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Football: We will always be No1; BATTLE OF OLD TRAFFORD MAN UTD v ARSENAL, kick-off 4.05pm.

Byline: paul SMITH Chief Football Reporter

SIR ALEX FERGUSON has taunted Arsenal by telling the record-breaking champions that Manchester United will always be England's No.1 club.

Arsene Wenger's men arrive at Old Trafford this afternoon on the crest of a 49-game unbeaten run in the Premiership.

And they will be hoping to eclipse United's standing as the richest club in the world once they move into their new 60,000-capacity home at Ashburton Grove.

But just a week after Ferguson told Sunday Mirror Sport that Arsenal "got away with murder" in last season's corresponding fixture, he warned they will never be able to compete with United's history, tradition or pulling power.

And in a stinging rebuke to the Londoners, he insisted that United are the still the team to beat - and that every player in the country wants to wear their famous red shirt.

Ferguson said: "Manchester United are still the team every club wants to beat most of all - regardless of who is champions or unbeaten records.

"In that respect, our profile as the major club in the country is untouchable. That is obvious and will never change.

"There is no doubt that every player in the country wants to play for Manchester United. It was the same when I came to England 18 years ago and it will always be the same.

"Arsenal are a marvellous side, but Manchester United have a great history. We were the first club in Europe, the first to win the European Cup, and we want to create even more history.

"Arsenal's unbeaten record is terrific, but we are ahead of everyone else in England when it comes to tradition.

"It is something that brings incredible pressures, but it has never bothered me.

"I have always trusted my players and they have always been able to handle the pressures of being the top team in England and facing the most intimidating atmospheres when we travel away from home.

"The players have repaid me by being the dominant force of the Premiership. Arsenal have won it a couple of times, but a record of eight championships since 1993 speaks for itself."

Arsenal will move 14 points clear of United if they return from Old Trafford with victory.

But Ferguson is adamant that United will not surrender their title ambitions if they fail to win their first game in four matches.

And he believes the Gunners may return to pre-Wenger type as they look to hit the magical 50 mark by attempting to force a draw.

Ferguson said: "The title won't be decided, regardless of what happens against Arsenal.

"If we don't win then it's going to be very difficult for us to win the League, but it won't be impossible and we won't be waving the white flag.

"There is a history of big leads being whittled away in the Premier League and who is to say it won't happen again?"

He added: "Certainly if we beat Arsenal it will put pressure on them because it will be interesting to see how they react to losing their unbeaten record.

"They have shown a great level of consistency, but I still don't expect them to come to Old Trafford trying to win.

"I really think they will come to defend and play for the draw.

"I remember a couple of years ago when they went to Everton defending a long unbeaten record only to lose to a goal from a young lad called Wayne Rooney.

"I am well aware that it's Wayne's 19th birthday and it would be great if he could do the same again.

PASTCLASHES

2004-05

Aug 8, 2004 (Com Shield) Arsenal ..........3Man Utd......1 Silva, Reyes, Smith Silvestre og

2003-04

Apr 3, 2004 (FACup Semi) Arsenal ..........0Man Utd......1 Scholes Mar 28, 2004 (League) Arsenal ..........1Man Utd......1 HenrySaha

Sept 21, 2003 (League) Man Utd ........0Arsenal........0 Aug 10, 2003 (Com Shield) Man Utd ........0Arsenal........0

KEY BATTLES

Ferdinand v Henry

Rated as one of the world's best defenders, Ferdinand has looked as good as ever since his return from suspension.

But he faces his biggest test yet in shackling the explosive pace and awareness of Henry.

Keane v Vieira

Keane's illness and Vieira's ankle problem only adds to the intrigue of this crucial midfield battle.

If either is short of top form it could prove costly - and don't be surprised if the two go face to face on occasions.

Van Nistelrooy v Campbell

With just one Premiership goal this season the United striker is aiming to make Arsenal pay for his lack of success.

Campbell should dominate the Dutchman in the air, but if he switches off Van Nistelrooy will punish him.

CAPTION(S):

RARING TO GO: Wayne Rooney is the latest big name to be lured to Old Trafford by the glamour of Manchester United
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 24, 2004
Words:806
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