There's no getting away from this: Arsenal lost this fixture 8-2 last season. Eight goals to two! And one of their two was scored by Robin van Persie, who, well, y'know.
But Arsenal fans should find succour in the fact that it's a once-in-a-lifetime freak resul... erm, except of course they've just won their last match 7-5, after being four goals down at Reading. And that came less than two years after giving up a four-goal lead in the Premier League themselves (at Newcastle in February 2011), while in the interim they've completed amazing comebacks at Chelsea (5-3) and against Spurs (5-2) and nearly pulled off another versus Milan in the European Cup (losing 4-3 on aggregate after being 4-0 down). Manchester United, meanwhile, have just won 3-2 at previously unbeaten league leaders Chelsea, before snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against the same opposition, going down 5-4 in the League Cup. Absolutely anything could happen here today, the way these two clubs are clowning around.
So, there we go, I've just guaranteed a 0-0, then. Oop! Sorry. Still, everyone involved could probably do with calming down a wee bit after the week they've had.
Nevertheless, here's what everyone, except your MBM reporter, is hoping for today: Another ten or twelve goal thriller, please!
What your MBM reporter is hoping for today: A 90-minute lull, and the prospect of leaving the office with fully functioning fingers.
What Arsenal will be hoping for today: A change in recent form, because United did the double over them last season, and have won six of the last seven encounters between the two teams, and 10 of the last 13. United have also, perhaps more relevantly, won 11 of their last 13 games. Additionally, the Gunners haven't won at Old Trafford since Emmanuel Adebayor snatched a late 1-0 victory in September 2006. They'll be looking for a big Fortune Switcheroo, and a day during which former charge van Persie keeps very quiet to boot (unless he somehow manages to get himself sent off, Liam O'Brien style, in the first minute).
Kick off: 12.45pm.
Manchester United name the same starting XI from last Sunday's win at Stamford Bridge: De Gea, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, Young, Rooney, van Persie.
Subs: Lindegaard, Anderson, Hernandez, Nani, Scholes, Powell, Wootton.
Arsenal are also unchanged from their previous league game, last Saturday's victory over QPR : Mannone, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Andre Santos, Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud.
Subs: Martinez, Koscielny, Walcott, Coquelin, Arshavin, Jenkinson, Chamakh.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral), whose last runout came at White Hart Lane a fortnight ago, when Spurs were spanked 4-2 by Chelsea. Dean has doled out 28 yellows and one red in his nine games so far this season, Fernando Forestieri of Watford the only chap he's sent packing. He's refereed United and Arsenal once each this season, and on both occasions the teams have been good little boys: no bookings for United in their 3-2 win at Southampton, and no cards for Arsenal in their 1-1 draw at Manchester City. Of course, we hope we're not talking about the referee in such depth come full time, except we all sort of hope we are, because penalties, red cards, egregious decisions and 21-man brawls can be fun. Hey, we can't all be purists.
The teams are out! Lovely scenes in the tunnel, with Robin van Persie embracing a few of his old Arsenal pals as the players line up. That'll be the pleasantries over with, then. Everyone takes to the pitch for the ludicrous pre-match handshakes, United in their trademark southern-belle gingham, Arsenal in one of Internazionale's old cast-offs. Big clubs with a lot of tradition, right here. "Speaking as Arsenal fan: should this match be announced as Irresistible Force vs Immovable Object v2.0?" wonders Admir Pajiæ. "It's the best attack vs best defense in the league so far - Manchester United averaged three goals scored per game since opening defeat against Everton while Arsenal conceded only six in nine matches. On the other hand, given that United more or less had under-average defense so far and Arsenal attackers scored nine out of 14 goals in two matches (Southampton and West Ham United), this could be dubbed as Movable Object vs Resistible Force as well."
And we're off! Arsenal get proceedings under way, hoofing the ball long towards the Stretford End, and losing possession after 0.00000003 seconds. United respond by hoicking it upfield quickly themselves, to little effect. More please, teams!
2 min: Young skitters down the left at speed. He's got a bit of room after nipping behind Sagna, but the resulting low cross is a bit useless and flies straight into the hands of Mannone, with no United attacker anywhere near it. "To bring an air of calm to footballing proceedings, rather than wearing t-shirts each player should be required to carry a cup of tea on a saucer while doing their tackling and passing," suggests Ian Copestake. "It will inject a much needed gentility into the game. Excessive spillage will result in a straight red." Sounds like a plan to me. Putting the milk in before the tea can be a bookable offence. And instead of throwing bits of pizza in the tunnel, they can launch cucumber sandwiches into each other's affronted coupons.
3 min: ROBIN VAN PERSIE SCORES!!! Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal. What a start by United! And what a double cock-up by Arsenal. Rafael is sent clear down the right, Andre Santos lounging around in no-man's-land like an eejit. Rafael sweeps a low cross into the area. Vermaelen looks to hack clear, but doesn't connect particularly well. Not at all. The ball flies straight to van Persie, on the edge of the area, level with the right-hand post. And the former Arsenal striker threads a magnificent first-time effort into the bottom-left corner. An exquisite finish, and one that van Persie chooses not to celebrate. There's nice, I suppose, though players really need to stop this nonsense. He's a United player now, and should scamper about accordingly.
5 min: Arsenal are attempting to calm themselves down by stringing a few passes around at the back, but they're going nowhere fast, and look stunned and highly nervous. "Just looked up the word Santos in the dictionary, 'noun, a slow object that is prone to persistent errors, no understanding of stopping other objects moving past it'," writes our answer to Susie Dent, Ciaran McGowan. "Santos presence in the team always guarantees excitement and goals - for the opposition. What is Wenger thinking; leaving a wooden box in the left back opposition would be more effective than Santos."
8 min: Arsenal have settled a wee bit now, after that early shock. Ramsey looks to get something going down the right, but after cutting inside his low pass in the direction of Giroud is cut out by Cleverley. "Like many ageing MBMer, the prospect of new Star Wars films (hurrah!) and Robbie Williams being number 1 has me wallowing in nostalgia," writes Ryan Dunne. "As such, surely, despite last season's 8-2, it would be great to see a return to the early-mid 00s calibre of this fixture. All it would take is Arsenal to stop selling all their best players and Man U to actually have a midfield and we could be in for a new, Viera v Keane, pizzagate-style golden age!"
10 min: Wilshere sets a lovely Arsenal move going down the right. The resulting cross by Ramsey is cleared easily enough, but the ball finds its way to the feet of Andre Santos, who from 20 yards screws a risible effort miles right of goal. To be fair, the ball doesn't quite go out for a throw, but there's only a foot or two in it. Still, this is a reasonable response by Arsenal, though United seem happy enough to sit back at the moment.
12 min: Andre Santos gives the ball away in midfield, when attempting to find Arteta, who's about ten yards away from him in acres of space. The Arsenal left back is having the dictionary definition of a shocker so far. Still, there's plenty of time for him to turn it round, which can either be a good thing or a very worrying state of affairs indeed, depending which way you look at it.
14 min: Wilshere is booked for a totally pointless swipe from behind on Cleverley. That's a no-brainer for the referee. The Arsenal youngster had just been clattered himself, fairly enough in a 50-50 front-on challenge with (I think, but I'm not sure) van Persie, but you could see the red mist descend. He'll need to calm down quicksmart.
16 min: United are enjoying the lion's share of possession, but in the calm style; they're in no rush to bomb forward. Arsenal, meanwhile, are still trying to press forward in response to their predicament, but the passes aren't quite sticking. "Why is Santos getting pelters for Vermaelen's horrendous howler?" wonders Sasu Laaksonen. "Some perspective please. Vermaelen is not even English. There's no need to mollycoddle him."
18 min: Rooney releases van Persie into the Arsenal box down the inside left. The striker has to check back, Mertesacker tracking him well. The ball's fed to Young, who slides an appalling low ball straight to Vermaelen, who clears properly this time.
19 min: Acres of space down the right again for United, courtesy of our pal Andre Santos, who's popped off on holiday to Blackpool, I think. Valencia scampers along the touchline, though his eventual cross isn't much cop. "Regarding Dictionary's Santos: isn't it the case that Wenger's teams over the past years have contained two or three players who are clearly not good enough to play at the very top level?" suggests Patrick O'Brien. "When was the last time Arsenal's first team contained 11 great players? Do we have to go back to Vieira / Petit / Bergkamp etc?" Wait until half-time, I'll have the answer for you then.
21 min: Rooney sends van Persie scampering into the Arsenal area again, this time down the right. Van Persie hammers a shot goalwards from a tight-ish angle, but it's straight at Mannone, who parries well. United have suddenly turned up the heat a wee bit, and Arsenal are warping a bit down this wing.
22 min: A corner for United down the left off Sagna, but it's wasted, so.
23 min: It's end to end all of a sudden, with Ramsey scooting down the right, and Evra mooching around in the Santosian style. Ramsey nips past the snoozing left-back, and hammers a low cross towards the near post for Giroud, but the increasingly impressive De Gea gets down well to palm clear with purpose. Still, that's better from Arsenal, who were rocking there for a couple of minutes.
26 min: A neat turn by Podolski, 30 yards from goal, followed by a sliderule pass down the inside left. Giroud can't quite get onto the end of it, but that was neat play from the visitors.
27 min: That Podolski turn has been sandwiched by two sorties by Valencia down the right, unguarded by the farcical Andre Santos. The first cross is headed clear with ease. The second lands at Rooney's feet, the berugged striker forcing a fine parry from Mannone as a shot rasps in from the left. The ball breaks to van Persie, who guides the ball goalwards, but with little pace, allowing the keeper to mop up.
29 min: Young is booked for a lousy late stamp on Sagna's tootsies. He can have no complaints.
31 min: Santos is in space down the left, but with teammates in the area and United a tad stretched, he loops an aimless cross into the hands of De Gea. So far, the Brazilian's performance has been one of the real stinkeroos. There's surely a chance he won't be out for the second half, although whether that's because he gets the hook, or has accidentally locked himself in a cupboard under the stairs while looking for a lost pair of trousers, may be a moot point.
34 min: Van Persie wins a header near the halfway line and sends Cleverley scampering clear down - yes - the right wing. Cleverley's got Rooney and Young in the middle, but Santoses the cross straight at Vermaelen, who heads clear. How United haven't scored at least a second is beyond me. Arsenal have been very poor.
35 min: Carrick should be booked for a rake down the back of Wilshere's ankle, the challenge whipping off the Arsenal man's boot. But the referee doesn't produce a card.
36 min: Wilshere's in the wars. He attempts to get something going down the left, but loses control and ends up in a heap by the advertising hoardings. His pained frown as he gathers himself up speaks volumes.
37 min: Cleverley is made to look not-so-clever by Cazorla, who drops a shoulder and sashays past him. The United man sticks a boot out, brings the Spanish star down, and is booked for his trouble.
39 min: Cazorla busies himself down the left, a move which ends in a corner. The Spaniard whips it into the six-yard area himself; Giroud's header is appalling. Not that a goal would have counted, for there's been a spot of hanky-panky in the area, United getting the decision.
40 min: Arsenal are showing signs of recovery, pelting forwards, perhaps having decided that attack is not so much the best form of defence, but in fact their only option in that regard. Cazorla gyrates down the middle, and isn't far away from releasing Podolski with a fizzing pass down the inside-left channel. It doesn't reach his man, but again, this is a wee bit better from the visitors.
42 min: Guess who's been caught miles out of position upfield, allowing United to attack down which wing? Yes, and yep. Rooney it is this time in acres, with Rafael offering the overlap. Arteta, coming over to fill the gap, tackles brilliantly, springs gently to his feet, and makes off with the ball, saving the day for his side. That was a textbook I-think-I'll-have-that-thank-you-very-much interception.
44 min: Rooney bustles down the right, and curls a low cross into the middle towards Cleverley. Mertesacker slashes the ball behind for the corner, nearly finding his own top-left corner of the net. And then, from the set piece...
45 min: PENALTY TO UNITED! Young looks to cross into the area from the left-hand side of the box. Cazorla puts his hands up to shield himself, and can have no complaints when the ball hits his mitts and the referee points to the spot.
45 min +1: ROONEY MISSES THE PENALTY! It's a preposterous effort, dragged wide left of the goal. Dear me.
HALF TIME: Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal. And that's that for the half. Arsenal have been dismal, and are extremely fortunate not to be at least two goals down. Their fans are chanting for Theo Walcott. Surely Arsene Wenger - who shares a cheery word with van Persie as everyone leaves the field - will change things at half time. I wonder who he'll take off? A clue, perhaps, in Andre Santos asking van Persie for his shirt. And getting it! Oh for goodness sake, this is going too far now.
HALF-TIME SINGALONG-A-ARSENAL FROM BETTER TIMES: All good pals and jolly good company. Probably worth winding it back to the start, too. Can't work out whether Jack Lambert is a picture of glorious seething malevolence, or just a bit camerashy. Either way, 109 goals in 161 games, how Arsenal could do with him now. Robin van who?
And we're off again! No changes. Andre Santos is still on the park, in other words. United get the ball rolling, and will be heading towards the Stretford End this time round. "As a Man U fan I would submit either the 97/98 squad (Wenger's second season) or the infamous 2001/02 team," writes Martin Baloch, in a response to Patrick O'Brien's 19th-minute question which is more considered than just bunging up some old clip from the 1930s. "The first was rather tasty looking for intimidation purposes - Seaman, Bould, Dixon, Winterburn, Adams, Viera, Petit, Overmars, Parlour, Bergkamp, Wright/Anelka - while the 01/02 squad was a best of with some new tracks, Henry at his most deadly: Seaman, Lauren, Campbell, Keown, Cole, Ljungberg, Parlour, Viera, Pires, Wiltord, Henry." Two wonderful teams. You can be damn sure Thomas Vermaelen wouldn't have got into either of them. Or, for that matter... but let's not riff on poor old Andre Santos's pain any further.
46 min: Vermaelen faffs round with the ball at his feet, 30 yards from goal, and allows van Persie to scoot clear down the right. The striker crosses low for Valencia, who is clear six yards out, but somehow manages to waft an over-elaborate flick wide left of goal. United should be out of sight. Arsenal fans may be wishing both Vermaelen and Santos were out of their sight.
48 min: Young robs Mertesacker down the left, and slips the ball into the centre. Rafael cuts in from the right but sees his shot deflected back out. Carrick attempts to sidefoot into the top-left corner, but overcooks a woeful effort. Arsenal are really rocking here.
49 min: Andre Santos scampers into space of his own down the left. He looks up, spots there's nobody in the six-yard box, and so sends a cross through the six-yard box. On the other wing, Cazorla starts doing quite a lot of loud shouting, stopping just short of hopping around in the impotent style.
51 min: Arsene Wenger, having seen enough, makes his first change. Ramsey is swapped for Walcott, the away fans getting their wish. "At least when we sell Santos the Arsenal board will genuinely be able to say it was footballing reasons," sighs frustrated Gooner Gavin O'Reilly. "Trust Arsenal to really show RVP what a mistake he made leaving!"
53 min: Arsenal stream forward, Cazorla coming in from the left and sliding a low ball towards the near post for Giroud, who takes a touch before skelping an effort into the side netting. Not exactly brilliant, but the first time Arsenal have got anywhere near the United goal. They'll look to build on this, small acorns and all that.
56 min: Cazorla sliderules Andre Santos free with a wonderful pass down the left. The hapless full back clanks a risible cross into the stand, with the box loaded. It's difficult to escape the feeling that Andre Santos has won some sort of competition to be here. Still, he's had a nice day out.
58 min: Evra drops a shoulder down the left, then pulls the ball back for Rooney, who from the edge of the area looks to sidefoot into the top right. Vermaelen chests down, then in the resulting melee van Persie handles. Arsenal really are all over the shop at the back.
59 min: Cleverley - already booked, remember - comes sliding in from the right and upends Wilshere in a rather clumpish manner. That should have been a second yellow, but not for the first time, the referee takes pity on a player already with a booking to his name.
60 min: Van Persie comes sliding in on Sagna, and is booked for the forward's challenge.
61 min: Cleverley, who could easily have been walking, is replaced by the wise old owl Fergie. Anderson comes on in the player's stead.
63 min: Anderson, turning down the inside-right channel, curls a lovely crossfield pass towards Young, who is this close to trapping the ball and scooting clear into the area. But no. "Personally I'm hoping that in 2014 Brazil field both Santos and David Luiz in defence," writes Jeff Stranks. "It would mean that the likes of Oscar and Neymar would really have to show us what they're capable of in order to make up that two-to-three-goal deficit they'd be starting off with. And wouldn't that be a show." Preach on, brother, I'd tune in. It'd only be better if you could guarantee a victory for either Argentina or, preferably given the way 1950 panned out, Uruguay. Football being all about schadenfreude, and that.
65 min: Free kick for Arsenal down the right. Podolski curls it in, the ball going all the way through the box and out just to the left of goal. Arsenal are slowly getting back into this game.
66 min: Young cuts in from the left and curls a majestic ball into the Arsenal area, van Persie beating the offside trap and sidefooting towards the bottom left. Mannone fingertips brilliantly, turning the ball around the post. Corner for United! From which...
67 min: GOAL!!! Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal. The ball's worked out to Rooney, who from the left curls a peach of a cross onto the head of Evra, who guides an effort into the left-hand side of goal. This two-goal lead is no more than the home side deserve.
68 min: Arsenal are on the ropes again. United stream forward for the nth time, with Anderson sidefooting over from the edge of the area.
69 min: RED CARD FOR WILSHERE!!! A second yellow - and it could have been a straight red - for the young Arsenal midfielder, as he steps on Evra's ankle, sending it bending in a rather disconcerting way. Evra will be fine, but the Future Of English Football™ is off for an early soak.
71 min: Anderson, channeling his inner overweight lummox, stands in the way of Arteta. He's booked.
74 min: Andre Santos has been quiet for a while. Anyway, here he is, somehow avoiding a booking for cynically putting a stop to van Persie's gallop. "I've already imagined the scenario of Argentina beating Brazil in the final," writes Jeff Stranks (63 min). "As someone who lives in Brazil, I'd frankly love it (best not say why) but would be careful to stay indoors for a week or so, and then come out with a placard round my neck saying 'Meu sotaque não é argentino, ta bom meus irmãos!' (My accent isn't Argentinean, OK guys?!)"
76 min: A dismal ball rolled through midfield by Carrick to nobody is picked up by Cazorla, who makes for the Arsenal area at speed. He nudges the ball out right to Walcott, who immediately smashes an inept shot into the stand behind. "I remember fondly the days when Arsenal posed a threat to the evil empire," writes Matthew Coyle. "Used to be all fields round here."
77 min: Rooney lifts a ball down the middle to release van Persie, the striker hammering an effort into the bottom-left corner. Luckily for Arsenal, who could have been on the end of a real thumping here, the United forward is clearly offside.
79 min: The United fans have started singing their annual festive number about Eric Cantona. Four Cantonas, three Cantonas, and all that. It's only just turned November! Come on, folks. Poor show. This is no better than Tesco.
80 min: United put the ball in the net again, triangulating awhile before van Persie springs forward down the inside left and slides the ball across for Anderson, who sidefoots into the bottom right. But Anderson was a smidgen offside, and the goal's rightly chalked off.
81 min: Rooney is booked for a cynical clip on Arteta, as the Arsenal midfielder looks to break forward into the United half.
82 min: Each side makes a change. Arshavin comes on for Podolski, while Nani replaces Valencia.
83 min: Arshavin has been on the field for less than a minute, and he's already in the book - but then again, who isn't - for a late lunge on Rafael as the Brazilian bustles at high speed down the right.
84 min: Rooney releases Nani down the right. The winger lifts a cross into the centre, and only staunch work by Mertesacker stops van Persie heading home by the far post. It's a corner to United, from which nowt happens.
85 min: United haven't been shy in looking for their third goal - they are certainly worth it - but for the minute they're happy enough to knock it around a leisurely pace. Eventually they shuttle forward, Van Persie chasing after an exploratory ball down the inside right, but there's far too much weight on the pass and Mannone comes out to clear.
87 min: Vermaelen does well to bustle Nani off the ball as United look to break into the area down the right, but to be honest the defender's horse has long bolted. About 84 minutes ago, in fact. "I think Koscielny is a far sounder defender, current dip not withstanding," opines Rob Lowery, who has seen "a lot of Vermalens in my time. They look the part, make heroic interceptions but directly, and more often indirectly, leave a mess for others to deal with."
88 min: United take a corner from the right. It comes to nothing. Arsenal look to break through Cazorla. It comes to nothing. This is over, although that's been the case since the third minute.
90 min: Arteta is booked for pushing his arm into van Persie's coupon. "It will interesting to see if the English media - with so much invested in hyping Wilshere as The Future of English Football - has the intellectual integrity to rip him for his stupidity in being sent off in a big match," writes Roger Brown. Intell-what? Integrit-eh? Oh Roger!
90 min +2: De Gea saves at Giroud's feet, the striker latching onto a low left-wing cross from Cazorla. A 2-1 scoreline would have seriously flattered Arsenal, who have been appalling today, barring a wee burst of energy after half time.
90 min +4: GOAL!!! Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal. Some head tennis in the United area. The ball lands at the feet of Cazorla, level with the left-hand post on the edge of the box. He drops a shoulder, takes a nudge inside, then pelts a wonderful effort into the top left. Not that it matters, because...
FULL TIME: Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal. Cazorla's goal is the last kick of the game. And that 2-1 scoreline really does flatter Arsenal, who were dismal today. Still, Santi Cazorla, eh? And as for Robin van Persie... well. He's helped to send a very impressive United to the top of the table for the first time of the season; they'll stay there unless Chelsea win at Swansea City later on.