Club Focus – Arsenal – Wenger and Ferguson ready to rekindle an old rivalry

Arsenal meet Manchester United this evening in arguably the biggest game of the season so far. Yet, amongst the mounting tension, relations between the sides are at the least amicable and at most fraternal.

The Premier League has missed the intensity of the duels between the two sides, epitomised by Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane on the field, and Messrs Wenger and Ferguson at their acerbic best off it. Far from the once fierce rivalry that previously existed between the sides, relations appear to be at an all time high. In fact, Sir Alex has been positively complimentary towards his opposite number, remarking of Arsenal’s title chances: “The general shape of the team has been far more mature and aggressive this year…they are better than they were last year and they’ll have a chance.

The altered mentality Ferguson refers to has been there for all to see, resulting in the Gunners grinding out notable away wins at Manchester City, Everton and Aston Villa, three places United failed to secure victory this season. Where United have failed to win, they have not been beaten either and head into Monday’s clash on an unbeaten league run. In that vein, memories of Arsenal falling agonisingly short of 50 games unbeaten in 2005’s encounter will provide added motivation to dismantle United’s unbeaten league campaign and increase their lead at the top.

In a veiled criticism, Ferguson explained: “The games, particularly four or five years ago, were so important because both of us were challenging for league titles.” That Arsenal have not mounted a sustained challenge may be accountable for the waning animosity between the sides, but the mutual dislike still resides. Even if the managers have resisted engaging in mind games, the players are clearly still keen to indulge. With a once burning rivalry between the clubs reduced to flickering embers, Patrice Evra has stoked up the fire once more with his incendiary comments, labelling Arsenal “a training centre,” and branding the club as being “in crisis.” Even Le Professeur acknowledged: “He gave you some good stuff to make it all hot before the game.” With the sides emerging as the principal title contenders, the long-running saga may be set to receive a new chapter.

Wenger’s men will relish the role of the underdog, having wilted under pressure at home and flourished on difficult away trips, yet with United’s game in hand they know a defeat could shift the balance of power. So far both managers have been reserved, opting for the strategic battle on the pitch, rather than a war of words off it. Although an air of calm is currently ensuing, it appears to pre-empt an impending storm, with one pivotal moment on Monday night set to reignite the rivalry.

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