Sir Alex Ferguson may be keeping his thoughts on forthcoming summit meetings with Arsenal and Chelsea to himself and MUTV, but it will not have pleased him that his players have had quite so much to say about them.
First there was Nani – fancying himself more and more as the new Cristiano Ronaldo – talking down the champions. He was making an unfavourable comparison with the Gunners, who then came in for a verbal kicking from Patrice Evra.
Arsenal, a "training centre with no trophies... nothing", was the gist of the full-back's opinion, to add to a previous assertion of matches against them being between little boys and men. "We will see on Monday, we will show him that we grow up," was the response from a compatriot in Arsenal colours, Samir Nasri, who must feel that Evra's comments have provided every bit as much motivation as the incentive of the draw or victory at Old Trafford tomorrow night that would keep his team ahead of United in the table.
The gibes are familiar, albeit of a type more normally expressed by journalists and supporters than players. Nasri, one of the season's outstanding players, is prepared to fight fire with combustion in adding his own critique of tomorrow's opponents. "Man United is not the same team as before with Cristiano Ronaldo and Tevez," he said. "It was a little bit scary to play at Old Trafford. Now I don't think offensively they are the same as before. We're really confident to get a result out of this game."
Arsenal go into it on the back of four successive wins spread over three competitions, which followed the disturbing losses to Tottenham and Sporting Braga in the space of four days. Nasri, who will be playing his 100th game for the club, accepts that the psychological scars of the Spurs game remain, but believes their unsurpassed away record (17 points as opposed to United's nine) reflects a more solid approach away from the Emirates.
"The game against Tottenham is still in the head and when you concede a goal when you are 1-0 up, you still think about that game. The difference when we play away is that we defend much better. Our discipline and shape is more efficient. I'm confident because we can play our game and we know we can score at any moment away."
Cesc Fabregas and Abou Diaby will still be missing from midfield and Thomas Vermaelen from defence, which remains Arsenal's Achilles heel, a weak point that a Dimitar Berbatov or an invigorated Wayne Rooney (much improved against Valencia in midweek) could target. In contrast, attacking options are strengthened with Robin van Persie available after three months to play alongside or behind Marouane Chamakh. Nasri has been equally effective in centre-midfield or on either wing, becoming the leading scorer this season with 12 goals, some of them of spectacular quality.
It's as many goals in 20 games during the current campaign as in 79 previously, reflecting an improvement in form that he puts down to a summer which began with the disappointment of being omitted from France's World Cup squad. It turned out, of course, to be a good invitation to miss: "I had a good break this summer for the first time in my life. I had a rest for two months. Last year I broke my leg in pre-season and that made the difference. I'm used to playing in the Premier League now, I'm confident and all my team-mates are confident with me."
That also applies to Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, who says: "What's changed is that he is scoring goals. For a long time when you play football and you are not convinced you can score goals, you get to that stage where scoring goals does not become as important to your game. Now he knows he can score in every game."
Wenger's take on the most interesting title chase for some time is: "It's not just Manchester United and Arsenal, it is as well Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham. But the team who will win the title is the one who will get the most points from these games against other title contenders. I don't rule Chelsea out because they will be getting [Frank] Lampard and [Michael] Essien back. They will be dangerous."
For Arsenal, like neighbours Spurs, who play Chelsea today, the start of the week brings 90 minutes of football that will tell us a lot more about them.
Manchester United v Arsenal is on Sky Sports 1 tomorrow, kick-off 8pmReuse content