Still The Greatest Rivalry?
The two teams are currently separated by 15 points and if Arsenal fail to win, even Wenger can't pretend they are title challengers. So the extra spice and flavour that had originated from the fact these teams were figthing for the title is gone. But it's still the most important fixture for many fans of both teams.
Having said this, I must admit I'm one of those fans who rate this game as the greatest of the season. I desperately want us to win each time we meet the Gunners and of course I was sickened and gutted when they stole a result at Old Trafford with that late Adebayor goal this season.
Recent years have produced some truly memorable clashes between these teams which only added to the fire. With the emergence of Chelsea, these two battled out who should be Dinamo London's main challenger. It happened in the 2004/05 season when two bitter, controversial game meant perhaps the climax of this rivalry. We ended Arsenal's 49-game unbeaten run and produced a spectacular 4-2 win at Highbury. Although Arsenal eventually finished second, Wenger broke up the team and started to build a new one while Sir Alex continuted to capitalise on the foundations he'd already had at his disposal.
The result? The following season saw Arsenal being way off the pace whilst United almost mounted a genuine title challenge with a late resurgence. The difference between the two teams resulted in two relatively quiet games and United came out on top.
This season is different, I believe. Arsenal are still way behind but they are showing signs that they could be genuine title challengers soon. Their Old Trafford was victory was as excellent as unexpected but once again, there was no heat, spark or controversy in the game. And it would be extreme hypocrisy if I stated I had not missed it. And few things indicate it would change soon.
The two managers' relationship that was sour at the very least, became much more cordial, with both praising each other before the matches instead of trying to play mind games. Fabregas praised Scholes, Ferdinand admitted Adebayor was the best player he faced this season - we can expect a relatively fair, quiet game with both sides concentrating on playing football.
Of course that's not bad, I'd love to see a cracking game. But as one of the fans who still regard this as the most prestigious game we have in the calendar (forget Chelsea, forget even Liverpool) I miss that kind of fire we witnessed in the ugly scenes of 2003 and 2004. At least I hope we can exact revenge, with Gilberto Silva out we have a good chance. Oh, and probably Justin Hoyte will play right-back - he'll be opposed to either Ronaldo or Giggs...
My prediction: I'll be bold and brave and confident - 2-1 United.
And for an apéritif, watch this video.