Saturday, February 16, 2008
The big game today....Arsenal v Man United
Wenger orders win at United to prove Arsenal's title credentialsMatt Scott
Saturday February 16, 2008
Arsène Wenger last night challenged his players to turn today's FA Cup fifth-round trip to Old Trafford into the platform that clinches Arsenal the Premier League title. Wenger senses victory at Manchester United can galvanise Arsenal's burgeoning belief into the mettle of champions.
United are five points behind Arsenal after defeat to Manchester City and a draw at Tottenham Hotspur. Today's match has become an unexpected opportunity to strike a psychological blow against Sir Alex Ferguson's side ahead of their April 12 league meeting. "We want to show we can do well at Manchester United because we are going back there later in the season and we want to have an impact on what will happen," Wenger said. "We will dig deep because we want to qualify."
Arsenal lost to United in the semi-finals in 1999 - when the latter won the Treble - and in 2004, Arsenal's season as unbeaten league champions. In 2005 Arsenal won a drab final against United on penalties. Old Trafford has been the scene of some of Arsenal's most significant matches: the 1-0 win in 2002 that delivered half a Double and the hard-fought stalemate in October 2003 that was the springboard for their unbeaten season. But the Arsenal manager took care not to indulge in the verbal jousting that has also characterised meetings between these old adversaries.
"I feel they are still in the [title] race because, two games ago, we were second: that shows you how quickly it can change from one day to the next," said Wenger. "Since the beginning of the season we have strengthened our belief and we know that is down to us to continue just to focus on what we have done until now. Winning makes you stronger."
Off the pitch, the Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov yesterday announced the purchase of 189 Arsenal shares for £1.7m. He is short of the 25% "blocking stake" he has said he covets but yesterday's deal - or soon-to-be-realised trades - will make him the largest shareholder in the club. Arsenal's board is confident that the "lockdown agreement" preventing share sales will prevent any hostile bid.