01 Dec Arsene Wenger still believes in importance of Arsenal-Manchester United rivalry
Arsene Wenger has conceded meetings between Arsenal and Manchester United are no longer the “final of the championship” but believes the fixture is still crucial to the Premier League.
In and around the turn on the century, Sir Alex Ferguson’s United and Wenger’s Gunners were the teams to beat in England and took nine consecutive titles between them from 1996 to 2004.
Since then the emergence of teams like Chelsea and Manchester City has seen the two-horse race for the Premier League widen, while Liverpool, Tottenham and Leicester can also lay claim to being in the title picture in recent years.
That means the meetings between United and Arsenal are no longer pivotal in deciding the destination of the trophy.
United travel to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday with the Gunners having won the corresponding fixture towards the end of last season – Wenger’s first competitive victory over Jose Mourinho coming at the 16th attempt.
They both go into this meeting hoping for a victory in an attempt to keep a hold on the coattails of runaway leaders City.
But Wenger admits the clash is no longer decisive even if he is still keen to get another win over his old foes.
“No, not as much,” he replied when asked if the game defines the season as much as it once did.
“We are early in the season and during some seasons when I was here it was the final of the championship but that is not the case any more.
“We have six or seven teams that fight at the top, but it is still a very big game and a very important one.
“It (the history of the fixture) plays a little part because it is two big clubs and that always creates a big game and players know that a lot will be said before and after the game. Of course it has an influence.”
The 2-0 victory over United on May 7 is part of a 12-game winning run at home for Arsenal in the Premier League.
They made it a dozen victories in succession with a 5-0 win over Huddersfield on Wednesday night, although club-record signing Alexandre Lacazette picked up a groin injury that rules the striker out of the United game.
That means Olivier Giroud, who scored twice after replacing his France international colleague, could be handed his first Premier League start of the campaign.
The likes of Giroud, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere have had to settle for a role in the Europa League this season with all three admitting frustration at being unable to break into Wenger’s Premier League side.
“It’s difficult to keep everybody happy,” Wenger admitted.
“But on the other hand we are all here to win games for Arsenal Football Club and everybody has their moment to come in the side.
“I must say as well, at the moment I am impressed but the quality of behaviour from everybody. Everybody is focused and determined to do well and so I am quite impressed on that front.”