The benchmark for Arsenal’s season?

Arsene Wenger's experience

Arsenal’s wins at Old Trafford during the 1997-98 and 2001-02 seasons became defining and of course memorable moments for each of those title wins. Manchester United don’t have to be at the top of the league table, but they’ll almost always be the benchmark that others have to match and eventually surpass.

Sunday’s meeting between the two sides will be a test for Arsenal, not only because they need to convince the league and themselves that they belong after a clash with the biggest team in the country, but also because the last time Arsene Wenger’s side picked up a point, let alone a victory, was in 2006 when Cesc Fabregas put in a Man of the Match performance.

Arsenal do belong at the top of the Premier League table at present because they’ve come through the tests that have been placed in front of them. The win over Liverpool at the Emirates last weekend proved that they can match the other big teams in the league, but as always, United is a completely different prospect.

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You have to take points off the other big teams to be successful in a title hunt – that is generally accepted. This match at Old Trafford will offer a far better indicator as to how far Arsenal have come this season than the ties against Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea away from league competition. Above all, the Premier League is Arsenal’s priority, and by beating the current holders, they’ll reaffirm their credentials as serious title challengers.

United themselves have thus far failed to beat any of the three big sides they’ve come up against, losing emphatically to Manchester City and only taking a point from the games against Liverpool and Chelsea. But it would be wrong for Arsenal to go into this tie, regardless of form and what’s been done in previous weeks, and assume that David Moyes’ side will be an easier task than they’ve been in the past.

The loss at Old Trafford last season was befitting of a club who weren’t quite sure of themselves. Having lost club captain Robin van Persie to United, Arsenal were without clear direction on the pitch and behind the scenes. Santi Cazorla’s consolation goal in the final minutes is generally forgotten, such was the gulf between the two teams.

But this match on the weekend will be about Arsenal’s mental ability to handle being at the top. The important factor is that Arsenal look like they belong. The team have come through all the tests the league has put forward in impressive fashion – bar the defeat to Aston Villa, which certainly isn’t in keeping with the rest of the campaign thus far – but going toe-to-toe with a team like United offers Arsenal the belief in themselves that the harshness of the Premier League season can be navigated successfully.

Is Manchester United the benchmark game for Arsenal this season?

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