Ryan Giggs has laughed off any suggestion that Manchester United are underdogs in tomorrow afternoon’s encounter with Arsenal at Old Trafford, with the midfielder suggesting Arsene Wenger’s side have some way to go to match the 1998 Double-winning vintage.
As Arsenal lead the Premier League by five points, with United a further three back, and with Wenger's side having beaten Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund this week, they will arrive at United with confidence high.
Yet when the question was put to Giggs, he replied: “Are you making us underdogs? Man United v Arsenal at Old Trafford – underdogs? I wouldn’t say we were underdogs. But I take your point that Arsenal are probably the form team and it is going to be a tough game. But we feel at home we can beat anyone. We’ve not started the season as well as we wanted to and Arsenal have so we will go into the game knowing we need to produce a good performance.
“They have certainly started the season well, over the years we have played against some very good Arsenal teams. You know what you’re going to get, they’re going to keep the ball, they have got plenty of quality and they are in good form.
Up against it
"They had a great win in the week against Dortmund so we are going to be up against it. But at Old Trafford we are always confident that no matter who we are playing, we can beat them."
Having made his debut for United in 1991, Giggs has played against four title-winning Arsenal sides (1991, 1998, 2002 and 2004). Asked to identify the best, the Welshman said: “The toughest Arsenal team for me personally was the ’97/’98 double winning team. They just had a bit of everything really. Quality with [Dennis] Bergkamp, pace with [Nicolas] Anelka and [Marc] Overmars, the experience of the back four, and then the toughness of [Patrick] Vieira and [Emmanuel] Petit in midfield.
“It was a great United team at the time and we had some great battles with them. It was a brilliant time for the Premier League – two top, top teams slugging it out.
"Yes, you could make an argument for "The Invincibles" [of 2003/'04] and the Chelsea team [of Jose Mourinho's first spell]. But for me, personally, the battles with that '98 team around that time were the toughest opponents I have faced."
Giggs, who was speaking at the launch of Manchester United’s official timekeeper, Bulova, is not surprised by Arsenal’s start to the season. “They have always had that quality,” he said.
“They have always had the class to produce good performances. This season they have done it consistently [so far]. They have had a good week, they beat Liverpool and Dortmund, so confidence is high in their camp but equally so we are finding a bit of form, we are unbeaten in seven or eight games so everyone is looking forward to it.”
Given Arsenal’s resurgence Giggs believes the fixture has now recaptured its intensity. “I think when Arsenal do come to Old Trafford it is always a big game,” he said. “But yeah, I take your point that over the years there has been us and them going for the title and there has been some juicy meetings. With the start that they have got, they are top of the league and everyone is looking at this game as an important one.”
Giggs, now a player-coach at the club, is conscious that defeat would mean United are 11 points behind Arsenal, which would be unthinkable. "We wouldn't want that to happen obviously," he said. "We'd like to go into the international break in good shape and if we win the game we will be okay. Last week we got two wins on the trot [against Stoke City and Norwich City] so that's a start."
He added: "You know that you're against a very good footballing side. I think this season they have added a bit of steel, they're not giving many goals away. I don't think you need to say a lot to the team,but to turn up on the day and prepare as best you can."
– Guardian Service