Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson believes Arsenal is his team’s biggest threat this season.
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Although Arsenal was eliminated from the Champions League by Barcelona without having a single shot in Tuesday’s game, the Gunners are only three points behind United in the Premier League title race and have a game in hand over the leaders.
United and Arsenal also meet in the FA Cup quarterfinals on Saturday, with both trying to bounce back from poor results. United lost successive matches in the league to Chelsea and Liverpool to boost Arsenal’s title ambitions, while the Gunners also lost the League Cup final to Birmingham.
”Arsene Wenger and his players have rearranged the pecking order somewhat to come storming through to lie in second place,” Ferguson said. ”Last season they faded around the February to March period to leave Chelsea and ourselves in a two-horse race that saw us pipped at the post by a point.
”I think most pundits expected to see something similar this season, plus a challenge from Spurs and Manchester City, to make it even more difficult for Arsenal to get back up to the top.”
But that hasn’t transpired.
”Clearly they represent the main danger to us achieving our ambitions in a revival of the rivalry of a few years ago, and I am sure they regard us as the major threat to their hopes,” Ferguson said.
For Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere, the priority appears to be the league.
”Maybe now that we are out of Europe, we can be stronger in the league, concentrate on that more, really push on to try to win the title,” Wilshere said. ”We need to be strong now in the league, to push on and make sure we get a trophy at the end of the year.”
Arsenal may not be the only side to reshuffle its lineup for Saturday.
Wenger said that captain Cesc Fabregas will be sidelined for ”maybe for the next two games” and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will be out ”for a while” with a finger injury. Wenger added that the club may look to bring in an extra keeper on loan.
Wilshere expects key United players to be rested, with the team still to play its Champions League last-16 match on Tuesday against Marseille.
”We know Manchester United are a great team, but they have a European game next week, so they might play a weakened side, then we can go there and take advantage of that,” Wilshere said.
While Arsenal is burdened by a six-year title drought, Manchester City hasn’t won a trophy since the 1976 League Cup.
City, which is third in the league, on Sunday hosts second-tier club Reading, which has already beaten Premier League sides Everton and West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup this season.
Cup matches for West Ham and Birmingham come while they battle against relegation from the Premier League.
Birmingham, which won its first trophy in 48 years in the League Cup final last month, must overcome Bolton on Saturday to reach the FA Cup semifinals.