Wenger sees Arse­nal fin­ish­ing on top this sea­son

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL -

ARSE­NAL visit Old Traf­ford to face Manch­ester United to­day for a fix­ture which is likely to re­vive mem­o­ries of some of the English game’s most bit­ter bat­tles.

Af­ter a decade of fight­ing tooth and nail for the top prizes, im­ages of Roy Keane’s tun­nel row with Pa­trick Vieira, Martin Ke­own’s glee­ful cel­e­bra­tion of a Ruud van Nis­tel­rooy penalty miss and the juicy tales of a food fight in­volv­ing pizza fol­low­ing a United win over the Gun­ners are etched in the mem­ory.

The ri­valry be­tween the two clubs has been less fierce in re­cent years as Arse­nal faded from the pic­ture.

But the meet­ing be­tween the teams in the Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nals last sea­son – a tie eas­ily won by United – and Arse­nal’s im­pres­sive start to the cur­rent cam­paign gives this week­end’s game a more com­bustable look.

Out­siders and pun­dits have queued up to tell Gun­ners boss Arsene Wenger that the best years are be­hind his team – his best team be­ing the un­beaten ‘In­vin­ci­bles’ side of 2003-2004 – but the French­man him­self begs to dif­fer as he is again back­ing his side to win the Premier League.

De­spite hav­ing not won any sig­nif­i­cant sil­ver­ware since 2005, Wenger re­fuses to be fazed, back­ing the young age of his team to stand Arse­nal in good stead.

“A team which aver­ages 28 or 29 years old can maybe im­prove by five per­cent but a team av­er­ag­ing 22 years old can im­prove by 30 per­cent,” he said. “But I’m very con­fi­dent be­cause we have qual­ity, we have at­ti­tude, we have tal­ent and we have am­bi­tion. I am con­fi­dent we will do very well and hope­fully we will sur­prise many peo­ple.

“I en­vis­age only one or­der and that is Arse­nal fin­ish­ing on top and all the rest can do what they want.”

Sir Alex Fer­gu­son will be one of those men men­tioned try­ing to stop Wenger from com­plet­ing his wish of winning the Premier League but United’s sea­son has not got off to the most com­pre­hen­sive of starts.

A 1-0 loss to new­com­ers Burn­ley was a huge sur­prise and prompted many to sug­gest United are not the same side without Cris­tiano Ron­aldo fol­low­ing his move to Real Madrid. But United will go into the Arse­nal en­counter buoyed by a 5-0 victory over Wi­gan – the per­fect re­sponse to the crit­ics fol­low­ing their loss at Turf Moor.

The team has been cre­atively led by Wayne Rooney since Ron­aldo’s de­par­ture and he has mag­nif­i­cently re­paid Fer­gu­son’s faith by hav­ing his best ever start to a Premier League cam­paign with four goals in three matches.

United are likely to need all his abil­i­ties against Arse­nal but he is con­fi­dent he can ful­fill Fer­gu­son’s ex­pec­ta­tions of 25 goals this sea­son.

“Of course 25 is a tar­get which I hope I’m go­ing to reach,” Rooney said. “I’ve al­ways said I should score more and hope­fully I’ll do that this sea­son. I’ve got what I wanted. I like to play through the mid­dle.”

“The man­ager has come out now and said I am go­ing to play there through­out the sea­son so I’m de­lighted with that,” he added.

Arse­nal came through their Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fier with Celtic un­scathed ear­lier this week but have a doubt over cap­tain Cesc Fabre­gas, who has a ham­string in­jury, while United will again be without cen­tral de­fender Rio Fer­di­nand. He has not played since in­jur­ing his thigh against Chelsea in the Com­mu­nity Shield but he is hop­ing to re­turn to the United side for the fix­ture against Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur on Septem­ber 12 – two weeks quicker than ini­tially thought, and straight af­ter the in­ter­na­tional break. “I hope to be back to full fit­ness in a cou­ple of weeks,” he said. “I’ve been work­ing re­ally hard with the phys­ios – they’ve been run­ning me into the ground do­ing bike rides all over Cheshire.” – Sapa-AFP

CON­FI­DENT: Arsene Wenger says his side will be champs.

DE­TER­MINED: Alex Fer­gu­son loves beat­ing Wenger.

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