United can extend recent dominance on home turf over Gunners

BEN CLEMINSON PREVIEWS THE WEEKEND’S PREMIER LEAGUE ACTION

MANCHESTER UNITED vs ARSENAL

Sunday 4.10pm

ARSENAL and Manchester United won every Premier League title from 1995-96 to 2004-05, including five years when they completed the table’s one-two.

The rivalry became hostility and played out in the form of managerial mind games, handshake refusals, plenty of red cards, controversial penalties – missed and scored – and culminated in the infamous ‘Pizzagate’ incident at Old Trafford.

But the emergence of Chelsea and Manchester City, combined with Arsene Wenger’s stubborn refusal to splash the cash, looked to have consigned the Gunners to challenging for a top-four place at best.

United’s 8-2 destruction of their old foes in 2011 looked to be the final confirmation Wenger’s men were no longer fit to dine at England’s top table.

However, the signing of Mesut Ozil this summer, allied with the reinvigoration and goals of Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud, has helped the north London side open a five-point lead at the top of the league.

They visit Old Trafford this Sunday on the back of wins over Liverpool at home and Borussia Dortmund away, with their notoriously dodgy defence keeping two clean sheets.

David Moyes’ Red Devils, on the other hand, have had a poor start to the season by their standards. The reigning champions sit in eighth-place after three defeats in 10 league games, eight points off this weekend’s opponents.

Another home loss would see the bookmakers push out their chances of retaining the title – already at an unprecedented 8/1 in places – and Arsenal would surely then be challenging current favourites Manchester City as they bid for a first league crown since 2003-04 and their first piece of silverware since 2005.

It’s very hard to knock the Gunners’ form but a trip to the Theatre of Dreams is a tricky assignment. United have won the last five encounters at home and have lost only one of the last nine in the league overall.

The visitors have gained just three wins away at United in the Premier League era and two of those were at the end of long seasons.

Blindly following recent trends is not often a profitable strategy but this is a season-defining clash for the hosts. Moyes’ men are unbeaten in eight after that rocky start and, while they are still not pulling up any trees, the squad will be well aware of the need for a big performance here.

Just two of the last 12 meetings in Manchester have seen three goals or more and one of those was the freak

8-2 result. So selling goals at 2.8 with Sporting Index looks a smart play in what is likely to be a cagey affair. The perfect outcome would be for it to be goalless at half-time, allowing us to use Sporting Index’s Cash Out option and secure a profit.

In terms of a winner, I have to side with United at 6/5 with Coral. Yes, Arsenal beat high-flying Liverpool 2-0 last Saturday but when the Reds front two are kept quiet they don’t offer much. And that victory in Germany on Wednesday, impressive as it was, has to go down as a textbook smash and grab job. Ramsey’s 11th goal of the season was their first shot on target and Dortmund had plenty of chances.

■ Pointers…
Manchester United to beat Arsenal at 5/4 with Coral
Sell goals at 2.8 with Sporting Index