It was against Arsenal that Wayne Rooney announced himself beyond Everton and, though his plague on Arsène Wenger has continued in the red of Manchester United, there can be no better time for the England international to announce himself on this title race than at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow.
Sir Alex Ferguson was in paternal mode yesterday as he allayed concerns over a £27m striker who has scored once in 13 games and has appeared at odds with the confidence and exuberance of a United side that is maturing in the rarefied atmosphere at the Premiership summit.
His goals record is down to misfortune, insisted Ferguson, who lauded Rooney's recent tireless performances as "a great example of a great player". Yet there was also an admission from the Scot that if United are to secure a first championship in four years, if they are to raise a standard in north London that will ease any insecurity when they reach Anfield, White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge, then the input from England's most gifted talent will have to increase in tandem.
Judgement on Rooney is harsher than his peers but while eight goals suggest an adequate return, the fact they have all arrived in four of his 28 appearances this season betray the cause of his obvious frustration.
"In a lot of cases it has been down to bad luck," Ferguson said. "In the first game against Aston Villa he had nine attempts on goal, last week it was a similar situation. He hit a fantastic shot against the bar. He just needs a little break, there's nothing wrong. I'm not concerned. It will come.
"What he needs to do is to get these odd goals. He's had spells of a two, a three, a two, and he needs to get into that one goal a game thing that strikers can do for you. If he does that, it will make a big, big difference to our run-in."
The United manager contemptuously dismissed the offer to explain Rooney's tactical contribution to a wider audience - "I'm not even going to attempt to give you an explanation about it or talk about it," he said - and insisted the striker was still deserving of a place in the team because of his unswerving work ethic. He added: "I think that he is prepared to work as hard as everyone else on the park and he is telling everyone that 'although I am a great player, I'm prepared to work as hard as anyone'. It is a fantastic example. He's working his socks off. He's got a terrific attitude to the game."
Ferguson, however, while hoping Rooney will continue his crusade against Arsenal - "He's a big-game player isn't he?" - does have alternatives in attack, and must surely be tempted by the proposition of Henrik Larsson's intelligence alongside the pace of Louis Saha?
"We are in an excellent position," he admitted. "It's only a problem in terms of who to play. Larsson has been fantastic since he joined us, just what we expected of him, Saha is back fit and proved when he came on last week that he is relishing the challenge of getting back in the team and of course Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already got nine goals this season which is fantastic. In the case of these four strikers I could pick two, or even one of the four and be really happy."Reuse content