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Arsenal vs Manchester United: Picking a Combined XI

The Gunners host the Red Devils in a massive clash on Saturday, but who makes our combined XI?

Prithviraj Dev | New Delhi |

Arsenal vs Manchester United was the defining rivalry of the Premier League in the 1990s and the early 2000s and it’s not a stretch to say the two teams greatly enhanced the reputation of the English top-flight.

Households were divided for an entire generation of football fans either associated themselves as Gunners or Red Devils.

The duo, before the petrodollars poured in, had established a monopoly on the league title and Roy Keane’s legendary duels with Patrick Vieira in the middle of the pitch (And in the tunnel, if you get the drift!) still get fans wide-eyed even today.

While the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea have outperformed them in recent seasons, for most die-hard fans, this is still a highlight fixture of the Premier League season.

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And with Arsenal set to host Manchester United at the Emirates on Saturday, why not spark a few debates with a combined XI from the arch-rivals?

The Statesman has picked the best XI from the Red half of London and Manchester in a 4-2-3-1 formation for you:

Goalkeeper: David de Gea (Manchester United)

Considering de Gea is the best keeper in the Premier League and perhaps even the world, this was probably the least surprising selection.

Thanks to a faulty fax machine, the Spaniard remains a Red Devils player and is a major reason why they register shutouts more often than not.

Petr Cech, in his prime would’ve come close but at 35, is not the Tour de Force he once was but the Premier League icon is no longer elite.

Manchester United F.C., Premier League, David de Gea
De Gea is a clean-sheet machine! (Photo: AFP)


Left-back: Sead Kolasinac (Arsenal)

A low-key signing considering he came on a free, Kolasinac has been an unqualified hit since moving from the Bundesliga in the summer.

The burly Bosnian looks tailor-made for the left wing-back role and expect him to be among the highest-scoring defenders in the Premier League by May. Defensively, he’s quite capable and since’s just 24, can only improve in the years to come.

Ashley Young may be wowing all and sundry with his goalscoring exploits but the converted winger is not a proper fullback and remains one of United’s weak links.

Luke Shaw seems to be on the way out of Old Trafford, a pity considering his potential but understandable if one take into account the numerous fitness issues that have dogged him in the past. Daley Blind does a remarkable job of filling in, but the versatile Dutchman is clearly not Jose Mourinho’s first-choice at the moment.

Should Young be able to maintain his form towards the business end of the season, perhaps we could revisit this selection, but for the moment, the Gunners’ Bosnian recruit has the edge.

Sead Kolasinac, Arsenal F.C., Premier League
The Bosnian has been an impressive signing! (Photo: Twitter)


Centre-back: Eric Bailly (Manchester United)

Eyebrows were raised when United shelled out £30 million for a 22-year-old defender plying his trade in the La Liga, but fast forward a year and all doubts have been quelled around Bailly.

At 6’2, Bailly has an impressive frame and is among the fastest centre-backs around. Admittedly he’s still a bit rash, but the Ivorian is second to none at United. Rarely has a rival forward bested him over the course of 90 minutes and it’s not been surprising to his status as a fan favourite.

Per Mertesacker is edging closer to retirement but the gangly German has been exposed time and again over the years and isn’t even a confirmed starter anymore. His compatriot, Shkodran Mustafi, has been solid but after reportedly falling out with Arsene Wenger, has been playing intermittently.

As a result, Bailly doesn’t just make our combined XI, he coasts into it.

Eric Bailly, Manchester United F.C., Premier League
United are desperately hoping Bailly will be fit for Saturday’s clash! (Photo: AFP)


Centre-back: Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)

Laurent Koscielny’s big-game record isn’t the best, but the 32-year-old Frenchman is one of the few from his side who has been consistent for the past few seasons.

Similar to Bailly in a lot of ways, not least being his no-nonsense approach to the game, Koscielny is the best defender Arsenal have at the moment.

Phil Jones has looked like a man reborn in the United defence this season, but his injury record makes it difficult for him to be considered.

Chris Smalling, like his countryman, has seen an upswing in fortunes this season, but when Jones and Bailly are fit, he is the third-choice centre-back.

Victor Lindelof arguably hasn’t justified his price tag and while he still has time to prove himself, as of now, Koscielny is the winner here.

Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal F.C., Premier League
Koscielny doesn’t give opposition forwards any breathing space (Photo: Facebook)


Right-back: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)

Fullbacks are expected to be among the fastest players around since they bomb down the flanks on a regular basis and in this regard, we are spoilt for choice.

Antonio Valencia and Hector Bellerin are in the opposite ends of their careers for while the Ecuadorian is enjoying his last hurrah in a Red Devils jersey, Bellerin has just started to make a name for himself.

Valencia may not be the most inventive player in the English top-flight but the pacy Ecuadorian more than makes up with his ultra-consistent displays. Not only does he rarely gets injured, he looks at ease in the right-back/right wing-back role, which is commendable considering he started his career as a winger.

Bellerin, who is reportedly a Barcelona target, has shown flashes of brilliance but remains an enigma and will have to take a leaf out of Valencia’s book if he is to be seriously considered.

Antonio Valencia, Manchester United F.C., Premier League
Valencia is what you call a beast of a player! (Photo: AFP)


Central midfield: Nemanja Matic (Manchester United)

Wondering why Chelsea let Matic join United in the summer? Well, join the club (pun unintended)

For the hulking Serbian is among the best midfield enforcers around and when he’s not playing, United look far more vulnerable.

Granit Xhaka has impressed in patches but the Swiss is not the next Patrick Vieira, far from it.

Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin never quite set the pitch alight and truth be told, the lesser they play, the better for the Gunners.

Arsenal’s search for a quality defensive midfielder continues and their lack of a quality option in this position is perhaps the main reason why they have struggled in recent seasons.

While he’s been a bit wobbly in recent weeks, Matic is the unquestionable numero uno in the defensive midfield position.

Nemanja Matic, UEFA Champions League, Premier League, Manchester United F.C.
Very little goes past Matic! (Photo: AFP)


Central midfield: Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

Is Paul Pogba the finest exponent of the box-to-box role from the current lot?

Maybe the flashy Frenchman isn’t there yet, but is surely on the right path as this season’s tally of three goals and as many assists suggests.

A revitalised Aaron Ramsey has been a major reason why Arsenal have been resurgent but the hard-working Welshman has been bogged down with niggles over the past few seasons and if one takes in Pobga’s physical presence, there can only be one winner.

Sadly, due to his affinity towards eye-catching haircuts and accessories that are full of bling, Pobga’s prefermances are often overlooked and that is a shame for the 24-year-old is among the best in the business and is bound to get better.

Paul Pogba, Manchester United F.C., Premier League, Fantasy Premier League
Pobga’s beginning to justify his gargantuan transfer fee! (Photo: AFP)


Left wing: Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)

Every mention of Alexis Sanchez must feel bittersweet for Arsenal fans as the wantaway winger is almost certainly in his final year as a Gunner.

The Chilean, since his arrival from Barcelona in 2011, is widely regarded as the finest winger to have graced the Premier League in recent seasons.

At 28, he’s still in the prime of his career and while his petulance is annoying, the 5’6 winger’s combative spirit is matched only by his excellent technical abilities.

Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard are fine talents that United possess, but they cannot be considered in the same bracket as Sanchez.

Arsenal F.C., Premier League, Alexis Sanchez
The Chilean will be available for free next year! (Photo: AFP)


Central attacking midfield: Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)

Bearing in mind the stick Ozil gets, this is a contentious decision, but does the German really deserve all the criticism that comes his way?

Probably the tag of being a former Real Madrid player and the fact that he is a regular for Germany acts against him in this case, for the expectations each time he takes to the pitch are sky-high.

When he gets it right, however, it is a joy to behold. Another star said to be departing at the end of the season (And if reports are to believed, to Man United!), Ozil might just reclaim his moniker of assist-king as he has a proven striker in Alexandre Lacazette in front of him now.

Juan Mata arrived to much fanfare in 2014 but has the likeable Spaniard really been a prudent investment? Since the 29-year-old isn’t a confirmed starter, the answer would be nay and the less said about Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the better.

The Armenian started the 2017-18 season in blistering manner but his form has nose-dived to such an extent in recent weeks that he’s struggling to make the squad.

As a result, Ozil’s inclusion isn’t as controversial as one would expect and reports of a move to United don’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

Right wing: Anthony Martial (Manchester United)

After a brief battle with Marcus Rashford, Martial’s outstanding talent has come to the fore and he’s finally nailed down a regular starting spot.

That’s good news for the United faithful as with a World Cup on the horizon, Martial needs to play week in, week out to have a chance of making France’s squad.

The 21-year-old, who loves scoring in big games, is doing just that and has already scored more this season than he had in the whole of the last campaign.

Arsenal, apart from Sanchez, lack a quality winger for the likes of Alexi Iwobi and Theo Walcott do not inspire fear in opposition defences like the United man does.

Martial, who can play anywhere across the front line, is among the best dribblers in the Premier League but it is his searing pace and icy composure in front of goal that truly sets him apart from the rest.

Premier League, Manchester United F.C., Premier League, Anthony Martial
Martial has won over Jose Mourinho, no mean feat! (Photo: AFP)


Centre forward: Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)

After a scintillating start to the 2017-18 season, Lukaku has cooled down in recent weeks but the Belgian still remains a quality forward and is among the best the Premier League has to offer.

Granted, goals have dried up for United’s £75 acquisition, but the 6’4 Belgian does a lot of work for the team and it’s not easy to score for a side that, especially in the big games, shut up shop and literally park the bus.

Question marks remain over his ability to score against the big boys, but it’s too early to able Lukaku a flat-track bully for he’s still only 24, and is yet to reach his prime.

Arsenal splashed the cash for Alexandre Lacazette in the summer and the jet-heeled Frenchman has started paying them back on their £54 million investment with an impressive tally of seven league goals already.

Lacazette, despite his relatively short stature, is no slouch with the head either so why do we go with Lukaku when Lacazette ticks all the boxes?

Well, Lukaku is an all-round striker who might not be as nimble as his Arsenal counterpart but his physical presence more than makes amends. He can bully defenders off the ball and with him in your team, you have an instant target for set-pieces too.

At the end of the day it’s a personal opinion and it’s true both forwards are evenly matched, but Lukaku just about shades this one.

Romelu Lukaku, Manchester United F.C., Premier League
Lukaku is still young and is bound to get better with each game! (Photo: AFP)


Final score: Arsenal 4, Manchester United 7