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Alan Hansen on Arsenal's big test

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger
United are unbeaten in their last five games against Arsenal, winning four

Alan Hansen
Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Victory for Arsenal over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Monday would represent a watershed moment for Arsene Wenger's team in their pursuit of the Premier League title.

That said, United invariably do well against the Gunners, a side usually regarded as title rivals.

Given the way they have played this season, I suspect Manchester United cannot believe what a good position they are in as they target a record 19th crown.

United have lost leads in games they should have won and not played particularly well, but they are sitting second in the table behind Arsenal, only one point adrift with a game in hand.

It might have been very different had another team taken the Premier League by the scruff of the neck - as Chelsea looked like doing for a while.

Instead, United are unbeaten in the league without ever hitting the heights, have Wayne Rooney close to his best again and boast a long tradition of improving in the second half of the season.

And now they can strike a blow against Arsenal, who have an abysmal record against the teams they have challenged for the title in recent seasons.

If you asked me to tip a winner, I would go for United. But Arsenal can win this game because they have creativity coming out of their ears

Alan Hansen

Arsenal are awesome creatively, have wonderful players and a great array of qualities. Yet question marks remain over their goalkeeper and central defence.

So it is an absolute certainty that Sir Alex Ferguson will tell his players to put Lukasz Fabianski and the central defensive pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci under pressure at every opportunity. If there is a frailty, Ferguson will urge United to keep probing it.

To build a championship-winning side, a manager needs a good goalkeeper because he can save a team 10 points a season.

Fabianski is not a bad keeper, and Wenger clearly has great faith in him, but the Pole has yet to convince most people that he can put together a consistent run of games without making a big error.

I think United might try the aerial route to test him and his defenders, so it will be interesting to see how they cope.

I am not sure Arsenal's defenders are imposing enough, especially when you compare them to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. The difference between the two pairings is a chasm.

When United were winning the Premier League season after season from 2007 to 2009, Vidic and Ferdinand were not only making very few mistakes, they were playing so well that the opposition rarely got a look in.

Arsenal's defenders have to prove they are just as reliable - and this is the sort of occasion on which to do it because United will put them to the test.

If they do win, it would be such a landmark moment for them.

The effect on their self-belief would be huge. If you are chasing a title after years without success, the dressing room can split into three - those players who think they can win it, those who don't and those who don't know.

If Arsenal get three points on Monday, those who think they can win it believe even more, those who don't get a surge of belief, while those who don't know will suddenly believe they can. The dynamics within the dressing room will change significantly.

606: DEBATE
Always United

Also, having been built up time and time again only to fall at the big hurdle, the confidence they would get from clearing what has been an insurmountable obstacle in the past would be massive.

So how will the game develop tactically? Much the same as other recent games between United and Arsenal.

The top teams know that the best way to play against Arsenal is to sit back and contain them before hitting them on the break. It is a tactic that has proved embarrassingly easy for teams like United and Chelsea to employ with success in the past.

Only sides like United and Chelsea are good enough to carry it off, though. Lesser sides that try the tactic at the Emirates rarely succeed. That's because they neither have the players to contain Arsenal nor the quality to punish them on the break.

It will be interesting to see if Sir Alex instructs United to sit back and hit Arsenal with pace on the break on Monday. I think he will.

And if the ploy works again it will only increase the feeling inside Old Trafford that United are moving into position to reclaim the title they lost to Chelsea last season.

For Arsenal, the stakes are just as high as they chase that elusive Premier League crown.

If you asked me to tip a winner, I would go for United. But Arsenal can win this game because they have creativity coming out of their ears.

Alan Hansen was talking to BBC Sport's Phil McNulty



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see also
Arsenal 'should not fear' Man Utd
11 Dec 10 |  Football
Man Utd 1-0 Arsenal
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Gibbs ruled out of Man Utd match
09 Dec 10 |  Arsenal
Scholes doubtful for Arsenal game
08 Dec 10 |  Man Utd
Arsenal 3-1 Partizan Belgrade
08 Dec 10 |  Europe
Man Utd 1-1 Valencia
07 Dec 10 |  Europe
How to watch Match of the Day
09 Aug 11 |  Match of the Day


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