The wisdom of Arsène Wenger's decision to revive Sol Campbell's Arsenal career at the age of 35 will be put to an immediate test with the former England defender set to make his first Premier League start of the season against Manchester United on Sunday.
Campbell is likely to face the champions even though scans revealed yesterday that the centre-half Thomas Vermaelen's injury is not a broken leg, as first feared when he limped off in the first-half of Wednesday's goalless draw at Aston Villa. However the Belgian has suffered severe bruising and is unlikely to be risked against the champions. Wenger said yesterday: "There is no fracture in Thomas's leg but his injury still has to be assessed. There is still a good chance he will not play on Sunday."
If Vermaelen is ruled out, then Wenger will have to change his centre-back pairing for the first time in the Premier League this season, with Campbell coming in to play alongside William Gallas, who is 32 himself, in a partnership with a combined age of 67.
Campbell, who replaced Vermaelen at Villa Park, said he is not worried about the examination he would face against Manchester United, and the in-form Wayne Rooney. "It's a challenge. That's what it's all about," Campbell said.
"He is the talisman for United. He's always going to pop up, he's always dangerous. When he first started for Everton he was always dangerous. As a top striker, you've got to watch him. I have been training for a long time so if it comes to it, I will have to be ready."
Campbell has started only one League fixture since leaving Portsmouth last May – for Notts County at Morecambe in September. Now he faces a far sterner examination of his physical and mental capabilities, against his former England team-mate Rooney and the champions. Campbell said he was prepared to renew hostilities with United, the start of a three-game run in which Arsenal face Premier League leaders Chelsea and then Liverpool.
"It's another big game for us," he said. "It's a big two weeks for us really, for Arsenal Football Club. I don't think it's going to determine it [the season] but it's going some part towards it. They're all there, all top sides. Anyone can win out of them lot. So we've just got to make sure we're focused on our game and make sure we keep getting some points, digging in. "
The striker Eduardo da Silva is also likely to miss the visit of United after picking up a hamstring injury. Nicklas Bendtner, however, made his first appearance since October at Villa Park, and the Dane is ready to give Arsenal greater cutting edge, in the prolonged absence of Robin van Persie.
"Manchester United is the sort of big game you'd love to come back into," Bendtner said. "These games coming up will have a big bearing on the title. We have fought to get ourselves into a good position. We have three big matches, and a few more which are quite important, and we need to get as many points as we can from those.
"We know why we have got here and we are capable of winning every game and winning the championship and that is why we are focused."
After the game at Villa Park, Wenger branded Villa a long-ball side, prompting Villa manager Martin O'Neill to call his comment an "appalling insult". Richard Dunne, the Villa centre-back, adopted a compromise position yesterday. "I think everyone is a long-ball team compared with Arsenal," he said. "They play so much good football."
Out of the Red: A tale of two defences
* Manchester United have been forced to field 11 different central defensive partnerships in the league this season, whereas Arsenal have been able to call upon Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas in all 23 games. The Belgian's injury means it is now Arsène Wenger's turn to juggle resources.
* Man United central defensive partnerships (league starts only): 11, 6 Vidic & Brown; 4 Vidic & Ferdinand; 3 Brown & Evans; 2 Ferdinand & Evans, Brown & O'Shea; 1 Evans & O'Shea, Vidic & Evans, Vidic & O'Shea, Neville & Brown, Vidic & De Laet, Carrick & De Laet.
* Arsenal partnerships: 1, Gallas & Vermaelen.