Arsenal head to Manchester United with everything to prove
Manchester United v Arsenal, Premier League, Old Trafford, Monday December 13, 8pm
ARSENAL may have proved themselves away from home this season, but despite five victories on the road it is the one defeat that still gnaws away at their Premier League title pretensions.
The 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge in October was as disappointing as it was comprehensive, with the Gunners never looking likely to recover once Didier Drogba had fired the Blues in front.
The result made it five successive defeats to their immediate title rivals – and the sides who have shared the crown for the past six seasons – Chelsea and Manchester United.
Gunners right-back Bacary Sagna believes it is about time that run, and a record of four defeats in the past five meetings with United, came to an end.
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“If we want to be successful at the end of the season and if we want to be competitive we have to win these big games,” said Sagna. “We [lost] the first one at Chelsea and we don’t want to drop any more points because we dropped so many at home.
“We just want to play our game and to win away. The title will not be over at the end of December [but] it will show the way to go and will give even more power to the team [that wins].”
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“We are doing quite well at the moment and we have to keep looking forward because some big games are coming and we want to win them.”
It is over four years since Arsenal’s last success at Old Trafford, in September 2006, when Emmanuel Adebayor’s late goal settled the game.
Interestingly the only player who started in the Gunners’ 1-0 win who is likely to do so again on Monday night is Johan Djourou, who was only 19 at the time.
Cesc Fabregas was also 19 and started that day, but it is looking increasingly likely that his hamstring injury will rule him out of Monday’s clash.
That will be a boost to United and Sir Alex Ferguson, who has recently welcomed back his own talisman, Wayne Rooney.
The England striker has returned just to a side on an unbeaten league run that now stretches back 27 games is plenty of evidence that United will challenging for the title again come May, as they always are.
Rooney has been playing just behind Dimitar Berbatov, whose five goals against Blackburn ended a 10-game scoreless streak for the Bulgarian who is the top flight’s leading scorer with 11 goals so far.
They are supplemented by the improving Nani on the left flank and usually Ji-Sung Park on the right, although the young Frenchman Gabriel Obertan is another option.
After defensive injury problems in August, both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are fit again and will be aiming to keep Arsenal’s chances to a premium.
That is something United have usually managed, as it is 26 years since Arsenal scored more than one goal in a league game at Old Trafford, and that was in a 4-2 defeat in 1984.
Arsene Wenger did oversee a 2-0 FA Cup victory in 2003, after which Ferguson infamously launched a stray boot at a certain David Beckham.
Much has changed for both sides since then, but United have not been beaten since March in the league, and of their eight draws this season only one has been at Old Trafford. Arsenal will do well to make that two.
Prediction: Man United 1 Arsenal 1