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Rediff.com  » Sports » Erratic Arsenal brace for United onslaught

Erratic Arsenal brace for United onslaught

January 02, 2006 13:40 IST

Arsenal play host to their least favourite opponents in English football on Tuesday when they renew hostilities with Manchester United at Highbury.

Flying pizzas, red cards, ugly scenes and some thrilling action have marked recent encounters between the two sides who dominated English soccer before Jose Mourinho's Chelsea.

Arsenal go into battle with no realistic chance of wresting the title from Chelsea after only four months of what has been a stop-start season for Arsene Wenger's men.

Saturday's frustrating 0-0 draw at Aston Villa, which could easily have turned into a seventh defeat in 19 league games, had followed a vintage 4-0 drubbing of Portsmouth in midweek.

The prospect of facing United three days later may have accounted for the mixed performance, while Wenger's sparing use of winger Robert Pires and forwards Jose Antonio Reyes and Dennis Bergkamp as second-half substitutes at Villa Park means all three should be raring to go.

United, though they have made a costly Champions League exit, are clearly in better shape than Arsenal domestically.

Alex Ferguson's side lie second behind runaway leaders Chelsea and were convincing 4-1 winners over local rivals Bolton Wanderers on Saturday - their manager's 64th birthday.

England striker Wayne Rooney, a thorn in Arsenal's side since he was 16 in an Everton shirt, should again lead the charge as United look for revenge after May's FA Cup final.

United outplayed an Arsenal side deprived of injured striker Thierry Henry at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, but were kept to a deadlock over 120 minutes and then beaten on penalties.

Rooney has been on superb form recently, Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice against Bolton and striker Ruud van Nistelrooy should start after being a sub on Saturday.

All three men have been in the thick of the action against Arsenal in recent years.

STUNNING VICTORY

Ronaldo scored twice in four minutes as United came from behind for a stunning 4-2 victory at Highbury last season, while Rooney scored one goal and earned a penalty converted by Van Nistelrooy when United won 2-0 at Old Trafford.

That victory in October 2004 ended Arsenal's record-breaking league run at 49 matches and was followed by what became known as the "Battle of the Buffet" when bits of pizza were allegedly thrown at Ferguson in the players' tunnel.

The two clubs' most notorious meeting, though, came in the early stages of that unbeaten run, a 0-0 draw in Manchester back in September 2003.

Arsenal players accused Van Nistelrooy of theatrics over a wayward Patrick Vieira kick which resulted in the then Arsenal captain being red-carded.

Van Nistelrooy missed a penalty in the closing minutes and was later jostled by Arsenal players amid ugly scenes which led to four of the visiting team being banned and their club fined.

No-one expects such scenes to be repeated on Tuesday, particularly as the rivalry has had some of its sting removed by Vieira's move to Juventus in July and United captain Roy Keane's departure to Celtic nearly three weeks ago.

However, few believe that the teams' final league meeting at Highbury, before Arsenal move to the Emirates Stadium nearby, will be anything less than a full-blooded affair.
Trevor Huggins
Source:
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