By Chris Harris
Why are Manchester United storming towards another Premier League title? Because while their rivals get stuck in a rut, the champions only suffer blips.
Sir Alex Ferguson's men have lost four times this season but, on each occasion, they have bounced back immediately. Since their last defeat - in the Manchester derby - United have reeled off six wins and a draw. Compare that to Arsenal, who were five points clear when they arrived at Birmingham in late February. Their response to the body-blow of a last-gasp equaliser? One win in six League games.
That's why United will have a six-point cushion on Arsenal when the teams meet at Old Trafford on Sunday and why anything but an away win will almost certainly extinguish the Gunners' title challenge.
We spoke to Stuart Mathieson of the Manchester Evening News to see how United are shaping up ahead of the big game. Read on for his views on United's unsung heroes, the surprising impact of Ferguson's new signings, the injury situation ahead of the Arsenal clash and why he thinks Arsène Wenger's side will be there or thereabouts next season.
THE STORY SO FAR
"There's no reason to believe that they won't go on and win it. I did say before the Middlesborough game that United didn't look like they had a hiccup in them, something that would trip them up like when they lost against Manchester City, West Ham and Bolton this season. I was proved wrong against Boro, that's always a tough game, but I just think they are in the zone now. OK, they might drop a point here and there, but I don't think it will be enough for anyone to catch up now.
"What makes them so hard to catch is that they never follow up a defeat with a defeat, certainly not this season. They might have a blip but they come back very, very strongly and always manage to put together something. The wounds are repaired very quickly unlike Arsenal this season. Their wound has stayed open for too long and teams can inflict further damage. United don't seem to have that in their make-up, they recover so quickly from set-backs."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"The unsung heroes are the defence, although people are singing about them more now. The players who have attracted the plaudits are Ronaldo and Rooney but that's on the back of a defence which gives them the confidence to attack the way they do. Van der Sar, Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra have been the mainstays of that rearguard this season and they are heading for club records of fewest goals conceded in a season. When Peter Schmeichel inspired United in 1994 they only conceded 26, the record for clean sheets is up for grabs too. It's no coincidence that the forwards have that licence when the rearguard is pretty much in command all the time."
"Anderson and Nani only arrived last summer but they have contributed. When he bought them Ferguson said they were for the future, he probably expected to use them a little this season but perhaps not as much as he has done. Nani has scored some great goals but Anderson has been the one. He had a broken leg for Porto last season and I'm sure the manager thought there was a bit of a risk there. But Anderson has been the biggest plus in terms of the summer buys."
"Vidic is expected back for Blackburn, Ferdinand picked up an injury at Boro and I was surprised to see him play against Roma. He had three stitches in his foot against Roma on Wednesday night so he must be a little bit doubtful. Evra got a buffeting at Middlesbrough and missed the Champions League game, presumably with a few bruises. He might be a doubt but everybody else - apart from Louis Saha - is OK. United even got 10 minutes out of Gary Neville last night and, incredibly, a full game out of Mikel Silvestre, who has been out since September."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"You would think that Arsenal's 4-0 defeat in the FA Cup at Old Trafford could have some sort of bearing on Sunday's game. Everything has conspired against Arsenal since then, that game was a real season-turner in many ways. It clearly had an impact on their League form and now they are coming into this game on the back of a fantastic game at Anfield, but they were the losers and you don't know how that will affect them. It's make-or-break for them, if they lose this one they can say goodbye to everything. They have to be up for it and, although footballers are reluctant to talk of revenge, there has to be a feeling of that from the Cup game. It really is a big one for Arsenal.
"As far as title contenders for next season, you can't look beyond the same four. Liverpool have had another disappointing season in the League, you wonder whether they are just going to be European candidates. Chelsea I can't see changing and Arsenal, apart from United, are the one team who have been very pleasing on the eye this season. They are a young side, sadly for them they have run out of steam. But with the experience of this season and perhaps a few signings in the summer, I am convinced they will be there again and perhaps will take it even closer next season in every competition.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 10 Apr 2008