With the Swede suspended for the visit of the Gunners to Old Trafford, Jose Mourinho must choose from three options to lead his attack
While Jose Mourinho has found himself facing multiple selection headaches since arriving at Manchester United, one thing has remained a constant. When Premier League matches have rolled around, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has always been the man front and centre in his attacking line.
Why young stars should avoid Man Utd
Besides goalkeeper David de Gea, only Ibrahimovic has featured in every league game to date and, like the Spaniard, the 35-year-old has played all 990 minutes of United's campaign so far.
But that run of consistency ends at Old Trafford on Saturday when the Swedish striker misses the meeting with Arsenal due to his having collected five yellow cards in domestic competition this season - and, in Ibrahimovic's absence, it is by no means certain who will lead United's line against Arsene Wenger's side.
Skipper Wayne Rooney, youngster Marcus Rashford and big-money signing Anthony Martial could all stake a claim for the No.9 slot when Arsenal come to town, with all three having pros and cons against their name in the lone-striker position.
There have been glimpses as to what Mourinho might do for a Plan B in the EFL Cup and Europa League. With Ibra having started only twice in six games across the two competitions, the Portuguese has normally given Rooney the chance to lead the line, although Rashford did get the nod for the 1-0 loss at Feyenoord as the club captain did not make the trip to Rotterdam.
The returns have not been overwhelming without Ibrahimovic, with Rooney drawing blanks against Northampton Town and at home against Fenerbahce. The 31-year-old did find the net in the return trip in Turkey, having started as the sole striker, but, by the time that he scored his 89th-minute goal, he had long since dropped back into a No.10 role following an early injury to Paul Pogba.
Dier hits out at 'ridiculous' Herrera elbow
Martial, meanwhile, is yet to start from the centre of attack this season having also been stripped of the No.9 shirt upon Ibrahimovic's arrival. Thus far, Mourinho has seemingly only considered the Frenchman as a wide man, with all eight of his starts this term coming from the flanks.
Looking back further for evidence of the merits of the trio, it is interesting to note how Louis van Gaal dished out the striker duties during his final season as United manager.
Rooney played 22 times as a figurehead under the Dutchman in 2015-16, scoring 11 goals in the process. Six of those came in a six-game period at the turn of the year after Van Gaal had given him the boost of regular starts ahead of Martial, who had been moved to the wings.
The Frenchman was partly overlooked by Van Gaal due to his less-than-prolific return as a No.9. His only goals when starting as the main striker came in the way of a double in the win at Southampton and another strike in the critical Champions League defeat at Wolfsburg.
Xavi calls on Barca to sign Coutinho
Having started 15 games in total at centre forward and with his record doing little to support his case for regular involvement in that position, Martial soon found it impossible to replace Rashford in the main role once the youngster had made his presence felt in his colleague's absence against FC Midtjylland in February.
Rashford started 17 games up front and scored eight times, with only one of his starts – away to Liverpool – coming in any role other than that of the figurehead. But throwing things forward to present day, the 19-year-old has found faith in his abilities as a centre forward hard to come by. He did at least get some game time in the position on Tuesday when replacing Jamie Vardy for the final quarter of England's 2-2 draw with Spain at Wembley, a game which Rooney missed out on due to an apparent training-ground injury.
Like Rooney, Martial missed out on the chance to press for inclusion in Mourinho's thoughts, having been left out of Didier Deschamps's side for the encounter with Ivory Coast, seemingly leaving Rashford with a clear run for the starting spot in attack.
Aspas & Isco paper over cracks for Spain
But if Rooney can prove his fitness before Saturday, he could yet find the manager giving him the benefit of the doubt. "For me, he will be a No.9 or a No.10, or a number nine-and-a-half, but with me he will never be a No.6, not even a No.8," warned Mourinho immediately after taking up the United post.
Yet in recent weeks he has rarely been given the nod as a No.10 and, if Rashford is chosen ahead of him as a No.9 against Arsenal, then Rooney's usefulness (or lack thereof) to the Red Devils' cause will truly come under the spotlight.
With Martial unlikely to be moved in from the wing, it would appear to be a two-horse race between Rashford and Rooney. But if the skipper is fit and still misses out, then the questions relating to his future will only intensify.