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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 October, 2004, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Man Utd can end Arsenal run

By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Manchester United may feel it is a little early in the season for a "must win" game when they play champions Arsenal on Sunday - but it is a long way back if they don't get three points and they dare not contemplate defeat.

If Arsenal have a flaw - and it is only a very slight one - it is that the physical stuff can occasionally rattle them

This is a game which has draw written all over it, but I've a feeling if there is going to be a winner then Manchester United have the capacity to surprise Arsenal and finally end an unbeaten run that stretches to 49 matches.

And I've a feeling Sir Alex Ferguson will revisit last season's FA Cup semi-final victory against the Gunners to set out his team, tactics and get the motivation required to win.

When it comes to flowing football, Arsenal can beat anyone in the Premiership and they delivered another master-class against Aston Villa at Highbury last Saturday.

But if there is a slight flaw - a very slight flaw it should be said - it is that on occasion if you get in and about them and make it very difficult for them, the physical stuff can have an effect.

There is no way in the world I would suggest a team that goes through an entire Premiership season unbeaten is lacking a competitive edge, but a small criticism is that they can get rattled.

Because of the way they play, you can frustate them if you do not give them time and space, and in that FA Cup semi-final United did it to perfection and Arsenal became frustrated.

When teams do well against them, they compete fiercely and try to make sure Arsenal do not get the space to flourish. Take Bolton at Highbury this season.

And remember when they virtually had the league won a couple of years ago, they suddenly started to struggle against teams that adopted this approach. It was that physical approach that did for them in the end and United took advantage.

If Arsenal get into any sort of rhythm, then they will win at Old Trafford because in terms of pace and movement they are probably the best English team I've ever seen, but the wily Ferguson will be doing his utmost to ensure they do not get into their stride.

So I expect to see Ferguson pick a side that is strong physically for a match his team should be really up for.

Arsenal may be in the ascendancy as current Premiership champions and leaders, but facing Manchester United at Old Trafford is a massive task against a top side in front of a huge crowd.

Sir Alex Ferguson
I think Sir Alex Ferguson will adopt the same tactics that beat Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final to make sure they don't get into a rhythm

And they now have Wayne Rooney, who has terrorised Arsenal in the past and is well-remembered for ending a 30-game unbeaten run they had put together when he burst on the scene as a 16-year-old at Everton.

Obviously Arsenal are hoping to make it 50 league games unbeaten, but unbeaten league runs mean nothing unless they bring honours at the end of it, and a point, or even three, at Old Trafford will mean more to them than a landmark.

They will possess the confidence that will make them feel they can go to Old Trafford and win, particularly as United are having a frustrating time at the moment.

I do tend to return to the subject of United's midfield, but if you go back five years you had Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, David Beckham and Paul Scholes in their prime. Teams used to think it was a question of how many they would lose by - now they look and think they can get some joy.

It happened to us at Liverpool after we'd enjoyed our great successes.

United's goalscoring return is poor for the quality they have up front, and if you look at the way Middlesbrough and Birmingham played against them, they pressed them in midfield and denied them the opportunity to get quality service to the front men.

United used to press in midfield, and when the opposition had the ball they would get it back almost instantly and build pressure. Now the opposition are getting more of the ball and it builds their confidence.

Arsenal will have noted that as well. They have got to compete fiercely, which is why Patrick Vieira's fitness will be such a key element of this game.

My own view is that the points will be shared, but if I was being forced to pick a winner of what will be a massive game, I would think United have the capability to finally end Arsenal's run.

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