Arsène Wenger last night accused Sir Alex Ferguson of over-confidence in comparing his crop of strikers to that which won the treble in 1999 – but the Arsenal manager admits he has taken a "massive gamble" in selling Robin Van Persie to Manchester United.
As United completed a £24m move for the 29-year-old Dutchman, Ferguson equated Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck to the four forwards who helped his finest team win the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup 13 years ago.
Ferguson claimed that Teddy Sheringham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole were "the best strikers in Europe at the time" and believes he has something akin to that now at Old Trafford.
Wenger dismissed that but revealed his anxiety over selling Van Persie to their bitter rivals. "Ferguson is a bit too confident when he says they are like 1999," said Wenger. "But of course it increases their potential offensively because they got a world-class player. But they have a number of players, like Hernandez and Welbeck, who have a restricted chance to play.
"The reality is, when the player doesn't want to stay, you have two ways [to handle it]: you either force him to stay or you accept the reality and you let him go. I have chosen the second solution. I know it is a massive challenge and a massive gamble I took, but we have the quality to deal with the problem we have, and at the end of the day I can talk and talk and talk, but we can only show it on the pitch now.
"It would have been easier [if Van Persie had been sold to a club outside England], for him and for us. But it didn't happen. Time heals all things and of course at the moment people are hurt, which I understand.
"But what is important for us is to focus on the season in front of us. Players have gone, life goes on. The football club is 125 years old, and other big players have left this club and we have always gone from season to season in a strong way."
Wenger admitted Alex Song could be the next high-profile departure with Barcelona in talks over a possible £18m move. It is understood the Arsenal manager's relationship with the 24-year-old has become strained, and when asked if Song could leave and another player arrive, Wenger replied: "Both can happen. I don't know [about Song] at the moment, my focus is more on tomorrow's game. This decision is not made. No [bid has been made]. I cannot tell you more."
Arsenal are keen on signing Nuri Sahin from Real Madrid should Song depart as expected, although Liverpool are also in advanced talks with the 23-year-old Turkey midfielder. "He [Sahin] is one of the players we follow," said Wenger. "I don't know about Liverpool's interest, honestly."
Arsenal will be without Laurent Koscielny against Sunderland today due to a calf problem, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also misses out with an ankle injury. Theo Walcott faces a fitness test on a bruised thigh but should play. Santi Cazorla will be assessed after a long journey back from Puerto Rico where he scored for Spain.