Arsenal vie for upper hand in United rivalry
Manchester United and Arsenal will resume their historic rivalry at Old Trafford tomorrow with the London club holding the whip hand for the first time in several years.
The two teams have enjoyed many memorable tussles during the Premier League era, but it is usually United who have come out on top, and particularly when playing on home turf.
Arsenal have not won at United in seven years and manager Arsene Wenger has enjoyed victory on only four of the 22 occasions that his side have visited the home of the 20-time English champions.
The period between 1997 and 2005 bore witness to several titanic encounters, but although Arsenal claimed three league titles and four FA Cups during that period, they have not lifted any silverware since edging United on penalties in the final of the 2005 FA Cup.
Old Trafford has also been the scene of some chastening Arsenal defeats. They went down 6-1 in February 2001 and were humiliatingly routed 8-2 only two years ago.
Now, though, the winds of change are sweeping through English football and they have borne Arsenal to the top of the table after a start to the season in which they appear to have accumulated belief and purpose with each passing week.
After beating Liverpool 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium last weekend, Arsenal became the first English team to win at Borussia Dortmund in mid-week and they approach Sunday's game with an eight-point lead over United.
Wenger has characteristically attempted to downplay the expectations surrounding his team, but he says that the trip to Manchester is an opportunity for his players to demonstrate their appetite for a title tilt.
"What is the most important is that we trust our quality and show the resilience and the hunger to achieve what we can achieve," he said.
"We have made a lot of improvements at the back in our defensive game and we have done well in the last two games, but there is a lot to do.
"We cannot come to the conclusion that we are in a position where we can relax. We have a lot more to achieve.
"We have won nothing at all, we have just won two games, and what is important is what we achieve in the future."
Sunday's game will be the first time the sides have met with a manager other than Alex Ferguson in the United dug-out since Ron Atkinson saw his side lose 1-0 at Highbury in August 1986.
Ferguson's successor David Moyes remains in the spotlight due to United's underwhelming start to the season, but he can take heart from a run of eight games without defeat in all competitions.
The Scot will hope that Wayne Rooney can once again prove a thorn in Arsenal's side.
The England striker scored his first league goal against Arsenal with a memorable curling winner for Everton at the age of 16 and also got on the score-sheet in 2004 when United ended the Invincibles' 49-game unbeaten run.
"Arsenal do crop up quite often," Rooney said at sponsorship event on Friday.
"It is a bit weird. I am sure they must be sick of the sight of me at times. That first goal for Everton does seem like a long time ago.
"It was obviously a special goal for me, plus they were 32 games unbeaten. And I will always remember the 2004 game."
Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere will undergo a fitness test on his bothersome ankle after sitting out the last two games, but Mathieu Flamini has returned to training following a groin problem and could feature.
Moyes has revealed that Danny Welbeck will not be able to play due to a knee injury, but centre-back Jonny Evans has a chance of being involved after a back complaint.
Robin van Persie is expected to lead the line against his former club, having come off the bench and missed a second-half penalty in United's 0-0 draw away to Real Sociedad in the Champions League on Tuesday.