Wenger confident ahead of United showdown

November 2, 2007

LONDON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said on Friday he was not surprised by their outstanding start to the season and believes his Premier League leaders have what it takes to beat champions Manchester United on Saturday.

Arsenal go into the game at the Emirates Stadium with the narrowest of leads over United after rattling up 26 points from their opening 10 matches.

United have 26 points from 11 matches, both have goal differences of plus 15, but Arsenal are top having scored 22 goals to United's 19.

'I am not surprised because I said to the players at the beginning of the season, I wanted to be up there, and wanted to be fighting for the title because I felt we had the belief and the quality,' Wenger said.

Arsenal are unbeaten in all their 17 league and cup matches so far, while United, after a relatively slow start, have won their last eight league matches - and scored 16 goals in their last four league and cup games.

Wenger's team did the double over United last season, but still finished fourth, 21 points behind Alex Ferguson's men.

'I think we have improved since last season,' Wenger told a news conference at the club's training ground at London Colney.

'In the last two years we dropped our level and we were too far behind the top teams. This season we are back fighting for the championship.

'We have different characteristics to Manchester United, but I believe the collective pressure we put on them will be good enough, despite the fact they have very strong players.'

He also expects Saturday's game to be more of a technical affair rather than some of the blood-and-guts encounters of previous years.

'The game has a lot of special importance, a lot of tradition and over the last 10 years there have been some very good, competitive games.

'The characteristics of the two teams might have been more physical in the past, now today they are more technical, which will come out in the game tomorrow.'

The Frenchman said he knew nothing about a claim by his Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor that he was approached by Manchester United last season, nor about stories linking his former skipper Gilberto Silva with a move to Italy.

'I don't know anything about that at all,' he said. 'The players are under contract and if anyone wants to speak to them they have to speak to me first - and no-one has.'

He also said it was far too early to compare his current team with the 'Invincibles' who went unbeaten in the league in the 2003-04 season.

'We are consistent, we are a very young side, and it's difficult to be consistent with a young side. There is room to improve, there is more to come from this team.

'Tomorrow we play at home, everyone will be looking at us, and we have to relax and enjoy it and not think too much about being invincible.'