Arsenal's brief but inglorious Premier League campaign has been marked by ignominious setbacks.
Ronaldo: United to raise level
Arsenal's brief but inglorious Premier League campaign has been marked by ignominious setbacks. Fulham, Hull and Stoke have overcome and embarrassed their more fancied opponents and, by general consensus, the Gunners no longer have margin for error. Yet, according to the man most likely to condemn them to a fourth defeat of the season, nor do Manchester United.
The reverse at the Britannia Stadium elevated tomorrow's match to the status of a must-win game for Arsenal but, intriguingly, also for Manchester United. That, at least, is the verdict of Cristiano Ronaldo. "We want to win the title again," said the Portuguese winger. "To do that we have to win three points there. We know it is a tough game. An away game against Arsenal is always tough. But it is possible to win there because our team is playing well and we play with a great spirit."
Ronaldo's demanding nature has long been apparent, but his views are indicative of the pressure Chelsea and Liverpool have put on the other two members of the Premier League's "Big Four". It was predictable, however, that he refused to rule out a title challenge from North London. "Arsenal are having a tough time, but we have to respect them because they have great talents," he said. "Last season Arsenal started very well and dropped points at the end of the season. Maybe this season it's going to be the other way around."
It was evident during the 1-1 draw at Celtic that United have prioritised tomorrow's match. Indeed, the so-called Battle of Britain appeared to have been downgraded in importance below the clash with Arsenal. Sir Alex Ferguson admitted the proximity of the fixture at the Emirates Stadium was on his players' minds. Yet in the process he appeared to underestimate Celtic. The intention had been to spare three of his first-choice players a game. Instead, first Dimitar Berbatov, then Patrice Evra and finally Wayne Rooney came from the bench to salvage a point.
"Resting Evra was one thing I thought I could do safely, Rooney and Berbatov were more difficult," Ferguson said. None played a significant part in Ryan Giggs' equaliser, but each contributed to a vastly improved second-half performance. It may be to the detriment of the replacements' freshness, but the comeback could prove beneficial to United's morale. Arsenal's, though, is lower. While Arsene Wenger's complaints about over-physical football have dominated debates this week, they are unlikely to get any respite.
For all the technicians at his disposal, Ferguson has long favoured a scrapper against Arsenal. Once it was Phil Neville's role and, as Anderson was an unused substitute at Celtic Park, it may be Brazilian's turn now. Given Arsenal's difficulties in defending set-pieces, it may be relevant, too, that United twice forced Celtic to clear off their own line from corners. And if Ronaldo revealed Ferguson's approach, the agenda will not include playing for a draw.