Football: Arsenal search for due respect

Guy Hodgson looks ahead to a day of local difficulties in the Premiership
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The Independent Online
Perhaps because of the media pounding that Manchester United have received in recent days, Arsenal are probably glad of the distinct lack of attention on them even though they are top of the Premiership. The Gunners keep winning and the rest of us remain underwhelmed.

Even in London, Wimbledon's progress to third place has received more plaudits than Arsenal's slightly surprising ascent to the summit. Yet they have five wins from their last six matches, and wouldn't Manchester United love a record like that at the moment?

Today Arsenal meet Wimbledon at Selhurst Park knowing that if they get their third successive away victory they will open a three-point gap at the top, albeit probably only until Liverpool and Newcastle play tomorrow. Conversely if they lose, Wimbledon will take a brief (at least it is assumed it will be brief) tenure.

"They'll be fired up for it," Martin Keown, the Arsenal central defender, said. "But we'll meet the challenge head on. There's enough experience and hunger in our side. That's the key to it."

No one will be more confident than Ian Wright, whose 10 goals in nine games have earned him a recall to the England squad and who will be returning to the stadium where he first shot to prominence with Crystal Palace. "It's a lucky ground for him," Keown said. "It's going to be important for them to shut him out of the match."

Mark Hughes probably regards Old Trafford as a lucky ground as well and the Chelsea striker will be bristling to put one over his erstwhile team- mates at Manchester United. But things have gone so badly for the champions in the last 13 days, a visit from their former player is the least of their worries.

Indeed when the front page of another newspaper boomed out yesterday: "Fergie: I could kill myself" supporters who had watched their team concede 11 goals in two Premiership matches and then lose a 40-year unbeaten home record in Europe probably empathised. The surprise in Manchester was that the headline referred to the Duchess of York and not the United manager, Alex Ferguson.

"The best cure would be a win," he said. "Nothing changes in terms of our players' ability and they have the desire. Chelsea have a good record here so they'll have a bit of confidence and have a go at us which will help."

As Coventry's manager, Ron Atkinson, said this week: "We'd all love Manchester United's problems". One man who would agree is Nottingham Forest's Frank Clark whose team have not won in the League since the opening day of the season. Forest travel to Aston Villa today hoping that the maxim that derbies are great levellers will apply.

At least Clark can welcome back Kevin Campbell, whose 10-match absence with hamstring and ankle problems has coincided with Forest's plummet to third from bottom. Before he was injured he scored four goals in four games; since he has been missing hardly anyone has been able to find the net.

Derby, too, have been shot- shy in recent weeks and like Forest are involved in a Midlands derby, against Leicester City, who have reached the dizzy heights of 11th place in the Premiership. Derby, without a win from five league matches, will hope they meet the opponents who were routed by Liverpool rather than the Dr Jekyll side of their character that beat Newcastle 2-0 last week.

Another derby sees West Ham travel to Tottenham, who will be relieved to get back to normal after the emotionally charged match at Chelsea last week in the aftermath of Matthew Harding's death. "I've been a player and a manager for a long time," Gerry Francis, the Tottenham manager, said, "and I've seen a few minute silences, but it was one of the most emotional atmospheres I've ever experienced at a game and it must have been difficult for both teams."