Arsenal vs Manchester United used to be the biggest match in the Premier League. And while it still carries importance, it’s more relevant in the race for Champions League qualification rather than for the championship itself.
When Jose Mourinho was sacked, the Gunners were eight points ahead of United. When the sides clashed in the FA Cup in January, they had identical W-D-L records in the league. Now the Red Devils are a point ahead, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s magic touch has given them a power rarely seen under José Mourinho: they’ve won several big matches away from home. But have they deserved to?
Their run began with a 1-0 win against Tottenham at Wembley, in their only ‘big six’ league win to date this season. Our expected goal model scored it as 1.8 to 1.0 in Spurs’ favour, and David de Gea made 11 saves – including one clear-cut chance – along the way. United may have been fortunate to take all three points, though as they made the most of their best attacking opportunity, their victory wasn’t entirely unmerited.
Two of their 13 shots (including their goal) that day were from counter attacks, and the proportion of shots from fast breaks was higher still in their FA Cup match at the Emirates.
Solskjaer’s side scored three times from eight shots, with three of their efforts coming via swift counter attacking moves. We don’t carry data for FA Cup matches, though as at Wembley, it appears it was a narrow expected goal win for the home side. Outperforming expected goals has been a definite theme of Ole’s time in charge.
Man Utd under Solskjaer
Expected Goals 29.8
Goals Conceded 13
Expected Goals Against 21.3
Games played 17
Penalties won 7
— Orbinho (@Orbinho) March 6, 2019
And so to Paris. Five shots, four on target, and three clear-cut chances which were all converted. Tactical masterclass, or supreme bottle job from champion Champions League chokers, PSG? I’ll let you decide.
Perhaps Solskjaer’s biggest accomplishment has been getting form out of the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof, something which looked well beyond Mourinho. Still, some United fans have perhaps been too quick to praise the latter.
One aerial duel and two tackles. Impressive 😂 https://t.co/zd7z7Uhvqe
— Twelve (@twelve_football) March 6, 2019
Even so, when looking at the last six league games for both teams, there’s no question United have more of the top performers. Here’s who our algorithm rates as the top six.
Lukaku may have bagged a brace in Paris on Wednesday night, to go with two goals against both Crystal Palace and Southampton recently, but doubts will linger about his goal scoring ability in the biggest matches for a while longer yet. Though with Paul Pogba, who is fourth in the attack rankings for the Premier League this season, back from European suspension, United’s Belgian front man should have some decent opportunities on Sunday.
Arsenal’s hopes may well rest upon the shoulders of Alexandre Lacazette. The former Lyon man has scored in the last five league matches at the Emirates, although by missing two clear-cut chances at Wembley last weekend he probably cost Arsenal a rare win at one of the top six sides. Then again, at least he didn’t miss an injury time penalty, eh, Pierre-Emerick?
As they’re at home, the Gunners should have too much for an injury ravaged United side. But the visitors’ incisive counter attacking could prove the difference at the Emirates for the second time this season.