Arsenal vs Manchester United: Three key players to watch

The Hard Tackle lists three players who can prove influential when Arsenal and Manchester United clash on Sunday.

The Arsenal and Manchester United clash will have all eyes glued to what happens at the Emirates later today. The Gunners have come out in front at this venue against this opposition over the last few years, and the expectation will remain with the north Londoners to follow suit.

Manchester United have performed better against the Gunners at Old Trafford but often struggled for relevance at the Emirates. Ahead of this matchup and how we previewed it, Arsenal are pencilled in to take three points, although the magnitude of this tie can swing the result at any point.

Manchester United have a lengthy injury list heading to the Emirates as Erik ten Hag misses several of his key stars. The absences of Luke Shaw and Raphael Varane could have a detrimental effect on his defensive setup, especially considering Arsenal do not have any attacking injuries so far.

Mason Mount also misses out and will remain sidelined for a considerable period. As a player who knows the importance of such big clashes at the Emirates during his time at Chelsea, Manchester United will miss his quality. Furthermore, the Red Devils have not shown any stability in their midfield performances, and that area may prove the catalyst in this game.

Ten Hag did convince the media that new striker Rasmus Hojlund is fit to start, but that could only be mind games at this stage. Manchester United have Anthony Martial fit and available, as the manager might not risk the Danish forward so soon, at least not from the start.

Even if he does, Arsenal are well equipped to handle the pressure of him and Marcus Rashford, as Mikel Arteta might revert to his tested back four from last season. The only blot on the Gunners is the potential absence of Thomas Partey, who has been critical of their style over the last couple of years.

On a positive note, Declan Rice can test himself as the lone No.6 in this setup. The former West Ham skipper signed with the North Londoners to play precisely this role, and he will have his chance to showcase his worth to Arteta unless the manager decides to start Jorginho tonight.

The main focus will stick with the attacking talents on both sides, with Bukayo Saka and Rashford likely to play that clutch role the two teams crave. Here, we look at the three players who could have an influential role in this fixture, with Saka, Rashford and Rice all making the cut.

Bukayo Saka

On X (formerly Twitter), many fan accounts and even official ones are running the Saka performance from this fixture again. That goal from outside the box brought the winger into the focus, and his start to the current campaign should worry Manchester United fans.

Two goals from three games, and there’s no indication of a drop-off in his form. Saka will come into this fixture to improve his form against Manchester United. He has three goals and two assists in seven games against this opposition.

Saka will have rubbed his hands when the Shaw injury ensured the left-back would remain absent from this trip. Moreover, there are indications that Ten Hag could play Dalot again or have new arrival Sergio Reguilon at left back, as either choice suits the Arsenal winger to have a brilliant game.

Saka will have all eyes trained on him as he grows into this team. An excellent performance against Manchester United will go a long way in instilling confidence in his team and getting their season to a flyer, considering their inconsistent start to the title challenge.

Marcus Rashford

Arsenal’s right side has looked vulnerable this season, and Arteta’s indifferent selection on that front may have caused those problems. Nottingham Forest scored easily, while Saka’s last weekend error allowed Fulham to capitalise.

One man who will have seen the clips in detail and formulate ideas on how to exploit that part of Arsenal’s defence will be Rashford. The Manchester United star has had an indifferent start to the campaign, and that’s probably down to him playing as a central striker.

He had more of an impact when starting from the left against Nottingham Forest last weekend, and Ten Hag will know the importance of retaining Rashford’s natural position. However, with the Partey injury ahead of the game, Arsenal will likely deploy Ben White as their right back, which could call for an important contest between the two Englishmen.

Rashford scored a stunning goal at this venue and had a favourable record against the Gunners last season. Manchester United will want the forward in top form ahead of this clash, especially considering how ineffective some of their other forwards have been since this campaign began.

Declan Rice

Midfield battles have proved decisive in this fixture over the last few seasons. Of course, the position has garnered more importance over the last few years, and Arsenal’s decision to spend £105 million on Declan Rice proved that.

The Gunners’ star arrival has quickly fit in in the opening three games, and all signs point towards further improvement. The only change Rice will have on Sunday is the absence of Thomas Partey. With the Ghanaian midfielder, the English star can venture forward and influence differently.

Against Manchester United, he may end up playing in that single pivot to control the tempo of proceedings. Rice will be ready for the challenge, and the absolute objective here should point towards dominating the midfield during this clash.

Casemiro has looked out of depth, and Ten Hag is still looking for established solutions. The arrival of Sofyan Amrabat will bring answers, but the Moroccan will not feature at the Emirates. Hence, one should expect Rice to play a massive role in influencing proceedings on Sunday and take control of the game through his actions.

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