Picking a Combined Manchester United and Arsenal XI
The Manchester United-Arsenal rivalry is no longer what it was in the mid-2000s, but this Sunday's clash between the two sides has plenty at stake.
The Gunners are embroiled in a full-blooded chase for the third and fourth Champions League places in the Premier League, knowing every point is crucial in the run-in.
Arsene Wenger's players will give their title-winning opponents a guard of honour before the game—something that will no doubt be painful.
Compounding matters will be the presence of Robin van Persie, whose controversial move north to Manchester from London effectively turned him into public enemy No.1 at the Emirates.
Applauding the Dutchman for leaving in what proved a justified hunt for silverware is not most Arsenal players' idea of fun.
But both teams contain terrific footballers and world-class talent, not just the Red Devils.
This article will seek to pick a combined XI composed of the best players in each position.
Starting in goal for this mock XI is Manchester United's David de Gea.
He gets the nod over Wojciech Szczesny for his outstanding displays between the sticks for the Red Devils in 2013.
The Polish keeper has been uninspiring during the past 12 months, challenged by Lukasz Fabianski for his place in the Arsenal starting team.
United's No.1 has shown a real willingness to improve and adapt to the physical nature of the Premier League. His sharp reflexes? That's just a given.
At right-back, Arsenal's Bacary Sagna just gets the nod over Rafael.
Despite his stalled contract talks this term, Sagna remains a permanent fixture in Wenger's team and is one of the two or three best in his position in Britain.
Rafael has improved immensely this season and could very well be considered the best himself within a year's time.
But for now, a few defensive concerns still need to be ironed out of his game.
In the middle, who else but United's veteran partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic?
They have been the best central defensive partnership in the country for the past five years and arguably across Europe.
Arsenal have three competing centre-backs—Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker, but none have experience comparable to United's duo.
At left-back, I've given Nacho Monreal a slight edge over Patrice Evra.
Both are threatening going forward, but the Spaniard is perhaps a little better defending against quick, tricky wingers.
The Frenchman has had an improved campaign for Sir Alex's side, but remains exploitable.
Michael Carrick has been nominated for the PFA's Player of the Year award—deserved recognition for his performances at the heart of United's midfield.
He is the definition of understated excellence. It may surprise some to learn he has made more forward passes than any Premier League player this season.
Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby narrowly miss out—both are outstanding talents, but Carrick's season has just been too good to include the technically proficient Spaniard or the physical Frenchman.
Alongside him is Jack Wilshere, England's great hope.
The 21-year-old has been plagued by injuries throughout his burgeoning career but would walk into any Premier League team when fit and playing at his best.
Tom Cleverley and Ryan Giggs have had good campaigns at Old Trafford, but the club is desperately in need of a box-to-box creative player to fill such a void.
I'm an unabashed Theo Walcott fan, so he gets into the team over the disappointing Antonio Valencia and Nani.
Walcott has been one of the most productive wide players in the past three seasons, scoring 28 goals and racking up 26 assists.
His teammate, Santi Cazorla, is also included.
After a barnstorming start to the term, many were quick to hail Cazorla's signing as the best of the previous summer, but such sentiment has since cooled a little.
He is a dynamic attacking threat, and narrowly makes it into this team in the place of the fast-improving Shinji Kagawa.
Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie have both had individually excellent seasons, the latter more so.
They are two of the very best stock currently plying their trade in Britain, easily eclipsing the likes of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Gervinho.
Together they have scored 44 goals in all competitions, leading their team to the domestic promised land.
Rooney's future will remain in doubt until he signs a new contract for United, but the side is undoubtedly stronger with him in it.
And Van Persie? Even Arsenal fans would have to grudgingly admit his quality.
Who was the biggest omission?
On the bench for this supergroup of football's finest sits Szczesny, Mertesacker, Arteta, Kagawa and Javier Hernandez.
Picking 11 players from such a wealth of talent proved a tricky task. Tough decisions were made, great players were excluded.
Darn, now I know how Sir Alex and Arsene feel.
Who would you have in your Arsenal/Manchester United combined XI?
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