By Giuseppe Muro
Despite neither side being at their very best this season, Arsenal and Manchester United currently occupy the two top spots in the Premier League.
The pair meet at Old Trafford tonight and ahead of the game we spoke to James Robson of the Manchester Evening News to get a Manchester United perspective on the game.
THE STORY SO FAR
It’s been a strange one so far. Most United fans and even Alex Ferguson will admit they have been far from their best. I think when they finally got to the top of the table after the Blackburn result everyone around Old Trafford was shocked because of the way they’ve been playing all season. No-one could have guessed they would have been top of the table heading into December. On the back of that Blackburn result, which was their best performance probably since beating Arsenal at the start of the year, they then went and lost 4-0 at West Ham. That has to be taken into context because it was very much a changed side but the feeling was that after the Blackburn result everything was clicking into place just at the right time.
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
That’s probably the worrying thing for their rivals. If they are allowed to be at the top of the table without really having to particularly impress then the worrying thing is that after Christmas they do usually come strong. I suppose the one thing you would say is that last season they did come strong after Christmas but it still wasn’t enough. That is the fear that the squad maybe isn’t strong enough to maintain a challenge right through to the end of the season. Most United fans are hoping that there will be some acquisitions in January. If you take one or two players out of that side it starts to look a little bit shaky.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
The problems are what they have been for quite a while really - they need to find replacements for Giggs and Scholes. Fortunately they have been defying all logic by continuing to be top-class players even in their late 30s. The problem is who the replacements are. Fabregas? Xavi? Iniesta? They are not going to get those players. This is the problem Ferguson has had for a number of years.
MAN OF THE MOMENT
There were concerns as to whether he would win over the fans but to be honest that hasn’t been a problem. Once he said he was staying the fans took him right back to their hearts again. The fans love him, he’s an absolute hero. The fact that they would have been so upset if he left was a measure of how much they love him. He hasn’t looked as good as he did last season since he got injured against Bayern Munich back in March. You just have to look at his scoring record since he got injured - he’s still only got two goals for United since then and both of those have been from the penalty spot. But there are signs [he is getting back to his best] and he looked very good against Valencia even without scoring. He was really good against Blackburn in the 7-1 win when he and Berbatov were superb.
Rio Ferdinand is absolutely vital. The partnership between Ferdinand and Vidic is what they based that hat-trick of titles on from 2007 to 2009. It is absolutely crucial. Ferguson said that he expects Ferdinand to play. It was more precautionary more than anything when he came off with a tight hamstring [against Valencia on Wednesday].