Sir Alex Ferguson relishes Arsenal battle

Barclays Premier League
Venue: Emirates Stadium Date: Sunday, 31 January 2010 Kick-off: 1600 GMT
Coverage: BBC Sport website, BBC Radio 5 Live, local radio, live on Sky Sports 1 & highlights on Match of the Day 2

Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson has declared Manchester United’s Premier League match against Arsenal on Sunday as his club’s “biggest game of the season”.

With leaders Chelsea only one point ahead of United, with a game in hand, and Arsenal one point behind, Ferguson is convinced the game could be pivotal.

“Looking at the way the league is shaping up, this game on Sunday is the biggest of the season for us,” he said.

“It has relevance as both sides have a genuine chance of winning the league.”

Ferguson is relishing the opportunity to try to deal a major blow to one of United’s main title rivals but he admitted Arsenal’s recent run of 10 league games without defeat means Arsene Wenger’s side are a major threat.

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“It is amazing how this league has changed,” said Ferguson. “As I have said all along, the team that is most consistent will win the league now.

“Arsenal’s current form has been very good. It has brought them back into the picture. That is why this is such a massive game for us.”

United face Chelsea at old Trafford on 3 April and Ferguson acknowledged the importance of staying in touch with the Stamford Bridge outfit.

“If Chelsea win their game in hand they go four points ahead of us,” said Ferguson. “That is the catch-up part.”

Wenger has refused to put quite as much importance on the match as his United counterpart and the Frenchman is convinced the Gunners can still challenge for the title, whatever the outcome at the Emirates.

Pearce and Keown on Arsenal v Man Utd

“I believe that no matter what happens we will still be in a position where we will have a chance after these games, but it can put us in a very strong position and that is what we want,” said Wenger.

“We know that to be successful in this period we have to be more of a team than the other teams. We have to think how strong and how much solidarity it takes to get through a period like that. That is what we want to show on Sunday.

“We love being in the race. Of course it was our dream to be in this position in this period of time.”

United will be without Rio Ferdinand, who starts a four-match ban after a Football Association disciplinary panel decided his appeal against a violent conduct charge for his attack on Hull’s Craig Fagan last week was “frivolous”.

Meanwhile, Wenger is adamant defender Sol Campbell can stop in-form striker Wayne Rooney when the sides meet.

The Gunners boss will hand Campbell, 35, a first Premier League start since rejoining the club if Thomas Vermaelen does not recover from a knee injury.

“Sol can cope with Rooney. He is ready if he has recovered well,” said Wenger.

Wenger backs ‘big match’ Campbell

“He has experience and he likes the big games. He can turn up if needed and experience helps in these games.”

Rooney has dominated the headlines in recent weeks after scoring four goals against Hull last weekend and heading the winner against Manchester City in the Carling Cup semi-final on Wednesday.

The England striker has scored 19 goals in the Premier League this season, prompting boss Sir Alex Ferguson to hail him as “world class”.

Campbell spent four months out of the game after quitting League Two side Notts County in September, but following a lengthy period training with his old team Wenger signed the centre-back until the end of the season.

The former England international made his second debut in last weekend’s FA Cup defeat at Stoke before coming on as a substitute in the 0-0 draw with Villa following the injury to Vermaelen.

And Wenger will assess whether Campbell has recovered sufficiently to play three games in a week prior to naming his side.”

The Frenchman will also run the rule over 24-year-old Vermaelen, who was originally feared to have fractured his leg at Villa Park.

“The good news we have on Vermaelen is that there is no fracture,” Wenger said of the Belgian, who has been a key figure since arriving from Ajax for £10m in the summer.

“We have to assess his knee today, there is still a small chance that he plays on Sunday.

“We will do the maximum to get him fit, but at the moment it looks unlikely.

“It should be a very short-term injury, and at the latest he should be ready for the Chelsea game (on 7 February).”

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