Smalling: Unbeaten season unlikely
Chris Smalling does not believe any side will emulate the Arsenal 'Invincibles' and go through an entire Premier League season unbeaten.
After a third of the campaign, Manchester United are yet to lose. However, they face arguably their biggest test so far at Old Trafford on Monday when they tackle a Gunners side who took advantage of the Red Devils' inactivity last weekend to assume top spot.
It is a remarkable achievement for a team that has already lost three times on home soil. Yet it is that inconsistency, that has affected every team to varying degrees, which leaves Smalling to question whether anyone can avoid defeat for a sustained period.
"I am not sure we will ever see a team go through a whole season unbeaten again," he said. "So many sides are losing matches unexpectedly now you would have to applaud any team who did do it.
"For us at the moment, it is just about continuing the momentum. We didn't get into top gear during the first month of the season. Now it is time for us to kick on and send out a message because we are getting stronger as a team."
Smalling could find himself playing a bigger part in United's title drive than he imagined if the hamstring problem that forced Rio Ferdinand out of United's UEFA Champions League draw with Valencia on Tuesday proves more serious than initial claims from Sir Alex Ferguson.
The England U-21 star is enjoying an excellent debut season at United following his summer arrival from Fulham and appears to have leapfrogged out-of-form Jonny Evans as Ferguson's first-choice alternative should either Ferdinand or captain Nemanja Vidic be missing for any reason.
"I am really happy with the way it has gone so far," said Smalling, who was making his 11th appearance of the season this week. "The manager has given a lot of the younger lads a chance and has shown faith in me.
"You want to be involved in games and this is going to be a hectic time. There are a lot of games to be played over Christmas so the manager will want to use his squad. Rio and Vida are the first-choice central defenders but I have to be ready if called upon. I have been watching on from the sidelines and learning from them in training, so I am confident I will be ready to step in if required."
Smalling realises he will face a fairly stiff examination if he is asked to come into the side. Of all the criticisms that are levelled at Arsenal, none surround their forward line. Marouane Chamakh has settled in pretty well after moving to the Emirates from Bordeaux and although Cesc Fabregas is sidelined, the stellar form of Samir Nasri means the Gunners skipper has not been missed too much.
"Nasri has definitely shown he is one of the best players in the Premier League," said Smalling. "He is clearly a key man for Arsenal and someone we will have to watch out for. He is so comfortable on the ball and I admire him greatly but you cannot just single one player out from a side like theirs."
Not that Smalling feels United should be spending much time stressing about Arsene Wenger's side. After all, they have been beaten by West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur on home soil and by slamming seven goals past Blackburn Rovers on their last Premier League outing, Ferguson's side signalled their own current well-being.
"When the fixtures first came out everyone saw this as a pivotal period," said Smalling, recognising United must tackle Chelsea at Stamford Bridge six days after tackling the Gunners. "Monday is a massive game but we don't have any need to fear them. We will have 70,000 fans cheering us on. They should be intimidated more than we are."