LONDON, England, November 8 – Buoyant Premier League pace-setters Arsenal will look to deal a potentially crushing blow to Manchester United’s slow-burning title defence when they visit Old Trafford for a seismic showdown on Sunday.
Arsenal’s momentum appeared to be dwindling after they lost consecutive home games to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea, but they roared back to defeat Liverpool 2-0 in the league last weekend before becoming the first English team to win away to Dortmund in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Having won eight and drawn one of their nine league games since losing to Aston Villa on the season’s opening day, they travel to Manchester knowing that victory would leave them 11 points clear of the champions after 11 matches of the campaign.
United striker Wayne Rooney poured scorn on Arsenal’s championship credentials this week, saying that their recent title challenges had “faded away”, but the London club’s midfielder Aaron Ramsey says his side have nothing to fear from the 20-time champions.
“Absolutely not. They have had a bit of a rough start, but they have overcome that now I think,” said the Welshman, who took his tally for the season to 11 goals with a headed winner at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion.
“They have had a few good results in the league and will be getting their confidence back up, but we are really confident ourselves. Our away record has been really good, so hopefully we can continue building on that.”
United saw a run of four consecutive wins come to an end in a 0-0 draw away to Real Sociedad on Tuesday, but they are seeking to prolong a sequence of eight matches without defeat in all competitions.
David Moyes’s side are also determined to improve on a dismal record in matches against their fellow title contenders this season, having taken just one point from previous encounters with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.
“I don’t think we’ve shown ourselves this season on a consistent basis, not just in the big games,” admitted centre-back Rio Ferdinand, whose side begin the weekend in eighth place.
“It is time to start putting our foot on the pedal and motor on. We have to do that if we want to remain in contention to win the league.
“Arsenal are in a good vein of form. They are the team to catch. We have to make sure we are right and ready for the challenge.”
Chelsea and Liverpool will both expect to eat away at Arsenal’s five-point lead on Saturday, when Jose Mourinho’s side host West Bromwich Albion and the Merseyside club welcome Fulham to Anfield.
Mourinho has declared that Eden Hazard will return to his squad after the Belgian attacking midfielder was left out for Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Schalke in mid-week after reportedly missing a training session.
Liverpool, meanwhile, can once again call upon England right-back Glen Johnson after he missed the defeat at Arsenal due to an infection in his jaw.
“Glen Johnson will be fit,” said manager Brendan Rodgers. “He’s fine. He’s trained this week. It was just one of those peculiar things that happened.”
Fresh from reaching the Champions League knockout phase for the first time after a 5-2 win over CSKA Moscow, Manchester City visit Sunderland on Sunday.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men climbed to fifth place in the league table after demolishing Norwich City 7-0 last weekend and French midfielder Samir Nasri believes that the 2012 champions are finally clicking into gear.
“In two games we have scored 12 goals, so now we focus on Sunderland,” he said.
“Since the start of the season we have struggled a little bit away, but now we are starting to show the real face of Manchester City.”
Sunderland are five points adrift of safety after losing 1-0 at Hull City in their last outing, but new manager Gus Poyet saw his side set up a League Cup quarter-final against Chelsea with a 2-1 win over high-flying Southampton on Wednesday.
Southampton, who had Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert called up by England on Thursday, host Hull on Saturday, while fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur are at home to Newcastle United on Sunday.
Saturday (1500GMT unless otherwise stated):
Aston Villa v Cardiff City, Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace v Everton, Liverpool v Fulham, Norwich City v West Ham United (1730GMT), Southampton v Hull City
Sunday (1610GMT unless otherwise stated):
Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United (1200), Sunderland v Manchester City (1405), Manchester United v Arsenal, Swansea City v Stoke City