It is a fixture which has produced many classics. It is one which has seen many records made and broken; duels (personal and professional) won and lost. In 2004, when Arsenal travelled to Old Trafford to face-off against Manchester United, they had a 49-game unbeaten run to boast of. In that game a young Wayne Rooney inspired United to a 2-0 win, breaking Arsenal's long unbeaten streak.
On Monday, when Arsenal visit Old Trafford in the English Premier League, it is Manchester United carrying a 20-game unbeaten run and Arsenal the ones attempting to break it. The usual pre-match mind games were long underway, and United's left back, Patrice Evra, made an especially spicy dig at Arsenal, claiming they were little more than a football training centre. This led to Arsenal's in-form central midfielder, Samir Nasri, to say, We are not children and we will demonstrate that on Monday. We will show Manchester United that Arsenal have really grown.
Arsenal will be surprised to find themselves at the head of the league after four losses already this season, three of them coming at home to West Brom, Newcastle and Tottenham. However, the unpredictable nature of the league this season gives everyone a shout for the title. Chelsea's dip in form coinciding with the Gunners winning run has left them at the top of the table, one point above Manchester United, who have a game in hand.
They haven't won a trophy since 2005, and Arsenal and their manager, Arsene Wenger, are under pressure to deliver a trophy. In the previous seasons, they faltered in the big games, twice losing to eventual champions Chelsea last season, and Wenger has urged his side to gain a mental advantage by winning at Old Trafford.
It's a big game for us because we know that we have to convince people that we can do well in the big games. He said. We know as well that looking at the championship it's an important place to win points. At the moment, we are in a strong position in the league. We go away for a big game. One or two of the big games, we need to win away from home. That is what is at stake for us.
It's more psychological for the rest of the season than a decider, mathematically. They have recent history going for them and, in fairness, they have always big teams. But we have built a team and slowly come up and now we have an opportunity to show we are ready for the championship title.
On his age-long spats with his counterpart, Sir Alex Ferguson, Wenger said, It's always for me in the heat of the moment. I'm not somebody who bears grudges for years. I can forgive - indeed, sometimes I need to be the person to be forgiven - but I'm not somebody who thinks for 10 years, forever, 'I will hate you'.
Relations with people go up and down a little bit. Why? Because many things happen in the heat of the moment and you know it's not for definite. I have had arguments not only with him but with other managers.''
Manchester United sit at third in the league, with a game in hand. They demolished Blackburn 7-1 in their last league outing. However, since then, they suffered a 4-0 hammering against West Ham in the Carling Cup, and lumbered to a 1-1 draw against Valencia in the Champions League during mid-week. Though they are undefeated, United have been shaky so far this season, drawing games they maybe should have won.
United, however, have a five year history of performing against Arsenal, as well as gaining strength in the second-half of seasons. With Rooney slowly coming back to form, Berbatov back to scoring goals, and the defensive pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand getting more games, United look set to do that again. Add to that the 20-game unbeaten run, and there is rising belief among United supporters of emulating Arsenal's-49 game unbeaten run.
Their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, rebuffed the expectations though, citing the unpredictability of the league this season, as a reason. He said, It won't happen again. The time Arsenal did it they had 12 draws. It was a great achievement but in this league you cannot think for a minute you will go through undefeated.
However, he also insisted that Arsenal are a more physical outfit than in recent years.
Don't be deceived by the view that the Gunners play pretty football but can be kicked out of games, he said. Other managers tell me that the present Arsenal side is the most physical since the days of Martin Keown. There is an edge through their team that accounts for their presence as challengers. They are not the lilywhites portrayed by some.
However, irrespective of how the game unfolds, it promises to be a spectacle. It is one of the most important games between the two sides in recent times and, as is the case when these two meet, there will be goals, some tough tackling and maybe even a red card.
This will be the 43rd time Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger will face each other. Ferguson has the upper hand, winning 17 times to Wenger's 14. However, United are unbeaten in their last five matches against Arsenal in all competitions, winning four of them. Arsenal, on the other hand, have lost seven of their last nine games at Old Trafford in all competitions.
Team News -
Manchester United pair of Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes have recovered from respective hamstring and groin problems for the game. Their long-term injury absentees of Hargreaves, Owen and Valencia will be side-lined.
Arsenal will leave the decision on whether to include Fabregas till the last minute, with Wenger giving him only a small chance. Clichy and Djourou are also doubtful, while Almunia, Diaby, Gibbs, Frimpong and Vermaelen are all side-lined with injury.
Table Position -
Arsenal currently head the table with 32 points. A win will see them extend their lead at the top to 35 points, 3 above second placed Manchester City. A loss though, will allow United, who are on 31 and on third place, to overtake them and sit atop the league with 34 points, with a game in hand.
Both teams have been inconsistent this season with neither team hitting top-form yet. Arsenal's troubles will stem from their weak defence, with their keeper Fabianski and central-defensive pair of Squillaci and Koscielny coming under criticism for weak displays. United have Rooney and Berbatov returning to form, and Arsenal's defence will have a torrid time against them. Ferdinand's return is a big boost for United, and his pairing with Vidic will be crucial to prevent the in-form Nasri. United will hit Arsenal on the counter, and it seems unlikely that Arsenal can pull of a win at Old Trafford. A 2-1 win to United looks likely.