Manchester United can enjoy playing their first match since being crowned Premier League champions when they meet Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday, but for the home side it is a match of the utmost importance.
Arsenal head into the match in third place in the league, but, with Tottenham and Chelsea both just a point behind and the Blues having a game in hand, their hopes of securing Champions League qualification still lie firmly in the balance.
Manager Arsene Wenger believes his side’s main problems this season have been against the league’s leading sides and is eager to put that right on Sunday.
“I personally believe we have been remarkably consistent against the teams who do not fight for the championship,” he told Arsenal’s official website. “Last year we did well against top teams, but this year we have not.
“I felt it was a lot down to the fact we renewed the team and had a big lack of confidence for a while in the season. Now we have a good opportunity on Sunday to show that we have made that step so let's take it.”
The match will see a first return to the Emirates for former Gunner Robin van Persie. The Dutchman has excelled at Old Trafford and it was his hat-trick that sealed a 20th league title with a victory over Aston Villa on Monday. Despite having just the goal of attaining a Premier League record points haul to play for, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is eager for his squad not to drop their level for the rest of the season.
“Having won the league, there's always a danger of falling into the trap of 'it's all over and we can relax' and enjoy ourselves but I think we've got a duty to other clubs who are chasing Champions League places,” he said, according to Manchester United’s official website.
“Also, the rivalry we've had with Arsenal and then Chelsea over the years does put an edge to these games anyway so hopefully we'll represent ourselves in the right way.”
Ferguson has suggested that he will field a strong side and is likely to have defenders Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling fit after slight knocks.
Arsenal will be without striker Olivier Giroud after his sending off in the 1-0 win at Fulham last weekend, but Jack Wilshere is likely to return to the starting lineup.
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal
M: Arteta, Ramsey
Cazorla, Rosicky, Podolski
Manchester United (probable)
G: De Gea
D: Rafael, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra
M: Carrick, Rooney
Nani, Kagawa, Welbeck
F: Van Persie
Prediction: Arsenal’s form has been excellent of late, taking 16 points from the last 18 available. All those points were ones they would have expected to have taken, however, and, as Wenger points out, the Gunners have encountered their struggles whenever they have come up against quality opposition.
While United may field a strong lineup, it is hard not to think that there will be some letdown after winning the title and the subsequent late-night celebrations on Monday night.
A draw could well be on the cards.
Arsenal 1-1 Manchester United
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 11 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.