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Nov 7, 2008

Sir Alex is fired up

Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted the Emirates Stadium will play host to a "critical'' Premier League blockbuster - but for Manchester United rather than Arsenal. In the build-up to an eagerly-awaited reunion between the Gunners and the Red Devils, most of the attention has been on the hosts.

Arsene Wenger was outraged by Stoke's tactics at the Britannia Stadium last weekend when his side suffered a third defeat of the season.

Many pundits feel a fourth at the hands of Ferguson's men could prove terminal for Arsenal's championship hopes and with so many men missing, including star striker Emmanuel Adebayor, few think it is a scenario United are not capable of creating.

But Ferguson is not really interested in discussing Wenger and his team. He is more interested in his own side.

And, having lost to Liverpool and drawn with Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton in their first 10 games, Ferguson knows United's record is not exactly flawless. Which is why he is happy to focus on the visitors' need for victory rather than their opponents.

"This match is critical for us,'' he said. "We have to win our games and be consistent from now until the end of the season because we have points to make up on Liverpool and Chelsea. There is no way I am going to be thinking about what is happening at Arsenal. This game is important for Manchester United.

"We have every right to contest the championship just the same as Arsenal or anyone else, so we will fight for the right to win tomorrow.''

Not that Ferguson is unaware of Arsenal's plight.

As someone who has experienced plenty of criticism in his 22 years at the Old Trafford helm, Ferguson knows exactly what Wenger is going through right now.

And he will realise his team have often produced their best results when backs have been pinned firmly to the wall.

"Arsenal have had injuries and I make the point a lot, when you don't have your best players you don't get the best results,'' observed the Scot. "Arsene has one or two key players out but if anyone thinks it will be easy tomorrow, they are wrong.

"It will be a tough game, as it always is. Over the years, games between the two clubs have always been very competitive. They are always played at great speed and they are always highly emotional games.

"I am sure their fans will be wound up tomorrow because of what has been said during the week. We have to cope with that.''

Most of what has been said centred around Stoke's "aggressive tactics''. Wenger clearly felt the Potters went too far, adding further insult to the perceived injustice of an aerial bombardment that once again raised the 'southern softies' image that first attached itself to the north London giants when they went to Bolton or Blackburn.

Stoke's route one style is not something Ferguson would ever embrace. However, he does recognise the need to adapt tactics according to the players at each manager's disposal. And he is happy to defend Tony Pulis' side.

"Certain teams have a different style of play. That has always been the case,'' he said. "When you play against Stoke, if you concede a throw or a corner you need your tin helmets on. You know the ball will be in the air and you have to head it.

"It is something you have to expect. They know their strengths. They are committed and honest but I certainly do not think they are a dirty team.''

Past history suggests referee Howard Webb will have his work cut out to maintain order, even if Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira are no longer centre stage.

There are enough combustible characters on both sides for a flashpoint to arise at any moment.

United's competitiveness often worked to their advantage at Highbury but they have managed just a single draw from two visits to the Emirates.

Ferguson does not feel the Red Devils have had a problem adapting to their new ground though. He is just sick of conceding last-minute goals there.

"We have thrown the last two matches away down there,'' said Ferguson. "We were 1-0 up with four minutes to go two years ago and lost 2-1. That is crazy.''

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