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Mesut Ozil v Ander Herrera: The key battle when Arsenal face Manchester United
Last Updated: 07/05/17 2:24pm
Arsenal need Mesut Ozil to deliver a big-game performance against Manchester United. But one of the Premier League's top midfielders stands in his way...
Clashes between Arsenal and Manchester United are always hotly-contested affairs - but Sunday's Premier League showdown will have an added edge, with both teams needing victory to boost their ailing top-four hopes.
The home side's north London derby defeat to Tottenham not only condemned Arsenal to a first finish below their rivals in 22 years but also left them six points adrift of the Champions League qualifying spots, albeit with games in hand on Manchester City and Liverpool.
United also slipped up at the weekend, drawing at home to relegation-threatened Swansea - their 10th stalemate at Old Trafford in the Premier League this season - meaning they are one point outside of the top four.
So which team will get back on track for European qualification at the Emirates? The battle between Arsenal's Mesut Ozil and United midfielder Ander Herrera could be crucial.
The German playmaker may have recorded his best goal-scoring figures for Arsenal this season, but he's been much criticised for his performances.
The 28-year-old pulled the strings for Arsene Wenger's side last year, recording 19 assists, one shy of Thierry Henry's Premier League record. But this time around he's set up just six goals and his key passes per 90 minutes ratio has fallen from 4.3 in 2015/16 to just 2.8 this term.
Ozil assists and key passes - 2015/16 v 2016/17
|Season||Assists||Key passes||Key passes/90 mins|
Despite making more passes than any other Arsenal player against Spurs last weekend, just two of Ozil's 49 passes led to a shot from a team-mate, highlighting the perception he's not creating clear-cut openings - particularly in high-profile games.
In fact, Ozil's output in games against the current top six and rest of the Premier League demonstrates the problem.
In seven appearances against the leading teams, Ozil has scored one and set up another. That's a goal contribution every 315 minutes. Against the remaining 14 sides he's scored six and set up five - a goal contribution every 161 minutes.
Ozil v top six & the rest - 2016/17
|Games played||Minutes played||Goals||Assists||Min/goal contribution|
|Top six sides||7||630||1||1||315|
|Rest of PL||21||1775||6||5||161|
His angry outburst after Arsenal's derby defeat on Sunday suggests he's determined to change that record. But he'll be up against one of the Premier League's top defensive midfielders this weekend when Manchester United visit the Emirates.
Herrera is enjoying the best season of his three-year stint at United. He's the club's top assist maker in the Premier League (six) - matching his tally from the past two seasons combined - but it has been his defensive work which has really caught the eye.
Deployed by manager Jose Mourinho in a protecting role in front of the defence, Herrera is the club's top tackler (82) and interceptor (80) this season. In fact, he ranks 10th for tackles in the Premier League and fourth for interceptions, with a certain N'Golo Kante just one ahead.
He has made more starts in the Premier League this season (26) than he did in either of his previous two seasons in England and he's played an important role in United's 25-game unbeaten run.
Premier League - top tacklers & interceptions 2016/17
|PL Rank||Most tackles won||Most interceptions|
|1||I. Gueye - 130||L. Koscielny - 86|
|2||N. Kante - 113||C. Davies - 85|
|3||E. Pieters - 102||N. Kante - 81|
|4||M. Lowton - 95||A. Herrera - 80|
|5||O. Romeu - 95||N. Monreal - 78|
|6||J. Henderson - 88||W. Reid - 78|
|7||J. Milner - 86||C. Kouyate - 76|
|8||D. Drinkwater - 83||I. Gueye - 76|
|9||S. Clucas - 83||B. Mee - 72|
|10||A. Herrera - 82||N. Otamendi - 72|
Herrera, for instance, was the only United starter to gain possession more times than he gave it away against Swansea - testament as much to his seasonal 87.8 per cent pass completion rate as his ability to recover the ball - and he'll be eagerly hassling and harrying Ozil this weekend.
Red cards for two bookings against both Chelsea, in the FA Cup, and Burnley, in the Premier League, are evidence Herrera doesn't always get his tackling right - but nonetheless, he'll be a formidable opponent for Ozil and co on Sunday.