Sir Alex Ferguson believes Robin van Persie is now as important to Arsenal as Lionel Messi is to Barcelona or Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid. Shut down their leading scorer, the Manchester United manager reckons, and you go a long way toward silencing the Gunners.
"It has become a case of stop Van Persie and you stop Arsenal," Ferguson said before Sunday afternoon's meeting between the rivals at the Emirates Stadium. "His form has been fantastic this season and his goal record speaks for itself. I hope he doesn't add to it this weekend.
"Arsenal have come to rely on him but I think you could say exactly the same thing about Barcelona. If you can stop Messi they are not the same team, and if you can stop Ronaldo then Real Madrid are not the same team. The very best teams always seem to have a player who can make a difference. Manchester City have David Silva, and for many years when he was at his peak Didier Drogba was a matchwinner for Chelsea."
Manchester United were tracking Van Persie for a while when he was emerging through the youth ranks in the Netherlands and could have beaten Arsenal to his signature, although Ferguson admits the London club always had the inside track. "I remember going to see Van Persie play for Feyenoord reserves, way, way back," the Scot said.
"We were definitely interested, but the day we went to see him he didn't play the full game. He was either sent off or he walked off, I can't remember which. We ended up leaving it, we didn't make a move for him. I don't think we saw enough of him to make a decision, whereas Arsenal were much closer to the situation at the time and they eventually got themselves a terrific player."
Ferguson's initial instincts do sometimes pay off, however, and like most United supporters the manager has been encouraged by the recent displays of Antonio Valencia, a winger he signed from Wigan Athletic. The Ecuadorian's form seemed to falter towards the end of last season and it took a while to recover, although now he is back to his energetic best, Ferguson believes he may simply have needed longer than anticipated to fully recover from the broken ankle he suffered in 2010, an injury compounded by another ankle knock in last summer's Copa América that forced him to miss the whole pre-season programme.
"He's been up and down but he's back to his best," Ferguson said of the player he signed to replace Ronaldo. "Every time he played against us for Wigan he caused us problems, that was how he came to my attention. I phoned Steve Bruce [Wigan manager at the time] and received only positive reports. He told me he could play in three or four positions but I wanted him on the wing. He's not got Ronaldo's goalscoring knack but he's a powerful player who can put in a cross, and any striker worth his salt should be able to benefit from a good cross."
Wayne Rooney seems to appreciate the service he gets from Valencia, and Ferguson can confirm that whatever the tactical configuration of the side, good wide players will always be part of Manchester United's thinking. "If you can identify good wide players I think they are an important asset to a side, as long as they have the appetite to work," Ferguson said. "Antonio certainly has that. It's not an easy position to play, but if you look at the wingers we have used in the recent past, from David Beckham to Ryan Giggs to Nani, what they all have in common is a fantastic work-rate."