Time was when Manchester United taking on Arsenal late in a season would determine league titles. Now, top four is the new holy grail and frankly, for one of the participants at the Emirates this Saturday even this feels like a staggering over-achievement given their underwhelming campaign. Franker still, so consistently poor have United been that it’s tempting to believe the Premier League have somehow got their sums wrong, adding ten or so points erroneously to the Reds’ tally. How on earth is this dysfunctional set of individuals ahead of West Ham and Wolves after 30+ games? It beggars belief.

To fully detail the problems at Old Trafford right now demands a long and convoluted essay but thankfully we have a crib-sheet in the form of their shambolic outing at Anfield on Tuesday evening, their crisis in microcosm.

The club’s decision to appoint Ralf Rangnick as interim boss felt misguided at the time and now looks bizarre to put it mildly, bringing in a high priest of collective pressing to temporarily preside over players who stubbornly insist on strolling through proceedings and looking after their own interests thank you very much.  If that excuses Rangnick to an extent, what absolutely doesn’t are the choices he makes, such as opting for a largely unfamiliar set-up this week featuring a player in Phil Jones feeling his way through only his second appearance of the season.

The one thing you absolutely do not do at Anfield, against a reliably ferocious Liverpool is to require your players to take a millisecond’s thought in every passage of play to ensure their positioning is correct, then need another millisecond to figure out where a team-mate is. Rangnick sent out eleven unsure lambs to the slaughter.

If that excuses the players to an extent, what absolutely doesn’t is the lack of application beyond those hesitations. The only other occasion we have seen players leisurely traipse across Anfield’s turf in 2021/22 was during the last international break, when Liverpool legends took on Barcelona greats, creaking limbs and all.

Over 1.5 goals for Arsenal offers up a tempting 26/25. United have conceded more than once in four of their last six league fixtures.

All of which strongly suggests that Arsenal should be fancied to take full advantage this Saturday lunchtime, buoyant as they are from handsomely beating Chelsea at the Bridge, but though that is the likeliest outcome a caveat should at least be considered.

These seismic flaws within Manchester United’s infrastructure and passivity on the pitch are hardly new shortcomings but time and again, just when you think it can’t possibly get any worse for them, it doesn’t, as they respond as if all is well in their world. It was a positive reaction that almost became a cliché under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with comebacks commonplace too, but although it remains in their DNA a crucial difference this term is in who is responsible for their saving of face.

No longer do they put in a surprisingly decent performance from seemingly nowhere as a group but instead turn to one man, a player who was absent from Merseyside this week following the tragic death of his newborn son. It is still unclear whether Cristiano Ronaldo will be available at the weekend but he returned to full training on Wednesday and what is certain is that United are in desperate need of him.

Because after being horribly dismantled at home to Manchester City in early March, their Portuguese superstar scored a hat-trick in the next game. After meekly surrendering at Goodison a few weeks later, their Portuguese superstar scored a hat-trick in the next game. Ronaldo boasts eight goals in 16 appearances against Arsenal and this season in the league alone has fired seven match-winners, more than any other player. Pertinently, his side have not won any of the seven games in which he has not started.

It may be a simplistic summation but if the 37-year-old is able to perform, United have a chance. If he can’t, they don’t.

CR7 has scored a third of his goals in 2021/22 beyond the 75th minute. He is 15/4 to convert in the second period.

Not against an Arsenal team who this week firmly put to bed three straight defeats with a resounding showing at the home of their London rivals. It is beholden to not get too carried away with the 4-2 score-line, given that Mikel Arteta’s men scored from all four of their shots on target while across this season only Wolves and Brighton have worst chance conversion rates in the top ten. That smacks of an anomaly.

In their last five respective fixtures Arsenal and United have averaged 5.2 corners per game combined. Under 9.5 corners on Saturday is 11/10. Get on it.

Elsewhere though, they were fluid and adventurous, with Bukayo Saka having one of his best games to date in an Arsenal shirt against some stiff competition. The 20-year-old has now reached double figures for the season, a feat matched by Emile Smith Rowe who also notched at Chelsea, and apologies for hammering home a point but while United are placing all their hope in an aging maestro turning back the clock, Arsenal are all about the here and now and future.

Today’s reveal that Erik ten Hag is coming to Old Trafford may of course alter that analysis, but not this weekend. Not when United’s problems feel too sizable to overcome before the season’s conclusion while their opponents are starting to sprint to the finish line.

United are uncharacteristically near to the foot of the fair play table and this one could get feisty. Over 11.5 fouls committed by the visitors is available at evens and that’s a great price.