnitude and significance. It is reminiscent of the old days when Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson dominated the Premier League. Both teams are in great form, and it could be a joy to watch for neutral fans.
Two very tactically oriented managers, two teams on the rise and only one possible winner. Who will it be?
Give us your predictions in the comments below.