When Manchester United take on Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium this weekend it’s fair to assume that Louis van Gaal will have been fairly forced with regards to his team sheet.
Not only does he have to decide which players to pick and which players to drop in the wake of a tame start to the season, but there’s also the small matter of an incredible injury crisis to deal with, one which threatens to leave as many as 12 regulars out of contention.
Following the international break more names have been crossed off of Van Gaal’s ‘available to pick’ list, and now the Dutchman is truly scraping the barrel of despair when it comes to selecting an XI capable of challenging the very best in the league. Yet that’s what he’s charged with, and as Saturday’s all important clash looms large we’ve decided to construct the side which we believe he’ll start with.
We’ve opted for the same formation used in their last outing - the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace - and gambled on more than one player recovering in time.
GK: David de Gea
Though he was initially set to be ruled out by a dislocated finger suffered on international duty, sources in Spain are convinced he’ll start against Arsenal. Arguably United’s best player so far, Van Gaal will need him.
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LB: Luke Shaw
Started the season struggling with injuries but ironically he’s remained fit as others have crumbled around him. Had a good week with England and so should be in high spirits heading into the game this weekend.
CB: Paddy McNair
The academy graduate has been thrust into the spotlight sooner than he would have expected, but up until now he has excelled. Possibly the only natural centre-back left for Van Gaal to choose.
CB: Chris Smalling
Were there other options Smalling would likely drop to the bench, but there aren’t and so he should start. Big fixture could give him a last chance to impress Van Gaal, or alternatively Arsene Wenger.
RB: Antonio Valencia
The Ecuador international doesn’t look truly comfortable at right-back but he’s competent and that’s enough for Van Gaal, who is still missing Rafael. Valencia attacks brilliantly, though his defensive game is suspect.
LM: Angel Di Maria
Injured by Nani during Argentina’s friendly against Portugal, but all the indications are that he will be okay to start. The player himself and Gerardo Martino have hinted as such, and he’ll be a huge boost for Van Gaal.
CM: Marouane Fellaini
The big Belgian looks revitalised of late and could be one of the most important players on the park come Saturday. A dominant figure in the middle, he enters the game in a rich vein of form.
CM: Ander Herrera
Has struggled to get back into the starting XI since his injury earlier in the season, but he should start thanks to the knocks picked up by Daley Blind and Michael Carrick. Will be eager to cement his place once more.
CM: Wayne Rooney
The Red Devils captain is integral to any ambitions Van Gaal has of winning the game, and he’s coming off the back of a great week internationally. Should reinforce the midfield whilst also offering a potent forward option.
RM: Juan Mata
Has seen Adnan Januzaj given the nod ahead of him recently, but his winner against Crystal Palace, and the fact that Januzaj hasn’t been at the races, should ensure that Van Gaal trusts him to start.
CF: Robin van Persie
The Dutch striker will be keen to rekindle the form which he displayed in his first season at Old Trafford, and the fact that he’s available means United always have a strong outlet. Scored the winner against his old club last term.