| BARTHEZ: Back under the bar
London: Now the Premier League title race is really heating up.
After winning at second-place Liverpool last week, Manchester United face defending champions Arsenal Saturday at Old Trafford in the biggest game of the season so far.
The game will feature Ruud van Nistelrooy vs Thierry Henry, Ryan Giggs vs Robert Pires and Juan Sebastian Veron vs Patrick Vieira.
Alex Ferguson’s United are six points behind the league-leading Gunners, but the Reds are on a roll of five wins in six matches.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal hold a four-point lead at the top of the standings. A victory would be a huge step towards successfully defending the league title for the first time since 1935.
While the Gunners can’t be caught Saturday, Ferguson says his team has recaptured the winning mentality which had been missing earlier in the season.
“They (Arsenal) might think that (they have an advantage) but, when you are playing and winning, that is good for you as well,” said the Scot, who saw Wenger’s team end United’s domination last season by capturing the Premier League and FA Cup double.
Although there’s little or no chance of United’s David Beckham, Roy Keane or Nicky Butt being fit enough to play, the Reds will have Fabien Barthez back in goal. They also hope to have Rio Ferdinand back in central defence, while Veron, Gary Neville and Laurent Blanc also are in contention for a return.
Arsenal are definitely without England defender Sol Campbell, who is suspended, while there is a doubt about goalkeeper David Seaman, who has missed two games with a groin injury.
Martin Keown could return to replace Campbell, while another England star, Ashley Cole, should be fit. There’s a chance that striker Nwankwo Kanu, defender Lauren and midfielder Ray Parlour might get places on the bench after being out for more than a month.
Despite the absentees, there will plenty of talent on show to thrill a sellout 67,500 crowd.
Both clubs have reached the last 16 of the Champions League, with Van Nistelrooy and Henry both banging in goals at home and in Europe.
United’s Dutch striker has scored 14 so far — eight in the league — and Henry 10 (seven in league action). Now the two strikers — each touted by their clubs as the best in Europe — go head to head.
Van Nistelrooy’s likely partner will be Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan, who has scored five goals in six games. Either Dennis Bergkamp or Sylvain Wiltord will play alongside Henry.
Giggs will be raiding down the left wing for United, with Pires and Freddie Ljungberg in midfield for the Gunners. Arsenal central midfielder Vieira will be up against Veron and Paul Scholes.
Barthez, who made a stunning late save at Liverpool to ensure Ferguson’s team went home with three points, will be back in goal after being rested for Wednesday’s 2-0 League Cup victory over Burnley.