Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick believes revenge for the 8-2 humiliation earlier in the season could be Arsenal’s prime motivation when the two teams meet in the Premier League on Sunday.
This weekend’s clash at Emirates Stadium will be the rivals’ first meeting since the humbling at Old Trafford in August and the sheer magnitude of that defeat could be a factor in the Gunners’ approach.
“Maybe,” said Carrick when asked if Arsenal would be out for revenge. “Arsenal against Manchester United is always a massive game. They will want to win and so will we.”
It is not so much a case of the Red Devils wanting to win. By the time they kick-off, it might be a clear case of having to.
If Manchester City overcome Tottenham in the other title crunch taking place on Sunday, United will be six points adrift of a team that will only get stronger once Yaya and Kolo Toure return from African Nations Cup duty with the Ivory Coast.
“Manchester City have done well. You have to give them credit. They set an early pace, had a funny Christmas period, and have now bounced back,” Carrick said in an interview with Betfair. “It’s close at the moment, so we want to catch up with them. The bar has been raised this year.”
However, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insists games between his side and United remain as fascinating as ever, despite new title contenders emerging.
“It is not the only game any more because you have Chelsea and Man City coming in, with Liverpool still there. But it is a game that is watched all over the world,” Wenger said.
“We do [lift ourselves], we think we are on a similar level. I still think that when we have everybody available we are a strong force in this league. That’s why it is important that we fight very hard not to drop points.”
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has tended to pack his midfield for games at the Emirates, but Wenger believes his team have what it takes to win at the weekend.
“They sometimes have a very compact midfield to kill our passing game and get us on the counter-attack. They do that very well,” he said.
“I believe that sometimes it works for them, although last year we beat them 1-0 in a convincing way. It depends on how well we play on the day, how well we pass the ball through their lines, no matter how many are in there.”
Wenger will hope to have defender Thomas Vermaelen back on Sunday, but Thierry Henry could struggle to renew his rivalry with the Red Devils.
Centre-back Vermaelen has not played since he limped out of the 1-0 victory against QPR on New Year’s Eve, while Henry has been hampered by a calf problem following the disappointing 3-2 defeat at Swansea and has only just returned to full training.
Midfielder Mikel Arteta could also still be sidelined this weekend having missed the trip to Wales with a calf strain.
Wenger is short of defensive cover, but as yet has not moved in the loan market, with left-back still a priority as Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson and Andre Santos are all out.