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Feb 12, 2011

Wenger eagerly awaits derby clash

Temporary Manchester City fan Arsene Wenger will be eagerly watching to see how Manchester United respond to their first defeat of the season in Saturday's Premier League derby.

• Xavi expects Fabregas switch
• Vermaelen three weeks away
• Puyol to miss Arsenal tie
• Diaby open to Barcelona move

The title race took a twist last weekend as Arsenal gave up a 4-0 lead to draw at Newcastle before United responded later in the day with a suprising loss to Wolves - ending their 29-match unbeaten streak.

Arsenal remain United's closest challengers at the ladder's summit and the way each team bounces back from the mental blows suffered last Saturday will go a long way to determining which way the title will be headed in May. United should have no problems getting motivated for their next match, given it is a Manchester derby against third-placed City, but Wenger is still eager to see whether Sir Alex Ferguson's team has taken a dent to their belief - particularly after United ended his own side's 49-match run last decade.

Wenger said: "We'll see. I will look at it and see how they respond. Usually, they respond well. It is a derby so anything can happen. It is maybe a chance for Manchester City to come back to Manchester United. It will be a very open derby, more than ever. It's very difficult psychologically to start again. For us it was 49 games, we lost the 50th game under special circumstances. It was even more difficult to swallow, the sense of injustice. It's always difficult when you are on an unbeaten run and you lose it.''

Ironically, Arsenal face Wolves later in the afternoon as they look to capitalise on any slip by United against the same team United failed to beat to take advantage of Arsenal's demoralising 4-4 draw. Wenger emphasised how much it would mean for Arsenal to win a Premier League title for the first time since 2004 by insisting the match against Wolves was more important than next Wednesday's Champions League clash against Barcelona.

He said: "The best way to be in a good position to beat Barcelona is to beat Wolves. This game is as important, if not more important, than Barcelona. In my opinion more by far. We started in August to fight for every single ball to be in a position to fight for the Premier League and now is the time of truth. This is the time for us to make an impact on the Premier League. We are in a strong position. It would be absolutely stupid now not to prioritise the Premier League.''

Wenger is confident his side can shrug off their own psychological effects of the 4-4 draw at St James' Park last weekend when they threw away a 4-0 lead and Abou Diaby was sent off after a confrontation with Joey Barton.

Wenger added: "I am confident it will have a positive impact on the players, that we got away with what happened against us without being punished. Our distance with Manchester United is not bigger but shorter. Let's take advantage of that in the next games. We have spoken about the situation. They have got over it. In fact, maybe the international games were welcome for them. To get a little bit away from that disappointment.''

Diaby is suspended after his sending off and Tomas Rosicky has a groin problem but Johan Djourou is fit and Denilson is again available. Striker Robin van Persie has recovered from the bout of flu which kept him out of Holland's midweek friendly against Austria. Meanwhile, defender Thomas Vermaelen, out since September, could be fit for reserve-team action in three weeks.

Paul Scholes believes City need to end their trophy drought if they're to join the elite.

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