LONDON (Reuters) – Manchester United and Arsenal, who have scored and conceded a total of 41 goals between them in eight matches since October 20, promise a feast of football on Saturday as Robin van Persie faces his ex-club for the first time.
Arsenal will be desperate to stop their former talismanic striker, who scored 37 goals for the Gunners in all competitions last term before joining United in August where he has continued to find the net ahead of the Old Trafford clash at 12.45 p.m. British Time .
The Londoners, though, had no trouble without him on Tuesday when they sealed a remarkable 7-5 extra-time win at Reading in the League Cup after trailing 4-0 at one stage in an extraordinary match.
Winger Theo Walcott scored a hat-trick and boss Arsene Wenger says he can play as a striker, a sticking point in contract negotiations, but a berth up front at United seems too soon.
"I always said that he will be a striker, so we are on the same wavelength there," Wenger told reporters having struggled to replace Van Persie.
"Secondly, I believe he knows where to be in the box on the rebounds. I like that – that’s a quality of a striker that you cannot give to anybody. You feel it or you don’t."
The last time United scored as many as seven in a game was August last year when they beat Arsenal 8-2 at home but they have netted consistently this season, losing Wednesday’s League Cup last 16 clash 5-4 at Chelsea after extra time.
Arsenal are sixth while United will start Saturday’s Premier League encounter in second after their controversial 3-2 win against leaders Chelsea last Sunday in the first of two back-to-back games between the sides.
United raced into a quickfire 2-0 lead at Stamford Bridge last Sunday with an own goal from David Luiz after four minutes and Van Persie’s ninth goal of the season eight minutes later.
Chelsea clawed the score back to 2-2 before Javier Hernandez’s offside winner for United in a match which encapsulated United’s season so far – strong in attack and fragile at the back.
The League Cup game, albeit with many reserves playing, mirrored that.
"From a spectator’s point of view it was a terrific game of football. You’re getting your money’s worth with nine goals, there’s no doubt about that," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "We only have ourselves to blame, really."
Wenger will be wondering which Arsenal show up at Old Trafford – the one that played so poorly in the first half at Reading or the one that powered their way to an incredible victory even if it too was a much-changed side for the cup.
Chelsea lost their unbeaten league record when they were beaten by United but remain top by a point even if life is rarely plain-sailing for the European champions, who visit Swansea City on Saturday (1500).
After losing to United, Chelsea accused match referee Mark Clattenburg of using "inappropriate language" to Nigerian John Obi Mikel.
The fallout has dominated English football all week with both the English FA and the Metropolitan Police now investigating the allegations.
ERRATIC WEST HAM
Chelsea travel to Wales without their skipper John Terry, who will serve the last game of four-match domestic ban for racially insulting Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers last year.
What impact this week’s trauma will have on the team remains to be seen after their up-and-down League Cup win but Chelsea will be looking to do better than the 1-1 draw they achieved at the Liberty Stadium last season if they are to stay top.
If Chelsea do slip up, champions Manchester City, as well as Manchester United, would be looking to capitalise with City visiting erratic West Ham United for Saturday’s late match (1730 GMT) at Upton Park.
City were not distracted by the League Cup in midweek as they were eliminated by Aston Villa last month but coach Roberto Mancini will be looking for a huge improvement on their jaded performance against Swansea last weekend which ended with a narrow 1-0 win thanks to a well-taken goal by Carlos Tevez.
They will be without England defender Micah Richards, who is set to miss the next four months following surgery on a knee injury picked up against Swansea.
Tottenham Hotspur will also be looking to consolidate their place in the top four after five wins from their last six league matches when they face Wigan Athletic at White Hart Lane on Saturday (1500).
Spurs climbed above Everton and Arsenal with their 2-1 win at Southampton last Sunday, leaving the Saints deep in trouble in 19th place but still optimistic they can survive the drop after an encouraging second-half performance.
Southampton travel to West Bromwich Albion on Monday (2000) but could find themselves bottom by two points by then if Queens Park Rangers beat shell-shocked Reading at Loftus Road on Sunday (1330) and record their first league win of the season.
QPR were unlucky to lose 1-0 at Arsenal last weekend when Mikel Arteta scored an offside winner but boss Mark Hughes’ belief that his side are too good to go down will look a little hollow if they fail to beat Reading and finally kick-start their season.