Arsene Wenger is excited about the prospect of locking horns with Manchester United in one of the Premier League’s “special” games this weekend.
Arsenal versus United was always seen as a title-defining fixture around the turn of the century, as Wenger’s side duelled for supremacy with Alex Ferguson’s United.
The rise of Chelsea and Manchester City has seen both teams’ prominence in the title picture wane somewhat in recent years, but Sunday’s clash at the Emirates Stadium once again has a top-of-the-table edge to it.
Arsenal sit just three points behind league leaders United, and Wenger believes that means this weekend’s meeting takes on extra importance.
“It is a special fixture because usually Man United are always fighting at the top,” he said at Friday’s pre-match press conference.
“It has an even bigger meaning now because there are three points between the teams, and we play at home in a big game.
“We have just come from a big win at Leicester and we want to continue our run. We are the only team who has beaten [Leicester], so I don’t see why we should not believe we can beat Manchester United.”
Arsenal’s impressive 5-2 victory at the King Power Stadium was followed up by a shock 3-2 home defeat to Olympiacos in the Champions League, with Wenger roundly criticised for selecting David Ospina over Petr Cech against the Greek champions.
Wenger took umbrage at again being asked to explain his decision on Friday, but it seems certain that Cech will return in goal on Sunday.
Laurent Koscielny (hamstring), Mikel Arteta (knock) and Mathieu Flamini (hamstring) are definitely out, but Wenger expects Francis Coquelin to be fit.
The Frenchman’s opposite number Louis van Gaal, meanwhile, was effusive in his praise of Arsenal on Thursday.
Van Gaal described Wenger’s team as “technically and tactically the best team in the league”, and also said he is wary of a backlash from their loss to Olympiacos.
United travel to north London buoyed by four consecutive wins in all competitions, with last Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Sunderland moving them top of the Premier League for the first time in over two years.
Juan Mata has been in superb form in recent weeks, and the Spaniard was instrumental in United’s 2-1 midweek win over Wolfsburg, scoring the equaliser from the penalty spot before setting up Chris Smalling’s decisive goal.
Michael Carrick missed that game with a minor injury but is fit to play at the Emirates, but Van Gaal is wary of tiredness in his squad after four games in 10 days.
“The solution is recovery, recovery, recovery – that is why it’s so difficult to prepare for the match against Arsenal,” the Dutchman said.
“Tomorrow [Friday], they have a day off because they’ve already had two weeks with no day off. We have to wait and see for Saturday and then I can make decisions.”