Photo: Arsene Wenger enjoyed quite an entertaining friendship with Sir lex Fergson (Getty Images)
Marketed and mentioned by many as the best football league in the world, the Barclays Premier League once again braces itself for the collision of Manchester United and Arsenal. These two clubs were archrivals in the early days of the Premier League era but in this present moment their battles do not carry as much significance. Perhaps the two best clubs in the land in terms of structure and organization, the Red Devils and the Gunners are perhaps the clubs that make the Premier League what it is today.
The Premier League era began in the 1992/93 season with Sir Alex Ferguson’s United running out winners. The Red Devils had things their own way capturing four of the first five seasons of the new era. However the arrival of an unknown Frenchman, Arsene Wenger, at Highbury in August 1996 changed the landscape and as such English Football was never the same. The former Monaco boss faced a huge challenge winning the trust of his players and club legend Tony Adams admitted that they all had doubts if the man who looked like a school teacher was really a Football Manager.
Wenger’s methods were questioned at every step, however after finishing a credible third place in his first season and captured the title the following year in the 1997/98 season, the French master winning over his doubters. He was then praised for his work on the training ground, replacing turgid stamina work with short-burst sessions and emphasizing the importance of close-control as well as small-sided games. His philosophy was simple; almost every workout on the pitch should involve the ball. He was also given huge praises for his strict rules in terms of diet and nutrition. At the time, Wenger insisted that diet was an essential part of a player’s non-visible preparation. His carefully balanced menus quickly became the ideal standard throughout the entirety of English Football.
Stepping across the path of Sir Alex Ferguson was perhaps Wenger’s biggest contribution to English Football. The Gunners had laid down a marker and of course being the man he is, Sir Alex definitely accepted the challenge which then gave birth to the biggest match in England and one of the most anticipated across the globe. Over the next six seasons, the title was won by United (four titles) and Arsenal with their encounters seen as the biggest tie in the land and the title decider. They were the two front-runners every season and things escalated tremendously due to blockbuster heavyweight confrontations between the captains; Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira.
Hailed as two of the very best midfielders in the world at that point in time and two personalities that were larger than life, explosions were expected when both men were on the same pitch let alone being opponents. Their appetite for a fight, will to win and indubitable desire were admired across the globe and as such the Premier League became the most watch and loved football league and subsequently rated as the best in the world. The Gunners were and are still admired for their expansive and entertaining style of play while the Red Devils’ scintillating ‘attack, attack, attack’ style as well as their never say die attitude defined the Ferguson years.
Manchester United of course became the toast of European Football in 1999 after lifting the Treble (Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup) displaying their strong character coming from the dead throughout the entire season but somehow finding a way to win. The Red Devils were also admired for their academy and willingness to give youth a chance to establish themselves. The same can be said of the North London club as both Sir Alex and Wenger have developed hundreds of talents, some of whom are now managers themselves in top leagues around Europe today.
This Sunday the Red Devils plays hosts to the Gunners who are chasing their first title since 2004. Wenger’s men are said to be one of the favourites to knock Leicester City off top spot alongside Manchester City. The Gunners are coming off a home defeat in the Champions League to European and World Champions Barcelona while United are on a high after a morale boosting win in the Europa League. Louis van Gaal is under immense pressure and even though he has an injury crisis on his hands, defeat could see the fans calling for him to be sacked.
With 14 goals against Arsenal, United will definitely miss skipper Wayne Rooney and will also be without Bastian Schweinsteiger, Phil Jones, Marouanne Fellaini, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Luke Shaw, Adnan Januzaj and Matteo Darmian. There are also doubts surrounding Chris Smalling, David De Gea, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Anthony Martial who will all be assessed before the game. Wenger will be without Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Gabriel and Tomas Rosicky through injury.
The Gunners boss admitted that they’re in a strong position in the league but also insisted that playing United at Old Trafford is very difficult and also hinted that it could be a decisive game in the race for the title. Van Gaal on the other hand will be hoping that his troops build on their performance against Midtjylland. Memphis Depay was in fine form and the hosts will certainly hope the 22-year-old can carry his form into the game because he can be a match-winner at his best.
The eyes of the world will once again turn its focus to one another titanic clash between these two giants that changed the face of the English game. Three points are essential for both teams with Arsenal chasing the title and United eyeing a place in the top four. A draw would not benefit either club, however the Gunners may be slightly favoured given their form and of course due to United’s lengthy injury list.