Arsenal vs. Manchester United: The Greatest Slug It Out Once More
Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe. Ayrton Senna vs. Alain Prost. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier. All great sporting rivalries. Another rivalry you can include in that list is Arsene Wenger vs. Sir Alex Ferguson, a rivalry to be renewed this Saturday.
From the moment Wenger was named as the Arsenal boss and started moulding his Arsenal team, they have challenged Manchester United's dominance. 36 meetings between the two later, and the fixture still provides that tingle of excitement and anticipation that accompanies very few other games.
Perhaps the rivalry is not quite as heated as it used to be. For example, we are unlikely to see something to similar to the Roy Keane vs. Patrick Vieira battles, or the Martin Keown vs. Ruud van Nistelrooy incident.
Why is this? Well, these players are getting harder and harder to come by nowadays. The week has been dominated by Arsene Wenger asking for more protection for his team, something I think is delightfully ironic considering the disciplinary problems that used to plague Arsenal.
Players like Vieira, Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, and Martin Keown used to clatter into players every week. Now that Wenger doesn't have players willing to do that, he demands protection. Sorry, but it doesn't work like that.
Another reason the rivalry isn't as heated as before is Arsenal's lack of success. It used to be extra special because it was a battle between the top two teams in England, which is now not the case.
Still, there are a few players who know what this match means. Unfortunately for the Gunners, however, they are all on United's side. The likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, and even the younger players such as Wayne Rooney, know how important this fixture is.
Perhaps only Kolo Toure on the Arsenal team-sheet can be said to have anywhere near the same understanding of this fixture.
But you can be sure that Wenger has been drilling it into his side all week, as Ferguson would've with United.
It may not be as heated, or even important, as in previous years, but you can be assured that players, staff, and fans of both teams would've marked this match in their calenders when the fixture list was first announced.
The match is delightfully set up. Both managers have 13 wins over the other, with 10 drawn, so the winner will get the upper hand in the personal rivalry. It also showcases the league's second best attack (Arsenal - 23 goals) against the league's second best defence (Man Utd - eight conceded).
Manchester Utd are yet to record a win at the Emirates Stadium, but I expect that to end tomorrow. My prediction? 2-1 Manchester United.
And, who knows, this could be the last time these two great managers ever meet...
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