The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in the summer has left critics doubting the ability of the Manchester United front line.

Yes, Michael Owen has arrived but can he fill the gap for the Premier League champions?

It is a question that has filled hours of talk radio already this campaign but the statistics suggest it is Man United’s lower profile players who actually make the difference when they take on their major opponents

The last five seasons, the players with the best win percentage in games against the Big Four are Ryan Giggs (58 per cent), Paul Scholes (56), Wes Brown (53), Patrice Evra (53) and Owen Hargreaves (50).

Meanwhile Manchester United lose 35 per cent of those games when Darren Fletcher does not play and just 23 per cent when he does.

In addition, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have not picked up a win in the three Big Four games Edwin van der Sar has missed in the last five years. It is worth noting therefore that the big Dutch keeper will miss the game this weekend.

Manchester United’s record against their main title rivals was relatively poor last season. The bulk of their points came from beating the almost the entire bottom half the Premier League home and away. That said, they have won 67 per cent of games against Big Four sides at Old Trafford in the last five years.

In terms of goals, Wayne Rooney has three in 14 home games against Big Four opponents but Rio Ferdinand is second in the list with two. The current Arsenal squad has nine goals on the ground of their major opponents. Andrey Arshavin leads the list with four – and all of those came at Anfield last season.

For Arsène Wenger, defensive players seem to be all important in games against Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Surprisingly Manuel Almunia has played only three away games against Big Four teams in the past five seasons but his team have a win ratio of eight per cent when he does not play. Arsenal have averaged 1.25 points in this category of game when Denilson has played and one point when he has not. Gallas stats are similar - 1.17 to one.

In keeping with the theme of ‘unsung heroes’, Arsenal have averaged 1.67 points in away games against the Big Four when Alex Song and Denilson have played in tandem but just one point when they have not.

If, as Wenger says, the strength of Arsenal’s squad has improved then this game could demonstrate it.

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28 Aug 2009