Arsène Wenger has reacted angrily to taunts from the Manchester United defender Patrice Evra that Arsenal are merely a "training centre" and a club in crisis, accusing the defender of being disrespectful and running scared.

Before Monday's top-of-the-table Premier League game between the sides at Old Trafford, Evra mocked Arsenal for failing to win a trophy since 2005 despite playing attractive football.

The Frenchman told Canal Plus, the TV station: "For me Arsenal is a football training centre. You watch the match, you enjoy it, but are you going to win a title afterwards? That's what people remember. It has been five years since they won anything and for a big club like Arsenal that is a crisis.

"I hear them being compared to Barcelona but people in 20 years' time aren't going to remember Arsenal's football. We can lose against them but at the end of the day, what is there for Arsenal? There is nothing. There are no trophies, there is nothing. Our real enemy is Chelsea. We are more concerned with Chelsea's results than those of Arsenal, even if we know Arsenal are a great team who can beat Chelsea, us or anyone."

But Wenger said: "I don't place any importance on what Evra said. He takes responsibility for what he says. I think that when you want to be a big player you have always got to respect your opponent and not say remarks that are below the belt and disrespectful and possibly based more on fear than self-confidence."

Pressed if Evra had been disrespectful, Wenger said: "I leave that judgment to you. We do not want to go into any unneeded talking before a game like that. We want to focus on the way we want to play and ignore any provocation before a game. We are guided by the way we want to play football and not by the statements of anybody who plays against us. We are motivated by the desire to win the game and by the quality of the football we want to play.

"They are harsh words, not only with regard to the team but also towards the club, which I will treat with a little disdain. In sport everyone must respect their opponent. Respect for others is a sign of class. His comments are surprising, badly placed, below the belt. And below-the-belt remarks are always based on fear."

United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was far more complimenary than Evra in his analysis of Arsenal, who he believes have a more aggressive edge this season. "I think they'll still try to play the attractive football Arsène believes in but there's definitely been a slight change" he said.

"The general shape of the team has been far more mature and aggressive this year. They're top of the league – that's a sure indication that they are better than they were last year and they'll have a chance.

"They were very difficult to beat in the days of Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira and the three at the back – [Martin] Keown, [Tony] Adams and [Steve] Bould. "That brought them great success and I think that this team is showing that kind of maturity now."

Ferguson accepts the match is likely to have its flashpoints. "The history of both teams guarantees a match of intensity and a lot of the time controversy," he said. "I think Monday night's game will be more or less the same because the pride and history of both clubs determine that."

Wenger was dismissive of reports that Manuel Almunia, who appears to have been displaced as the first-choice goalkeeper by Lukasz Fabianski, will leave the club. "That is not my concern before a big game," the Frenchman said. "I heard it is his agent who talks about that – he has no agent at the moment, so I cannot see what kind of agent can talk on his behalf. We never talked about him leaving, never."

Arsenal will be without Abou Diaby, Thomas Vermaelen and Kieran Gibbs, the left-back who injured his right ankle against Partizan Belgrade on Wednesday evening during the Champions League group game. An injury to Gibbs's other ankle prevented him from being selected for England's World Cup squad during the summer but Wenger does not believe he has an ongoing problem.

He said: "I believe it is accidental. I am not worried. He is because it is very frustrating for a player to be in and out. When you speak about his future, I am not worried. It is very difficult to assess. When a player gets injured and has surgery his body has to adapt to a different co-ordination and it takes time and there are new injuries. But today, Gibbs is much better than we expected him to be [and] will take three weeks [to return]."

Wenger said any decision to select Cesc Fábregas, who has a hamstring problem, will be late, although the midfielder is understood to have stepped up his training regime in an effort to prove his fitness and could yet make the game.

"We will not take an unreasonable gamble, that is for sure, even if it is a big game. We have to assess if it is a risk for him to play, is he ready to play in a very intense game? Then I will make a decision. The final decision will be mine. I have the responsibility to make the decision.

"But overall I am more focused on the team performance than on any individual performance. You know you only win any big game if the whole team competes well." Johan Djourou and Gaël Clichy are also available.ends