London, Jan 20: Sir Alex Ferguson believes Wayne Rooney`s love of the big stage can be Manchester United`s trump card in tomorrow`s eagerly-anticipated clash with Arsenal at the Emirates stadium.

United`s first visit to the gunners` 60,000-seat stadium comes at a time when both teams are pelting towards the decisive phase of the season in a rich vein of form.

Having put themselves in a position to win their first premiership trophy since 2003, it is imperative for United to keep the pressure on their principal chasers, Chelsea, while arsenal know only a victory tomorrow will revive their faint hopes of hauling themselves back into title contention.

"Every game is important for us now and we want to navigate this match with arsenal successfully," Ferguson said. "The form of our team has been excellent and hopefully we can reach that level on Sunday."

The Scot`s opposite number, Arsene Wenger, who has yet to see his side lose at the Emirates, insisted that a win for his side, which would move the gunners to within 12 points of the leaders, could yet make the title race a three-club affair.

"It can have a big influence on us first and on the premiership as well," he said. "We are really determined to reduce the gap.

"We know we can beat United. We`ve done it away from home, why shouldn`t we do it at home?

"We are in good form. They are as well so it is a very promising game. I feel both teams will go for it because United are a team that tries to score goals and we try to score goals."

Arsenal have not lost in the league to any of their top four rivals so far this season but have suffered defeats against the likes of Fulham, West Ham, Manchester City and Sheffield United.

"If you look at what we did against Liverpool, Chelsea and United, we have done very well," added Wenger. "We dropped some points against teams in the second-half of the table, away from home as well."

As well as important points, there will be pride at stake too.

After a couple of transitional campaigns, Ferguson has sculpted a new side with enough swash in its buckle to rival Arsenal for the title of the country`s most entertaining side.

And even if the current united generation go on to lift the league title, the Scot will not want that achievement stained by the memory of two defeats at the hands of his old adversary Wenger, even if Jose Mourinho and Chelsea`s appearance on the scene has taken some of the heat out of their rivalry.

"I don`t think there is a great deal of difference in experience between the teams," Ferguson said.

"Arsenal got to the final of the Champions League last season and that was a great bonus for them considering the number of young players they have."

Despite a stuttering start to their campaign, Arsenal passed United off the pitch on their way to a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford in October and not even Ferguson would quibble with the outcome that afternoon.

"They deserved to win that day and this should be another fantastic game," he said. "Both teams are playing excellent football and it is a difficult one to call."









With no major injury concerns, Ferguson has his own difficult call to make in attack, with Louis Saha now fit again after a recent groin problem.

The signs are, however, that he will continue with the promising combination of Rooney and loan signing Henrik Larsson, who has proved since his arrival at Old Trafford that he has lost none of the zest and guile that helped him deliver last season`s Champions League trophy for Barcelona at Arsenal`s expense.

Memories of that night still give Wenger, in his own phrase, nightmares and the Frenchman admits to being a fan of Larsson.

"It`s a player I like a lot, for his intelligence and his team attitude," Wenger said. "I thought that his time was over but there he is at 35, still playing up front. It`s amazing."

Rooney is without a goal in his last seven matches and has claimed just one in his last 13 outings. But Ferguson remains a believer. "Wayne just needs a break," he insisted. "But he is a big-game player and it will come."

Wenger has more to worry about on the injury front with centreback William Gallas sidelined and influential midfielder Gilberto Silva ruled out through suspension.

Young Frenchman Mathieu Flamini will deputise in the holding role in midfield -- a position that takes on particular significance if you are up against opponents such as Rooney and Larsson who are adept at dropping off to find space in the kind of area that Gilberto patrols so effectively.

Bureau Report