This Wednesday, high-flying Arsenal travel to ‘low-flying’ Manchester United as the two teams clash in what could be a crucial game in determining each club’s season.
If United win, they will make up important ground on the Gunners who currently sit in fourth place – eight points ahead of Jose Mourinho’s seventh placed side.
If Unai Emery can come away with all three points, however, the prospect of Champions League football next season will continue to look like a real possibility.
1. David de Gea
In England, De Gea has a firm reputation as the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. Some would even go as far as claiming the Spaniard is the best keeper in the world. He’s made the PFA Team of the Year on five separate occasions and has also been his club’s players’ player of the year three times.
While Bernd Leno has looked decent for Arsenal so far – usurping Petr Cech to become the first choice pick between the sticks – he did make an error in last week’s derby. The mistake ultimately didn’t matter but it wasn’t great for the German. Saying that, regardless of how he’s played, he was never gonna be picked ahead of De Gea.
2. Hector Bellerin
Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have shared the right back role for United this season. But with Young suspended following his fifth yellow of the season, Valencia should come back in on Wednesday. At Arsenal, however, despite the arrival of the experienced Stephan Lichtsteiner, there has only been one man trusted to play at right back for Emery.
Hector Bellerin has looked brilliant all season, revitalised under a new manager and claiming four assists this term. In their last two league games, Arsenal have reverted to playing with wing backs – this change has not discomforted Bellerin in the slightest. In either a four or a five, you can expect the Spaniard to bomb forward and attack that right flank all game long.
3. Victor Lindelof
The difficulty in choosing two undoubtedly good centre backs between these two teams perhaps suggests why neither side are close to challenging for the Premier League title. However, so far this season, Victor Lindelof has enjoyed a much better campaign than he did last term and has arguably been United’s best centre back.
The Swedish defender has put in some fine performances for Mourinho of late – in particular against Juventus in the Champions League. His form has even seen him awarded with the coveted ‘Guldbollen’ for 2018 – given to the best Swedish player of the year.
Sokratis has come in to this Arsenal side and is beginning to stamp his personality on the team. Against Spurs, he was immense. For the most part, he marked Harry Kane out of the game. When he wasn’t dominating the prolific Englishman, he was vocally organising both Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi who were playing either side of him in a back three.
The Greek has been solid for the Gunners so far, but you get the feeling he could grow in importance as the season goes on. And, with club captain Laurent Kosicenly close to making his return, Sokratis may benefit from playing alongside somebody a little more experienced than Holding and a little less calamitous than Mustafi.
5. Luke Shaw
Of all the Manchester United players this season, Shaw is probably one of the few who can say that things have got better for him this season. Last season under Mourinho, Shaw seemed to be frozen out of the team completely. However, Shaw has managed to work his way back into the side.
The promising full back has finally started to find some of his best form and fulfil his potential this term. It’s been a long and difficult road back following that horrific leg break in 2015, so it’s been great to see the 23-year-old back and playing well this season.
6. Lucas Torreira
He has won the man of the match award in three of his last four league outings for Arsenal, but the most recent one, against Spurs, was one of the best individual performances you will see all season. With 68 touches, 43 out 48 passes made, 12 winnings of possession, three shots and one goal to his name, Torreira put in a derby performance for the ages.
The Gunners have required exactly this type of tenacious yet technical defensive midfielder for so many years now and the Uruguayan seems to be the right man to finally fill the role.
7. Paul Pogba
Whatever you think of the Frenchman, you cannot deny that he is a supremely talented footballer – a World Cup winner, no less. And, at times this season, he has played like a World Cup winning superstar for United. But, at other times, he has looked just like another one of Mourinho’s exasperated entourage.
Despite this, he has a reasonable return of three goals and three assists to his name in the league so far. If Manchester United are to win big games such as these, they will need the best out of their record signing.
8. Aaron Ramsey
This might be a controversial pick. Not because Aaron Ramsey isn’t a great player, but simply because he’s not been a frequent first choice pick for Emery and he looks to be on his way out of the club fairly soon.
However, despite his limited game time this season, Ramsey still happens to be the league’s joint top assist maker with six. Considering his form, and with Granit Xhaka suspended, Ramsey may get a rare league start.
9. Anthony Martial
The Frenchman, much like Shaw, is one of the few players who has actually enjoyed a strong season for United up to now. Martial is currently the club’s top scorer with seven goals in all competitions. And with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford all struggling for form this season, the 22-year-old has been crucial.
Martial dropped to the bench last week against Southampton as United monitored his fitness following muscular problems, but it does seem as if he will return to the fray in time for Arsenal’s visit. He could be the match winner.
10. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Just how good has the former Borussia Dortmund man been for Arsenal this season? Ten goals in 14 league games (two assists, too) – that’s how good. The striker became the first Premier League player to hit double figures this season and already looks more than capable of winning the Golden Boot.
Auba has scored with his last ten shots on target. That’s ridiculous. It also sends Manchester United a pretty simple message: don’t let him shoot. But somehow you get the sense that he’ll manage to pop up with a goal regardless of how the game is going or what tactics either side employ.
11. Alexandre Lacazette
Lacazette missed out against Bournemouth with a small injury, meaning Aubameyang led the line. Emery opted to maintain these tactics for the Spurs game. But, at half-time with his side 2-1 down, Lacazette was brought on off the bench. The Frenchman certainly proved his worth as he grabbed the third goal of the game and helped Arsenal to victory.
It’s hard to tell if that goal will convince Emery to start the 27-year-old, or if it would be best to keep the Frenchman as an impact option off the bench. Either way, with seven goals to his name this season, you can expect the Frenchman to make an impact.