Trick post. I would normally call this a win for Arsenal based on the data available and on the home advantage but all the stats go out the window with this matchup.
Mourinho has a philosophy about these big games and especially big games away where he looks to throttle the game and kill off both team’s chances. Basically he plays not to lose and he feels like the best way to do that is to kill the game: sit in the low block, lots of physical play, hard tackles, let the opposition know that they are in an important match, and if his team can hit on the counter they will.
Mourinho banks on two major concepts in these games, don’t make an error on defense and exploit the spaces on offense. Both are sound tactics made especially effective since he has 15 top quality players at his disposal.
In a funny way Mourinho’s tactics in these matches is a vindication of Big Sam’s claim that he should be allowed to manage a big club. Sam would approach these games the same way that Mourinho does and imagine if Allardyce had Pogba, Lukaku, Mkhitaryan, and Mata on the counter attack, with Matic and Fellaini in midfield with the World Class David de Gea making stops at the back! It would be quite an upgrade on the Bolton side that gave Wenger fits in 2006.
For Arsenal, the key is creating chaos. Mourinho’s tactic requires perfect execution. One bad tackle in the wrong area and he’s got to switch to plan B and come out to get the game level again. Alexis and Wilshere are Arsenal’s two main chaos agents but Mourinho will look to neutralize one or both of them (I don’t think Wilshere will start). Mourinho will also look to trap Alexis into being on the ball too much, try to get him to be the main man, and take the ball away from him.
That means that, for me, Ramsey and Ozil will have to pick up the slack. The problem is that Ramsey’s at his best when he’s making a late run and against the low block defenses, he literally has nowhere to run into. He also will have limited spaces for his through ball pass and the forwards won’t have as much space to run behind for those balls either.
Ozil has an advantage. He’s played with Mourinho at Real Madrid against Barcelona. He knows if there’s a weakness in the system. He is also a weirdly chaotic player in his own right, not by dribbling through their lines, but with his constant movement and awareness of space. If he can get on the ball, create time, and find someone like Lacazette (this all seems simple but it’s much more subtle and difficult than that) who is a clinical finisher. Sadly, the Frenchman is a miss.
I do want to add one last statty thing; Man U are the luckiest team in the League right now. They just beat Watford with four goals from distance, something I haven’t seen a team do since I started collecting stats. I know that my expected goals formula isn’t perfect but it’s pretty good and it shows United as the most “overperforming” (LUCKY) team in the League right now. Most of their overclocking is in defense which accounts for 9 of their +13 xGD. And almost 5 of that 9 came against Liverpool and Chelsea. But they routinely rely on de Gea to save their bacon. For the third year in a row, he’s in the top three goalkeepers in big chance saves and saves from shots in prime.
So, even if Arsenal get through the midfield, get a player in scoring position, play him through one-v-one with the keeper, they still have to beat the best keeper in the world to score. That’s what makes them so good and why I think this game is impossible to call based on stats alone.