• United manager says icy relationship has thawed
• 'Rivalries are there but it has spread out now'
Sir Alex Ferguson believes the bad blood has gone now from Manchester United's clashes with Arsenal.
The Gunners' failure to compete with United for the championship in recent years has coincided with an improvement in the once icy relationship between Ferguson and his opposite number Arsène Wenger, while the aggression and controversy that characterised the fixture has also waned.
One theory is that Ferguson reserves his confrontations for those who pose a sustained challenge to United in the Premier League, something Arsenal, humiliated 8-2 at Old Trafford in August, have struggled to do since 2007-08.
The United manager, however, claims increased competition from other clubs for the title plus the younger nature of the Arsenal team is why there have been no recent episodes that rekindle memories of Martin Keown's goading of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ian Wright's run-ins with Peter Schmeichel, or Roy Keane's confrontation with Patrick Vieira before the teams had even entered the fray at Highbury.
"I don't think that [Arsenal not being a threat] is the issue. I think it's because they are different types of teams," said Ferguson. "The type of player they had, the likes of Vieira, Petit, Henry, Tony Adams and Steve Bould, has been replaced by a different type now. It's a younger player, a different type altogether. Arsène has not changed his philosophy and it has paid dividends for Arsenal over a long period. He is still trying to do the same things. He is still trying to entertain and to play their football their way.
"You have to go back five or six years for when it was last combustible, when Keane and Vieira had that slanging match in the tunnel. You have to go back a few years. I don't think it has been anything like that for the last three years. It has calmed down a bit. Do I miss it? That's a good one."
The United manager, who has Phil Jones and Chris Smalling back from injury for the trip to the Emirates Stadium, cited the rise of Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur as another reason why the rivalry with Arsenal has diluted. He added: "You've got to remember that for probably a decade it was us and Arsenal. Then for six years it was us and Chelsea. Now you have City and Tottenham. I always thought that two teams would dominate the final parts of the season but you haven't got that now.
"You've got six teams trying to get into the top four. That is a big change. Tottenham's progress over the last two years has been fantastic, City's progress has been fantastic and you've got Liverpool. The rivalries are there but it is spread out now."
Ferguson insists there is no prospect of repeating August's remarkable result against Arsenal, who were severely depleted at Old Trafford and yet to sign the reinforcements that have contributed to a vast improvement since. "There is no chance it will be as open as that. Arsenal have recovered well, they had a really good period and have qualified for the next stage of the Champions League so I don't think there is an awful lot wrong there," he said. "They have also had to contend with a lot of injuries to defenders, particularly to Sagna and Gibbs and it is not easy to be without your two regular full-backs for a long period."
Sunday's trip to north London marks the start of a demanding spell for United, who also face Liverpool in the league and FA Cup, Chelsea away and Spurs away up to 3 March. "We've had a couple of wins but only two and we want consistency," Ferguson added. "Hopefully we can navigate this clutch of games because they will be important for where we end up this season."