Premier League Preview; Manch

Weíre about to find out once and for all about Arsenalís title credentials as they visit Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday (April 13).

There has been an orderly queue forming for the privilege of writing off Arsenalís season following their dramatic Champions League exit on Tuesday night (April 8). Trailing leaders United by six points, this Old Trafford clash is one that Arsenal absolutely have to win. Even before their Anfield trauma Arsene Wenger had conceded that his sideís hopes would evaporate without three points against Sir Alex Fergusonís men. Enough talking, itís time to find out what Wengerís troops are made of.

Not one to necessarily worry about the fortunes of his main rivals, Sir Alex will probably view the clash as just another opportunity to pick up three points. Though he will know that even a draw should get rid of Arsenalís attentions, he will be telling his side to go all out for the win given that Chelsea closed to within three points of the lead last weekend. While United were stuttering to a 2-2 draw at Middlesbrough, Avram Grantís men piled on the pressure by beating Manchester City 2-0 at Eastlands. With Wigan arriving at Stamford Bridge on Monday (April 14) any slip by United here could be mercilessly capitalised on, with the real title decider perhaps the meeting between United and Chelsea on April 26.

Rio Ferdinand should be fit to start for the hosts. The England defender has a foot injury but has been playing through the pain in the absence of regular central defensive partner Nemanja Vidic. The Serb misses out again, but Patrice Evra is expected to return to bolster the defence after missing the Champions League win over Roma in midweek. Ferguson rested both Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney for the visit of the Italians but expect both to be back in the starting line-up for this one. All of which could see Carlos Tevez return to the bench despite his winning goal against the Romans. Paul Scholes is in contention for a starting role in midfield after also taking a rest on Wednesday night (April 9).

There is no end in sight to the injury problems for Arsenal. Eduardo is gone for the season while the same fate appears to have befallen Tomas Rosicky. Bacary Sagna is still missing from the defence and the midfield has been hit by the loss of Mathieu Flamini for three weeks with an ankle problem. Gilberto Silva is likely to come in to replace him alongside a seemingly tiring Cesc Fabregas in the Gunnersí engine room. A startling cameo at Anfield which almost took his side through could yet earn Theo Walcott a start out wide on the right, while Wenger will hope that Robin van Persie will be fit to play following a season ravaged by injury.

Recent meetings between the two have lacked the edgy atmosphere of those which took place during the pomp of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira, but there is always a competitive, sometimes frantic feel about these clashes. This will be no different, with the overall head-to-head showing how closely matched these two clubs have been over the years. In 177 previous league meetings United have 71 wins to Arsenalís 65, with 41 games drawn. However, United have dominated at Old Trafford with 49 wins to Arsenalís 15 and 24 draws. The teams shared a 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium in November of last year, while Arsenalís last visit to Old Trafford ended in triumph thanks to Emmanuel Adebayorís late goal.

Arsenalís desperate need should make this a more open affair than we are used to seeing between these sides. The same could be said of United with Chelsea breathing rather heavily down their collective neck. There should be goals, but it is hard to see how Arsenal can pick themselves up sufficiently from their midweek disaster to beat an in-form, well rested United outfit.

Verdict; Arsenal 1 Manchester United 3

By Stephen Orford

April 12 2008

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