Man United v Arsenal preview
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Last Updated: August 26, 2011 12:20pm
Ferguson and Wenger pit wits in Sunday showdown
Manchester United will be looking to make it three wins out of three in the Premier League against an Arsenal side whose record has been anything but perfect at the start of the season.
The pressure on the Gunners was at least lifted by a victory over Udinese in midweek that sealed qualification for the UEFA Champions League group phase for a 14th straight year under Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal now travel to Old Trafford for an encounter that is always eagerly anticipated, even if it has been a long time since one of the teams started as such firm favourites to pick up three points.
The form book certainly suggests that United should be in confident mood, having produced a wonderful second-half performance to beat Tottenham 3-0 on Monday and carry on their excellent run of results at home from last season.
The victory also moved Sir Alex Ferguson's men on to six points, joint top of the table alongside Manchester City and Wolves, following an opening-game win at West Brom.
Ferguson has been delighted with the way young players such as Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones have slotted into the team in the absence of more established figures, but he faces a couple of selection dilemmas ahead of Arsenal's visit.
Javier Hernandez returned to the squad against Spurs following a bout of concussion and is now available to start, but he may have to settle for a place on the substitutes' bench once again due to Welbeck's dazzling display on Monday.
Rio Ferdinand is also back following a hamstring injury and Antonio Valencia is training well after an ankle problem, but captain Nemanja Vidic is expected to be out for another month with calf trouble and Rafael (dislocated shoulder) is a long-term absentee.
Darren Fletcher could feature for the first time this season after recovering from a stomach virus that kept him on the sidelines for two months between early March and early May, before he suffered a relapse over the summer.
Arsenal will not want to slip eight points behind United, even at such an early stage of the campaign, but they have struggled to get going so far this term.
A scoreless draw with Newcastle on the first day of the season was followed by a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool last week, leaving the Gunners without a win or a goal from their opening two Premier League games.
Transfer news has also overshadowed their performances on the pitch, with Samir Nasri the latest big name to leave the Emirates Stadium after the departure of captain Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona.
Supporters will hope the vital European success in Italy on Wednesday will mark a turning point and Wenger has a few days remaining to bring in reinforcements before the window closes.
Unfortunately, no business is likely to be concluded in time for the United showdown and Wenger has limited resources at his disposal following a spate of injuries and suspensions, as well as the exits of Nasri and Fabregas.
Gervinho and Emmanuel Frimpong are both banned after being sent off in the games against Newcastle and Liverpool respectively, while Alex Song was also charged with violent conduct following a stamp on Joey Barton and must sit out two more games.
Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby remain injured, leaving Aaron Ramsey as the only recognised central midfielder available to Wenger.
At the back, Laurent Koscielny could return following a back problem that forced him to miss the 2-1 victory over Udinese and Johan Djourou may therefore be pushed forward into a holding role.
Left-back Kieran Gibbs is racing to recover from a hamstring strain in time for the match.
Possible starting XIs
Manchester United: De Gea, Smalling, Ferdinand, Jones, Evra, Nani, Cleverley, Anderson, Young, Rooney, Welbeck.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Ramsey, Djourou, Rosicky, Walcott, Arshavin, Van Persie.
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