The gap between two traditional rivals will be scrutinized at Old Trafford as Manchester United host Arsenal on Sunday.
Both had contrasting summers and their starts to the season have reflected that. Manchester United spent heavily in strengthening their squad, splashing £50 million on Phil Jones, Ashley Young and David De Gea. Add that to Sir Alex's new crop of youngsters in Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck and United have strength in depth which Arsenal, at the moment, can only dream of.
The Gunners lost their talismanic skipper Cesc Fabregas along with the equally important Samir Nasri to Barcelona and Manchester City respecitvely, while injuries and suspensions have left the squad with a critical shortage in quality as well as quantity in both midfield and defence. Although Arsene Wenger was spared the blushes when his side secured a Champions League spot at the expense of Udinese, the London side will need to secure quality signings before the transfer deadline day (Wednesday) if they're to be considered genuine contenders for the title.
Arsenal will travel to Old Trafford knowing that a win could provide a timely lift to a squad in dire need of inspiration, although they'll gladly take a draw if they can. It's a measure of how much things have changed since the peak of the rivalry back in the late 90s and early 2000s. Another measure is that Sir Alex no longer feels the need to indulge in pre-match mind games, although he did take a subtle dig at Wenger in saying he wouldn't have allowed a six-year trophy drought.
I wouldn't have allowed that to happen. You know, I don't contemplate these things. Ferguson said. Arsene has got his way and I've got my way and, you do the best with what you believe in. And that's what Arsene is trying to do. It is a different way of management.
Arsenal have failed to score in the league so far, in the two games against Newcastle and Liverpool, and it has much to do with a lack of service from a midfield depleted by injuries to Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby. Suspensions to Alex Song and Emmanuel Frimpong leave Wenger with only Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky in the middle. It remains to be seen whether the Frenchman will, as has been suggested, use centre-back Johan Djourou in the role of the destroyer in midfield.
Contrastingly, when Manchester United were deprived of their central-defensive pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, both of whom were injured, Sir Alex could call upon Phil Jones and Johnny Evans, leaving Chris Smalling on the right flank. And Jones in particular, served a good case to be considered for the first team with a formidable performance. Even their nervous keeper, De Gea, managed a clean sheet which will only boost his confidence. United are traditionally slow starters, but after two games they have displayed character in a fighting win at West Brom, and quality in the 3-0 drubbing of Spurs.
It all points to an easy day for United, especially considering the problems faced by Arsenal. Having said that, securing the Champions League spot should have boosted morale in the Arsenal camp and served a timely reminder of the stature of their club.
Manchester United will be without captain Nemanja Vidic and Rafael Da Silva, but Rio Ferdinand could make a return while Darren Fletcher put in 90 minutes for the reserves after recovering from a virus.
Arsenal face a nervous wait on the fitness of Thomas Vermaelen, while Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby are both sidelined with injuries. Alex Song, Gervinho and Emmanuel Frimpong are all suspended.
- This will be the 214th meeting between the two sides. So far, Manchester United have won 88 times while Arsenal are close behind on 79 wins. There have been 46 draws. This will also be the 46th time Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger will face each other. Ferguson has won 20 times to Wenger's 16, with 9 draws.
- Arsenal have only scored 8 goals in their 19 league visits to Old Trafford.
Although a win would go a long way to helping Arsenal out of their whole, they face a strong and confident United side. At Old Traffrod, a Manchester United loss is unlikely. A 3-1 win for Man United is expected.