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Last Updated: Friday, 2 November 2007, 06:38 GMT
Rebuilt rivals set for battle

Cesc Fabregas, Cristiano Ronaldo, Emmanuel Adebayor, Wayne Rooney
Four of the best: Fabregas, Ronaldo, Adebayor and Rooney

By Ian Hughes

In the last 10 years, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have between them only twice failed to win the Premier League - when Chelsea won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006.

United won the title again last season, while Arsenal are resurgent this term and both teams look like the finished article. Chelsea, after Jose Mourinho's departure, are in transition.

Arsenal lead United at the top of the table only by having scored more goals than their rivals, and on Saturday the latest products from the Ferguson and Wenger assembly lines go head-to-head at the Emirates Stadium.

BBC Sport examines how the clubs have managed to reassert their dominance.


Of Arsenal's 2004 'Invincibles' squad that won the Premier League, only four players remain at the club: Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure, Gilberto Silva and Jens Lehmann, and the latter two are no longer first-team regulars.

United, too, have had a similar metamorphosis.

Last year's squad that clinched the title contained only 11 players from the previous title-winning squad of 2003 - and there are two fewer this campaign.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger
Ferguson and Wenger are as ruthless as they are creative

Inevitably there is change at football clubs, but a look at some of the names who have left United and Arsenal makes for staggering reading.

Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane...

Stan Collymore will be co-commentating on the match for BBC Radio 5 Live and said he feels Ferguson's and Wenger's mastery at reshaping their playing staff is what sets them apart.

"They have gone about their rebuilding in two different ways," he told BBC Sport.

"United have retained a core of experienced players in Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Edwin van der Sar in goal and they have added youth in Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Anderson, Carlos Tevez.

"Wenger has torn up a team and produced probably his third reincarnation since he took the job. It is very impressive how he has managed to do that and get them playing the way he wants them to.

"The very, very best managers know that letting players go at the right time is as important as knowing when to buy players or blooding raw talent from the youth team."


As well as leading the way in terms of points, United and Arsenal are also providing a blueprint for the evolution of the modern game based on pace, flair, technique and entertainment.

It is great for the fans, whether they have an allegiance to either club or not.


Collymore, a former Liverpool, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest striker, is delighted to see that a style based on panache and skill is proving so successful and hopes it has a knock-on effect throughout the leagues.

"Football should be about players who have the ability to manipulate the play, change the tempo, show deftness of touch.

"I want to see guile, showmanship, and great athleticism coupled with skill.

"United and Arsenal are the two best teams in the country. The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, Rooney and Ronaldo are exceptional and incredibly intuitive players. They are a great example for young kids.

"I hope the teams put on a show on Saturday and demonstrate that English football is heading in the right direction."


According to Collymore, the pattern of Saturday's game will be set early on.

"We will know how it is going to go after the first 15 minutes," he said.

"The question is: Will Arsene send Arsenal all out to attack, thinking 'we're at home, let's go and create chances'? If they do so, I think there will be goals.

"But United may opt to stifle Arsenal, slow down the pace and stop Arsenal playing through the midfield, with particular attention to Fabregas.

"Arsenal will need Fabregas to get into the final third and play balls in behind United, to Adebayor and Hleb.


"Fabregas is exceptional, the heartbeat of Arsenal's team, and I would be surprised if United do not have a specific plan to deal with him.

"Owen Hargreaves is one of the best players in the world at man-marking, or marking zonally. If he - and his team-mates - do that well, they can contain Arsenal.

"And if United are patient, they can rely on the counter-attack with the pace of Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney.

"But I think it might be as simple as whoever scores first will go on to win the game.

"Regardless of the outcome of the match, with the quality on show I know I'll be drooling come kick-off at 1245."

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