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United and Arsenal ready to resume rivalry

sports Updated: Aug 28, 2009 10:53 IST

AFP
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Arsenal visit Old Trafford to face Manchester United on Saturday for a fixture which is likely to revive memories of some of the English game's most bitter battles.

After a decade of fighting tooth and nail for the top prizes, images of Roy Keane's tunnel row with Patrick Vieira, Martin Keown's gleeful celebration of a Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty miss and the juicy tales of "pizza-gate" following a United win over the Gunners are etched in the memory.

The rivalry between the two clubs has been less fierce in recent years as Arsenal faded from the picture.

But the meeting between the teams in the Champions League semi-finals last season - a tie easily won by United - and Arsenal's impressive start to the current campaign gives this weekend's game a more combustable look.

Outsiders and pundits have queued up to tell Gunners boss Arsene Wenger that the best years are behind his team - his best team being the unbeaten 'Invincibles' side of 2003-2004 - but the Frenchman himself begs to differ as he is again backing his side to win the Premier League.

Despite having not won any significant silverware since 2005, Wenger refuses to be fazed, backing the young age of his team to stand Arsenal in good stead.

"A team which averages 28 or 29 years old can maybe improve by 5 percent but a team averaging 22 years old can improve by 30 percent," he said.

"But I'm very confident because we have quality, we have attitude, we have talent and we have ambition.

"I am confident we will do very well and hopefully we will surprise many people.

"I envisage only one order and that is Arsenal finishing on top and all the rest can do what they want."

Sir Alex Ferguson will be one of those men mentioned trying to stop Wenger from completing his wish of winning the Premier League but United's season has not got off to the most comprehensive of starts ahead of Arsenal's visit.

A 1-0 loss to newcomers Burnley was a huge surprise and prompted many to suggest United are not the same side without Cristiano Ronaldo following his move to Real Madrid.

But United will go into the Arsenal encounter buoyed by a 5-0 victory over Wigan - the perfect response to the critics following their loss at Turf Moor.

The team has been creatively led by Wayne Rooney since Ronaldo's departure and he has magnificently repaid Ferguson's faith by having his best ever start to a Premier League campaign with four goals in three matches.

United are likely to need all his abilities against Arsenal but he is confident he can fulfill Ferguson's expectations of 25 goals this season.

He said: "Of course 25 is a target which I hope I'm going to reach.

"I've always said I should score more and hopefully I'll do that this season. I've got what I wanted. I like to play through the middle."

"The manager has come out now and said I am going to play there throughout the season so I'm delighted with that."

Arsenal came through their Champions League qualifier with Celtic unscathed earlier this week but have a doubt over captain Cesc Fabregas, who has a hamstring injury, while United will again be without central defender Rio Ferdinand.

He has not played since injuring his thigh against Chelsea in the Community Shield but he is hoping to return to the United side for the fixture against Tottenham Hotspur on September 12 - two weeks quicker than initially thought and straight after the impending international break.

"I hope to be back to full fitness in a couple of weeks," he said. "I've been working really hard with the physios - they've been running me into the ground doing bike rides all over Cheshire."