Tag Archives: lunchtime

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Manchester City"s Edin Dzeko plays around in the club"s boot room

What is Dzeko doing fooling around in the Manchester City boot room

By
Graeme Yorke

PUBLISHED:

11:26 GMT, 15 March 2013

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UPDATED:

09:41 GMT, 16 March 2013

On the face of it, Edin Dzeko seems to have taken his eye off the ball.

Following on from the club's attempt at a Harlem Shake, Dzeko has embarked on a solo career in the world of wacky internet posts and is taking time out from City's attempt to gurn, sorry turn, around their season.

The Bosnia striker, who has just racked up his 100th appearance for City, put up a photo of himself messing around with back-room staff in front of rows a of extravagantly coloured designer boots.

Cross-eyed: Edin Dzeko pulls a pose with his Manchester City back-room staff

Cross-eyed: Edin Dzeko pulls a pose with his Manchester City back-room staff

It is not known if Dzeko is claiming every pair in the room as he looks to find a way to kick-start City's title charge.

With Sergio Aguero still out injured, Dzeko is likely to feature against Everton at Goodison Park in the Saturday lunchtime game.

Here's hoping he picks the right pair of shoes for the occasion.

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Michael Carrick, Daniel Sturridge and Jermain Defoe injured for England v Brazil

Triple injury blow for Hodgson with Carrick, Defoe and Sturridge out of Brazil clash

By
Rik Sharma

PUBLISHED:

19:19 GMT, 3 February 2013

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UPDATED:

19:19 GMT, 3 February 2013

Roy Hodgson has been hit with three injury problems ahead of England's friendly with Brazil at Wembley on Wednesday.

Michael Carrick, Daniel Sturridge and Jermain Defoe are all set to withdraw from the squad and miss the game after picking up problems during domestic fixtures this weekend.

Sturridge is suffering from a thigh problem which he sustained just before half-time in Liverpool's clash with Manchester City on Sunday night.

Blow: Daniel Sturridge will miss the prestige friendly against Brazil

Blow: Daniel Sturridge will miss the prestige friendly against Brazil

Withdrawal: Michael Carrick will also be out of Roy Hodgson's squad

Withdrawal: Michael Carrick will also be out of Roy Hodgson's squad

The Reds January signing excelled, scoring with a rifled shot which flashed past his countryman Joe Hart.

Manchester United midfielder Carrick is also unavailable, for an as yet unspecified injury.

Defoe picked up an ankle injury in the clash between West Brom and Tottenham at the Hawthorns on Sunday lunchtime in a challenge with Shane Long.

The striker hobbled off in obvious distress and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of the injury.

Agony: Defoe injured his ankle and could be out for up to three weeks

Agony: Defoe injured his ankle and could be out for up to three weeks

Another injury problem has afflicted Brazil legend Pele, who was set to watch the match but will not make the trip to England because of a hip injury.

'I'd like to send my sincere apologies,' Pele said.

'I will come visit England soon, and I also look forward to seeing all of you next summer here in Brazil [for the World Cup].

'I would like to wish The FA a very happy 150th anniversary.'

Problems: Roy Hodgson (right) will consider some new options for his squad following the injuries

Problems: Roy Hodgson (right) will consider some new options for his squad following the injuries

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Leyton Orient first match called off as weather wreaks havoc with sport

More frustration for Orient as they're first to fall foul off the wet weather across England

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UPDATED:

19:07 GMT, 25 December 2012

Leyton Orient led the way with the first weather postponement of the Boxing Day fixture programme as the forecast of more heavy rain threatened further disruption.

The League One side called off their home clash with Swindon at lunchtime on Christmas Day after downpours in London overnight.

Raining on our parade: The sports calendar has been affected by the weather

Raining on our parade: The sports calendar has been affected by the weather

It has been a frustrating week for Orient boss Russell Slade, who took his team to Notts County last weekend only to have the game controversially called off, even though both managers and the players felt the pitch was playable.

That match was one of 13 League fixtures which fell foul of heavy rain and clubs will be hoping there is no repeat at a time of the year which is traditionally lucrative in terms of attracting fans.

There was also a major casualty in racing, with Thursday's Welsh Grand National at Chepstow succumbing after six inches of rain fell in the area.

The race, which was due to be the BBC’s farewell, has been re-arranged for January 5 and will be screened by Channel 4.

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Scott Jamieson wins Nelson Mandela Championship

Jamieson takes Nelson Mandela Championship with super second day show

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UPDATED:

17:09 GMT, 9 December 2012

Scotland's Scott Jamieson won the inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship, which is the opening event of the new European Tour season, in South Africa tonight.

In a tournament cut to 36 holes and on a Royal Durban course reduced to a par-65 because of saturated fairways, Jamieson shot a second-round 57 and then beat England's Steve Webster and Spaniard Edoardo de la Riva in a play-off.

De la Riva bogeyed the first extra hole and then, in fast-fading light, Webster, the only one of the trio to have won on the circuit before, did the same when they returned to the 18th tee.

Champ: Scott Jamieson of Scotland poses with the trophy after winning the Nelson Mandela Championship

Champ: Scott Jamieson of Scotland poses with the trophy after winning the Nelson Mandela Championship

Beaten: Steve Webster lost in the play-off to the Scot

Beaten: Steve Webster lost in the play-off to the Scot

Jamieson, whose previous best finish was third, will not go into the Tour record books for his 57, however. Because of the course conditions it will not officially count, but that will not matter to the 29-year-old ranked 167th in the world.

He was not even in the top 60 after his opening round of 66 and admitted afterwards: 'Starting the day I probably didn't think I would be standing here holding the trophy.'

Let's go: Jamieson plays his second shot onto the 18th green on the first extra play-off hole

Let's go: Jamieson plays his second shot onto the 18th green on the first extra play-off hole

All three players involved in the play-off finished their rounds by lunchtime and had to wait all afternoon to see if anybody could beat their seven-under totals of 123.

South Africa's Tim Clark had the best chance, but double-bogeyed the 17th when joint leader.

De la Riva, who less than a fortnight ago came through the Tour qualifying school in joint ninth place, was left to rue not only failing to get up and down from a bunker in the play-off, but also a closing bogey in his second-round 61.

That's better: Playing conditions were fine after the two-day washout

That's better: Playing conditions were fine after the two-day washout

Webster, who had the second of his
two victories in Portugal five years ago, produced a 60 and almost
clinched victory on the first extra hole when his 30-foot birdie putt
came up just short.

Next time round, though, he could not recover from pulling his drive into thick rough.

Earlier, Jamieson could have won it
outright on the 305-yard ninth – his last – when he drove the green, but
just missed a 12-foot eagle attempt.

He had earlier gone to the turn in a five-under 26 that included four birdie twos.

Lazy day: Pelicans sitting around on the course

Lazy day: Pelicans sitting around on the course

'I knew I needed a fast start and was
lucky enough to get that,' Jamieson added after also being presented
with a framed drawing of Mandela.

'It's an honour to win a tournament
like this. Getting your name on any European trophy is a fantastic
achievement, but it's a bit more special with someone like Nelson.'

Joint fourth a stroke behind were Clark, German Max Kieffer, Dane Morten Orum Madsen and England's Matthew Nixon.

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Kenny Shiels wants to play suspended Manuel Pascali against Celtic

Kilmarnock boss Shiels plans to play suspended player Pascali against Celtic

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UPDATED:

23:44 GMT, 6 December 2012


Off you go: Manuel Pascali was sent off early on

Off you go: Manuel Pascali was sent off early on

Controversial Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels is on a fresh collision course with the SFA and SPL after claiming he may play Manuel Pascali against Celtic on Saturday — despite the Italian being suspended.

Pascali was given a two-match ban after being shown a red card in the third minute against St Johnstone last month, which Killie subsequently failed to overturn on appeal.

The 31-year-old sat out the Scottish Cup win over Queen of the South, but Shiels is now bizarrely claiming that since there were 90 minutes, including injury-time, after Pascali was sent off against Saints, the game his player was ordered off in counts as the first of his suspension — meaning he is free to play against Celtic.

Should he field the banned player against Neil Lennon’s men tomorrow lunchtime, however, Kilmarnock and the player would both be in breach of SFA disciplinary rule 205.

That could see Pascali hit with an additional suspension of between three and 20 games, while Killie could face a fine of between 500 and 50,000.

Kilmarnock would also be in breach of SPL regulations and would face a range of sanctions including a warning, a fine, a points deduction, a replay or the match being awarded to Celtic.

But on Thursday night a defiant Shiels was adamant that he can play Pascali against Celtic; a view that will put him on a collision course with the authorities a week after claiming to have been told the SFA are ‘out to get him’.

Adamant: Kenny Shiels says he might play Pascali despite the suspension

Adamant: Kenny Shiels says he might play Pascali despite the suspension

‘According to my mathematics, Manuel Pascali has served two full games,’ Shiels said. ‘He played for the first three minutes and got sent off against St Johnstone, which lasted 93 minutes.

‘So, he has completed 90 minutes against St Johnstone and he missed last Saturday, so he will definitely be in the squad (against Celtic) — if not starting.

‘I think technically I’m right, so I’ll play him and then see where that takes us.’

On Friday on Twitter, Pascali tweeted from his @paska29 account: ‘I’m officially in the team for saturday!!!! #buzzin’ — and the Italian also vowed to score against Celtic.

Later, the player appeared to backtrack by adding: ‘Does people think seriously that i will play Ahahahahahhaha’

Shiels, meanwhile, also criticised the SFA’s decision to reduce a red card shown to Queen of the South’s Stephen McKenna against Kilmarnock last weekend to a yellow.

Breach: If Pascali does play the club will be punished by the SFA

Breach: If Pascali does play the club will be punished by the SFA

‘I am astounded,’ said Shiels. ‘His challenge was slightly worse than Pascali’s, but neither of them should have been red cards.

‘I am shocked by the level of inconsistency.

‘Pascali’s was less aggressive and what I want to know is why McKenna had his red changed to yellow, but Pascali didn’t.’

Last week, Shiels accused SFA disciplinary chiefs of being out to get him as part of a vendetta after being hit with a raft of charges.

Spokesmen for the SFA and SPL last night confirmed that if Pascali plays against Celtic, it would be a breach of their rules.

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David Beckham on Manchester United, Paul Scholes and leaving LA Galaxy

Beckham has the last word: Former England skipper talks about retirement, United and his dream to own a clubScholes retired too early, I won’t do thatClubs flash cash but United have historyI want to own a team not manage one…

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UPDATED:

08:28 GMT, 1 December 2012

Standing in the midst of a group of reporters with his back against a wall at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles, David Beckham suddenly seems struck by his longevity as a footballer.

‘It’s amazing isn’t it’ he laughed. ‘Twenty years we’ve all been doing this. But I’m just thankful I’m still playing.

‘You guys are the same. You’re still reporting on games. You are probably thinking: “Oh sh*t, not again”. But this game never gets old for me. I never get tired of it.’

Still going strong: Beckham has made it clear that he wants to play on

Still going strong: Beckham has made it clear that he wants to play on

Still going strong: Beckham has made it clear that he wants to play on

Beckham

At 37, Beckham still hasn’t changed much. From Manchester to Madrid to Los Angeles (with a pit stop in Milan), Beckham’s career has been more eclectic than anybody would have imagined, but it’s clear the fire has not yet gone out.

He will play in the MLS Cup Final for LA Galaxy against Houston at lunchtime local time today – his final game for the club – and then quickly turn his head to stare down the next challenge.

Despite the aches and pains of an ageing athlete, retirement isn’t an option. Not yet. Events across the pond at Old Trafford in the first month of this year convinced him of that. ‘I saw what happened with Scholesy,’ he said, referring to Paul Scholes’s decision to reverse his retirement.

‘I plan to keep playing as long as I can because I know when Scholesy stepped away he came back and regretted stopping.

Old friends: Beckham in his United days with Scholes (centre) and Giggs (left)

Old friends: Beckham in his United days with Scholes (centre) and Giggs (left)

Old friends: Beckham in his United days with Scholes (centre) and Giggs (left)

‘You know when it’s time and obviously Scholesy realised it wasn’t his time at that moment and I’m the same. It’s not my time. It’s nice to see him and Giggsy still playing at Man U. They’ve had successful careers there and to see them playing like they do now is great. We grew up together and, like them, I want to play as long as my legs will take me.’

Thursday was pretty much ‘Beckham day’ at Galaxy training. A conditioning session in the Californian drizzle at 10am and then media commitments ahead of his final game after six seasons in the States. After all this time, he remains the MLS’s biggest media draw. They will miss him.

Beckham wasn’t due to speak to English journalists but, as usual, he found the extra time.

Although his plans were off limits, he did admit that he harbours ambitions to play in the Champions League again. ‘I think that because I always loved it,’ he said. ‘I still miss playing in it; they are the games you love playing in.

Centre of attention: Beckham took the time out to speak to English journalists

Centre of attention: Beckham took the time out to speak to English journalists

Beckham with a hat in training

‘We’ll see where I go next. If it’s a team that’s in the Champions League then it will be nice to be back. Wherever I’ve gone it’s been a big deal throughout my career. Whether it’s been going on loan to AC Milan or leaving Manchester United for Real Madrid or Real to here, it’s always been big news. This next move will be a move that is about the football. That has never been any different for me.

‘People say some of the moves have been about money but my answer is always the same, that my career has never been about money. I’m not money motivated, I just want to play for the best team and with the best players.’

It is remarkable to think it is almost a decade since Beckham left United.

‘I couldn’t have stayed, it wasn’t an option obviously,’ he said with a smile. Since that time, little has changed in England. United were top of the Premier League when he left and are top again ahead of this weekend’s games. ‘I’m not surprised by that, I don’t know why anybody is surprised by that,’ he said.

Up for the cup: Beckham will line up alongside Robbie Keane (right) for LA Galaxy for the last time

Up for the cup: Beckham will line up alongside Robbie Keane (right) for LA Galaxy for the last time

Up for the cup: Beckham will line up alongside Robbie Keane (right) for LA Galaxy for the last time

‘I’ve always said that money at football clubs is OK sometimes, but it doesn’t last forever. I think Manchester United are a club about history. Other clubs might have the money and might be able to pay players more but when Man United come calling it’s impossible to turn them down.

‘You see a player like Robin van Persie has spent the years he has at Arsenal but when Man United come knocking it’s impossible to say no. It doesn’t matter what other clubs are interested and what money is being thrown around.’

Beckham will one day take up an ambassadorial role at Old Trafford. ‘I’m sure that will happen in some way,’ he confirmed.

For now, though, he is looking forward to owning one of the MLS ‘development franchises’ (essentially one of the smaller, newer clubs) in the near future and keeping retirement at bay that little bit longer.

Mum's the word: Beckham did not discuss his future

Mum's the word: Beckham did not discuss his future

‘I wouldn’t say I’m scared of retiring,’ he said. ‘But I know I will miss it when I finish playing, of course. Every player and every professional person who walks away from a job misses it.

‘I’d like to be an owner because I don’t want to be a manager. Management has never interested me. I love playing and coaching but I would rather be an owner. In the MLS.’

Beckham is expected to spend Christmas in England. Indeed his wife Victoria and their four children have already left America for the UK.

It won’t be long before his next move becomes clear. Meanwhile he will have time to watch his best friend Gary Neville’s TV career blossoming.

‘He’s always loved to talk so it doesn’t surprise me,’ he laughed. ‘Sometimes he makes sense and sometimes you just have to ignore him.’

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Arsenal v Tottenham can decide top four, says Arsene Wenger

Seventh v eighth… but Wenger says north London derby will decide who lands top four spot

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UPDATED:

13:43 GMT, 16 November 2012

Arsene Wenger believes this season's north London derbies will have a 'big influence' on who finishes in the top four.

Tottenham visit the Emirates on Saturday lunchtime a point and place better off than Arsenal, who are eighth after 11 games.

I have a vision: Arsene Wenger has highlighted the importance of his team's derby clash with Spurs

I have a vision: Arsene Wenger has highlighted the importance of his team's derby clash with Spurs

I have a vision: Arsene Wenger has highlighted the importance of his team's derby clash with Spurs

The Gunners points tally is their
worst at this stage of a season since Wenger took over, yet the
Frenchman still believes the match will go a long way to dictating who
qualifies for the Champions League.

Arsenal have never finished below Tottenham during Wenger's time at the club and, although he admitted Spurs have closed the gap, he sees no reason why that dominance should not continue.

'I get that question every year,' he said. 'Yes, they have (closed the gap) recently. For some time, we were winning championships and they were not in the top four at all, so of course they’ve got closer in recent years. But fortunately we managed always to get above (them).

'They have a good side every year and they are always a team who are now fighting with us. What's important in the end, the consistency.

'Certainly the results in the two derbies can have a big influence as well on the qualifying spots for the Champions League.'

Wenger added: 'Every London derby is
important. We dropped some points recently and we want to come back in a
more consistent way of results. That is why it is a good opportunity to
do that tomorrow.'

Arsenal drew their last home game 3-3 with Fulham, having looked comfortable when 2-0 up midway through the first half.

Mikel Arteta saw a penalty saved in
stoppage time which would have won the match. Critics claim had that
spot-kick gone in, the victory would merely have 'papered over cracks'
in the current Arsenal squad.

Bragging rights: Arsenal produced a stunning comeback in the last meeting

Bragging rights: Arsenal produced a stunning comeback in the last meeting

Bragging rights: Arsenal produced a stunning comeback in the last meeting

Wenger, though, insisted his players were up to the challenges ahead.

'If you call 'cracks' for lack of unity, I don't believe it at all. This team has a fantastic spirit,' he said. 'If the results are not at the moment completely what we want then I agree, but we are not in a desperate situation.

'It is down to us, the season will be what we make of it now, it is as simple as that.'

Arsenal, however, must check on the fitness of Mikel Arteta and Olivier Giroud as both are doubts for the game.

Arteta, who Wenger said remains his No1 penalty-taker despite his miss against Fulham, has a hip problem, while Giroud has returned from international duty with France with hamstring and calf injuries.

Santi Cazorla will also be assessed after returning from a trip to Panama with Spain late on Thursday night, while Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also face fitness tests.

Wenger said: 'We have so many players who have come back with injuries or small injuries. Cazorla landed last night and Szczesny, Sagna, Walcott, Chamberlain, Arteta and Giroud (need assessing). There’s so many – I think we need a few doctors this morning.

'Arteta has a little hip problem and Giroud has come back with a hamstring problem and a calf problem.'

STANDING UP TO ABUSE

Arsenal and Tottenham have issued a joint statement warning supporters that anti-social behaviour during the North London derby will not be tolerated.

It read: 'Both clubs are actively encouraging all fans to focus on getting behind their team and enjoying what promises to be a great match on Saturday.

'A north London derby is always a special occasion and we hope Saturday's match will be remembered for both the action on the pitch, as well as the positive support for both teams off it.

'All fans should be aware that breaches of stadium regulations – including anti-social behaviour – will not be tolerated.

'Arsenal and Tottenham do not tolerate discrimination of any sort, whether it be on the pitch or in the stands.

Not tolerated: Arsenal and Tottenham have united to help stamp out abuse

Not tolerated: Arsenal and Tottenham have united to help stamp out abuse

'If you experience any form of discrimination during a matchday at Emirates Stadium, please use our text service to report the incident, locate the block and, if you are able, the row and seat details. Text 67777 or contact a matchday steward.

'Both clubs are actively encouraging all fans to focus on getting behind their team and enjoying what promises to be a great match on Saturday.'

Tottenham have also warned their fans that any offensive banners will be confiscated upon entry to the stadium.

'Flags and banners will be allowed with the appropriate wording and these will be checked before entry by Police/Stewards,' their statement continued.

'It is common policy and normal ground rules at football stadia in the UK and elsewhere in Europe that flags of an overtly religious/sectarian/political nature will not be permitted and may be confiscated – please respect this request.'

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Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley for middle England

Wilshere and Cleverley – the boys destined to be England's middle men

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UPDATED:

12:45 GMT, 5 November 2012

They have been billed as the future of the England team, the talented pair who can run the midfield for Roy Hodgson when Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard finally hang up their boots, and on Saturday Tom Cleverley and Jack Wilshere went head-to-head in the lunchtime kick-off at Old Trafford.

It offered an intriguing glimpse of the future of the national team, and could be the defining clash of United versus Arsenal in years to come.

Wilshere, in only his second game back from a 17-month injury lay-off, played a more advanced role for Arsenal.

Middle men: Tom Cleverley slides in to challenge Jack Wilshere at Old Trafford

Middle men: Tom Cleverley slides in to challenge Jack Wilshere at Old Trafford

His average position was just over the half-way line, whereas Cleverley had the majority of his touches in his own half.

Both made around 40 passes during the game, but Wilshere hit a far greater proportion of his passes in a forward direction – 27 per cent to Cleverley's 12 per cent.

Although it may be reflection of the shape of the game, in which a comfortable United side enjoyed the lions share of possession and territory and defended their lead by passing the ball around the pitch, Cleverley also hit double the number of passes backwards than Wilshere.

He's off: Arsenal midfielder Wilshere was shown the red card against United

He's off: Arsenal midfielder Wilshere was shown the red card against United

Most tellingly, Wilshere did not hit a single long ball (any pass 35 yards or longer) before he was sent off in the 69th minute, while in Cleverley's 61 minutes on the pitch before he was substituted, he hit 17 per cent of his passes over 35 yards or more.

The United midfielder was the most accurate passer on the pitch – hitting his intended target with an astonishing 98 per cent of his passes. Wilshere, meanwhile, hit the target with only 89 per cent.

But neither player made single pass that set up a goal-scoring opportunity.

Committed: Cleverley (right) also found himself in trouble with the referee

Committed: Cleverley (right) also found himself in trouble with the referee

Defensively, Cleverley made three tackles in the game (and attempted nine) while Wilshere failed to make single tackle (and still managed to get himself sent off).

In possession, the Arsenal tyro lost the ball an alarming 11 times, whereas Cleverley protected it far more effectively, only losing the ball twice.

England's new Gerrard-Lampard axis Let's just hope they can play together.

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Robin van Persie can be Old Trafford great, says Patrice Evra

Van Persie can be an Old Trafford great like Van Nistelrooy, says Evra

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UPDATED:

22:33 GMT, 4 November 2012

Top of the Barclays Premier League for the first time this season, Manchester United could even afford to express some disappointment that they hadn’t put Arsenal away by a greater margin on Saturday lunchtime.

‘If you could see our dressing room, you would think we had lost,’ said Rio Ferdinand.

The United defender had a point. Rarely will United be so superior to Arsenal and only win by one goal. Nevertheless, the presence of Robin van Persie in the United team looks increasingly significant.

Dutch of class: Van Persie has made a flying start to his United career

Dutch of class: Van Persie has made a flying start to his United career

The former Arsenal captain now has 10 goals to his name this season and the comparisons with the great and the good of United folklore have started already.

After Saturday’s game United captain Patrice Evra said: ‘Everyone knows what a great player he was at Arsenal, but it is never easy to play against your old team-mates.

‘People can now see that Robin is strong mentally. He seems like he has played for us for many years and he reminds me of Ruud van Nistelrooy. I hope he can keep going because he can be one of the best, just like Ruud.

‘I played with Ruud when I signed for United and I remember what a great player he was. They are both Dutch but it’s more than that. They have the same class and touch when you pass the ball to them.

Goal machine: Van Nistelrooy left United in 2006

Goal machine: Van Nistelrooy left United in 2006

‘(Robin) has started so well and I just hope he can keep going because, at United, you have to do that in every game.’

Booed rather predictably by Arsenal’s supporters on Saturday, Van Persie scored in the third minute but chose not to celebrate. Ferdinand said:

‘These games go one of two ways against your old club. You either get a goal, play well and win or have an absolute beast, get sent off and lose.

‘It was good to see Robin get on the scoresheet. He is a natural goalscorer and long may that continue. He showed a bit more class not celebrating than their fans showed to him.’

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Arsenal don"t scare Sir Alex Ferguson any more

Gunners lose fear factor: Fergie's just not scared of Arsenal now, especially as he has Van Persie

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UPDATED:

01:07 GMT, 3 November 2012

The clue was in the choice of words. ‘I think it will be a hard-ish game tomorrow,’ said Sir Alex Ferguson as he looked ahead to Saturday's lunchtime match with Arsenal.

Hard-ish Once upon a time the league season’s two meetings between Manchester United and Arsenal were seen as definitive, pivotal matches. They used to go some way to determining the destiny of the league championship.

At times they lit up the landscape. At others they were horrible and ugly. Now — with Arsenal suffering from Arsene Wenger’s mistakes and the rise of clubs such as Manchester City — Ferguson anticipates their arrival like he would a six-foot putt on one of his favourite Che-shire golf courses.

Hard-ish. It’s enough to make Arsenal diehards wince.

Changing relationship: Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson at loggerheads in 2004 (above) and sharing a joke earlier this year (below)

Changing relationship: Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson at loggerheads in 2004 (above) and sharing a joke earlier this year (below)

Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson

Ferguson meant no disrespect. That much is clear. In fact he did his best on Friday to talk this fixture up.

‘Every game against Arsenal is always a big one,’ he said. ‘Since I’ve come down here [to England], it’s always the most important ‘derby’ game in the sense that both teams have always been challenging for the league.

‘It won’t be different tomorrow.’ The truth is, however, that it is different now.

Arsenal still represent tough opposition, a team who, on their day, could beat United. What they are not, though, are title contenders.

They are the type of team who draw at home to Sunderland (currently 14th in the Barclays Premier League), lose at Norwich (16th) and beat 10-man QPR (20th) at home by a single goal scored in the 84th minute.

Looking good: Robin van Persie celebrates after his goal for United at Chelsea last weekend

Looking good: Robin van Persie celebrates after his goal for United at Chelsea last weekend

LOCKING HORNS ONCE AGAIN

Since taking charge of Arsenal in September 1996, Arsene Wenger has faced Sir Alex
Ferguson’s United side 47 times.

United have won 21 games, Arsenal have won
15 and there have been 11 draws.

Arsenal have scored 53 times against their rivals, but United have scored 68.

United’s 8-2 win last year was Ferguson’s
biggest victory over Wenger in all competitions.

Wenger’s biggest win was a 4-0 victory in the League Cup back in 2001 at Highbury.

Wenger has won the league three times and
the FA Cup four times with Arsenal.

In the same period, Ferguson has won two
Champions League trophies, nine league titles and two FA Cups.

Kick-off: 12.45pm, Old Trafford.
TV: LIVE on Sky Sports 2 from 12pm.
Referee: Mike Dean.

They are seven points off the lead at the top end of the Premier League, a point ahead of Fulham and two behind Tottenham. They are not title contenders. To make matters worse, United now have in their team Arsenal’s best player of recent years and indeed last season’s captain Robin van Persie, a player signed in the summer after Ferguson telephoned Wenger not so much to haggle but to commiserate.

Wenger and his disciples —and there are many — must wonder how it has come to this. Ferguson used to spit out Arsenal’s name through gritted teeth. He used to talk about ‘Wenger’.

Now the United manager, knowing Arsenal look no nearer to breaking their seven-and-a-half-year run without a trophy, pays lip-service to ‘Arsene’ and his team, an entertaining and intriguing curio that he knows will not be bothering him much come May.

‘I think they have improved defensively this year, they’re a stronger physical team,’ he said. They’re stronger physically if you look at the make-up of their team now.These players they’ve brought in are much more physical than they have had in the past.’

We can only presume Ferguson was
referring to the recent past. Arsenal, after all, use to head north
with trojans like Vieira, Petit, Winterburn and Keown in their team.

The
fact that United have won 10 of the last 14 fixtures against Arsenal
(losing just two) tells the story of how the relationship between the
clubs has become a little lop-sided. The last time Arsenal won both
league games was in 2006-07 while United did so as recently as last
year. United beat Arsenal 8-2 in this corresponding fixture last season
and Van Persie — scorer of nine goals already this term — was still
playing for the other side.

Asked
about his former captain on Friday, Wenger did little to quell the
feeling that it could be another productive day for the Dutchman.

What a coup: Ferguson with Van Persie after United's dramatic summer capture of the Dutchman

What a coup: Ferguson with Van Persie after United's dramatic summer capture of the Dutchman

‘My players know him as well because they have played against him in training,’ he said. ‘But in the game it’s a question of timing. How quickly will they read it as well as he reads it He’s certainly the most efficient striker (in the Premier League).

‘In Manchester United you have good players around him. His runs are fantastic, his technique is absolutely amazing, so I’m not surprised (at his success).

‘United are a lot in offensive positioning, so with his intelligent runs, of course he will take advantage of that.’

Embarrassing: Arsene Wenger suffered at Old Trafford last season as United claimed an unlikely win

Embarrassing: Arsene Wenger suffered at Old Trafford last season as United claimed an unlikely win

Arsene Wenger watches at Old Trafford

Ferguson said on Friday he scouted Van Persie as a teenager at Feyenoord, on a day he was actually sent off, but it was Wenger’s stealth in the market that saw Van Persie lured to Highbury rather than any doubts about temperament.

Certainly the current United team look made for a player blessed with so much precision, imagination and instinct. Despite issues in defence, Ferguson’s team look capable of digging themselves out of the deepest of holes right now.

Last year’s drubbing at Old Trafford left Wenger ‘embarrassed’ and ‘humiliated’ though he insisted yesterday it didn’t take him long to recover.

On Saturday, he will hope his team stay in the game long enough to have a chance. If they do it could be close. Well, close-ish.