Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fergie : We are the real thing

ALEX FERGUSON believes he has the exceptional team in an exceptional league - and tonight he aims to prove it.

The Manchester United manager has come out fighting ahead of tonight's big clash with Arsenal at Old Trafford and dismissed claims his team are on the slide.

He also believes critics who claim the Premier League is weak are talking nonsense.

United can go back to the top with a victory. And having won three titles out of the last four and only missing out by a point last season, Fergie maintains that says it all about the power of the Red Machine.

He said: "Look at the cycle of successful teams - and a team which can go for four years winning things is exceptional.

"We were only a point away from doing that last season and that sums up the standard we are."

United's seven draws in 15 league games, coupled with Chelsea's slump and Arsenal's inconsistency, has led many to question the strength of our league.

But not Ferguson and he added: "It is always an interesting analysis of Manchester United when they have a couple of bad results.

"It is different from everyone else and we're aware of that, and that is good, because that is our expectation, too.

"But it is a strange Premier League this season. We have to give credit to the lower parts of the league who are now catching up and condensing it into a much, much tighter competition.

"After the top five there are only about six points between the rest of the table.

"That is what we are used to seeing in the Championship every year, where you win two games and you are up challenging for the play-off spots.

"Now in the top flight, a team winning a couple of games is challenging for Europe all of a sudden.

"Only a few weeks ago Sunderland were down the bottom but now they are now challenging for a European place.

"It is difficult to assess whether it is the teams at the top who are failing or the teams below them getting better. I think it is a case of the lower teams getting better. The standard has improved."

Ferguson will become United's longest-serving manager next weekend when he faces Chelsea.

He will have been in the hotseat 24 years, one month and 14 days - surpassing the great Sir Matt Busby in his two spells with the club.

If any title battle, any fixture has defined him in that time in charge it is with Arsenal.

There have been fights, great football, flying pizzas and a feud between two managers that has only eased over the last couple of years with Chelsea's emergence as the major threat to United's overall dominance.

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Despite that thaw in relations between Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, the United boss is still expecting a red-hot encounter tonight.

He said: "The games, particularly four or five years ago, were so important because both of us were challenging for titles. Chelsea have now come in and it's been ourselves and them over the last five years.

"Nonetheless, it's Manchester United against Arsenal and the history of both teams always guarantees a match of intensity and, a lot of the time, controversy.

"I think this game will be more or less the same because the pride and history of both clubs determines that."

Ferguson believes the Gunners are no longer a soft touch and says there is now a strength and maturity in the team.

He added: "I think the general shape of the team has been far more mature and aggressive this year.

"They were very difficult to beat in the days of Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira and the three at the back - Keown, Adams and Bould.

"That brought them great success and I think that this team is showing that kind of maturity now.

"They will still try to play the attractive football Arsene believes in, but there's definitely been a slight change. They're top of the league - that's a sure indication that they are better than they were last year."