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This time, Gunners could carve Reds like jack-o'-lantern

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Sir Alex Ferguson is expecting a "hard game" against Arsenal today. In other words, the Manchester United manager foresees the Gunners actually competing at Old Trafford -- something they didn't do when they last visited this ground.

That was 14 months ago, and the 8-2 defeat inflicted on Arsene Wenger's injury-ravaged side represented the most lopsided scoreline in the history of this national derby.

It also compelled the Arsenal boss to make a handful of last-minute signings in the two days remaining in the transfer window, and it's because of those new players, in addition to the ones recruited this summer, that Wenger isn't thinking back to what was one of the most humiliating moments of his career.

"I will not mention last season's result at all ahead of this game because 90 per cent of the players who will play (today) did not play at Old Trafford last season," he remarked in his pre-match press conference.

"Of course there is an emotional aspect to a result like that," he added, "but revenge is not something I think about in this game."

Ferguson isn't so sure.

When addressing last August's mammoth win he ventured to reporters that the embarrassment of the defeat could "have a way of motivating Arsenal." But, he added, "it won't happen (today); that's for sure. There is no point living in the past."

The present, for United, holds some promise. Ahead of the Arsenal showdown the Red Devils are second in the Premier League and would leapfrog Chelsea into top spot with a win at Old Trafford and a Blues loss at Swansea. They lead the Premier League with 24 goals and have tallied 14 times in their last four matches.

The flip side, however, is that they've conceded 11 goals over the same period. While the forwards have been going about their business up front, the defence has been putting on a party in the back. And as Wednesday's 5-4 league cup defeat to Chelsea once again displayed, you don't win a lot of matches playing mullet-football.

Not that the back four has been entirely to blame.

United has struggled mightily in the centre of the park this season, and if Arsenal can get a handle on the midfield matchups they stand a good chance of carving through United like a Halloween pumpkin.

"I think the key to modern football is having more possession," offered Arsenal playmaker Santi Cazorla in his pre-match remarks. "The more you have, the more you control the game. At Old Trafford we need to control the game and keep hold of the ball."

Cazorla will likely be forced to play a bit deeper than usual against United, but with Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta also operating centrally the Gunners should see a lot of the ball against the 19-time champions. Then again, all that possession will be for naught if they can't stick the ball in the back of the net.

Coming into today's contest Arsenal have recorded exactly the same number of goals as second-last Southampton; they've scored just once in four of their last five Premier League matches and have been kept off the scoresheet four times in all competitions. They've also been on the wrong end of a clean sheet in two of their last three visits to Old Trafford.

That said, you get the feeling there will be plenty of goals today. United striker Robin Van Persie will be facing his former side for the first time, and he'll be eager to remind Arsenal what they're missing.

On the other side of the ball, Olivier Giroud will be looking to prove to Wenger and Gunners fans that he's more than capable of filling Van Persie's boots.

In any event, it's unlikely this fixture will provide many dull moments. It rarely does.

"Of course," said Ferguson, "every game against Arsenal is always a big one."

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter @peterssoccer

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 3, 2012 C7

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