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Manchester United equipped to deliver early Arsenal blow

Written by: Staff

MANCHESTER, Sep 14 (Reuters) Fierce rivals Manchester United and Arsenal could not have had better results in the Champions League this week to prepare for their first domestic meeting of the season at Old Trafford on Sunday.

While United were beating Scottish champions Celtic in a pulsating all-British affair last night, Arsenal launched their European challenge with a 2-1 win in Hamburg.

Beaten finalists in the Champions League last season, the London club can do little wrong on the European stage.

But in the Premier League they have been less convincing with last season's fourth-place finish leaving them 24 points behind champions Chelsea and 16 adrift of United.

That indifferent form has continued and, without a league win this season, Arsene Wenger's side will be 13 points behind an unbeaten United with a game in hand if they lose on Sunday.

That would give United a massive advantage in the battle to end Chelsea's domination but midfielder Michael Carrick believes no-one at Old Trafford can afford to think that way yet.

''It is too early to start looking past the game itself,'' Carrick told reporters. ''We have had a super start to the season and we just want to carry it on.

''It is a huge game and if we win it we will be in a strong position. But it would still be too early to write them off.'' NO STRANGER Although Carrick only arrived at United in the close season, the England midfielder is no stranger to rivalry with Arsenal having played for their north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

The 25-year-old gives the impression he is still finding his feet at Old Trafford after an injury-hit start to the campaign.

But, assuming he gets the nod from United manager Alex Ferguson to play against Arsenal, Carrick is looking forward to further developing his midfield partnership with Paul Scholes.

Scholes's return following an eye injury which caused him to miss the second half of last season has been a major tonic to United.

The centre of their defence looked vulnerable against Celtic and Arsenal striker Thierry Henry will have noted that with interest ahead of a possible return from injury.

The absence of the injured Ryan Giggs is also a blow for United, but if Scholes can repeat the form he showed in mid-week the focus may be more on United's front pair of Wayne Rooney and a supremely confident Louis Saha.

''Paul Scholes is just fantastic,'' Carrick added. ''When you play alongside him, you realise what a special talent he is.

''He's so intelligent and clever, he makes the game look really simple and showed it against Celtic by creating two goals.

''Paul has this ability to make the game look really easy.

Believe me, it is a pretty hard skill to be able to slot people through gaps when everything is going on around you. Paul can do that and I felt he was the big difference between the teams.'' REUTERS AY HS2031

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