Giggs: Rovers result our benchmark
Ryan Giggs claims Manchester United must use their performance in the seven-goal romp over Blackburn a fortnight ago as the benchmark for the remainder of the season.
Although Sir Alex Ferguson's men were sitting top of the Premier League before the weather intervened last week to prevent their encounter with Blackpool going ahead, like everyone else, they find themselves with plenty of questions to answer.
Seven draws from 15 unbeaten games ahead of tomorrow night's blockbuster confrontation has left many observers scratching their heads about how United have managed to get themselves into such a lofty position.
As Blackburn discovered, there is obviously plenty of talent remaining at Old Trafford, even if few think them as effective as they were in the days of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. And Giggs wants to see it more often.
"The Blackburn game is the benchmark," he said. "Everything clicked that day. Some of the forward play was exceptional. That is what we want and what we know we are capable of doing. In games and training, the idea is to go out and reach it again."
It is doubtless the stuttering results; having to settle for disappointing draws against Fulham, Everton and West Brom when maximum points had appeared secure, and a wretched performance at Aston Villa when even Ferguson admitted he was not entirely sure how his side emerged with a share of the spoils, that has led to some rather unkind comparison with the Arsenal 'Invincibles', who went through the entire 2003-04 campaign unbeaten.
Giggs understands that. However, should his team-mates reach the end of 2010 with their present record in tact, it would represent half a season, which is an achievement the veteran Welshman feels is worthy of some acknowledgement.
"We are proud of the unbeaten record," he said. "People have not given us the respect we think we deserve but that is probably down to the manner of our results. We have thrown away games we should be winning. But we have dug results out as well. We scored late on against Wolves and we came back against Bolton."
Tomorrow promises to be an altogether different proposition though. United encounters with Arsenal have tended to be tasty affairs down the years and the latest instalment promises to be no different. Ferguson has attempted to diffuse the more distasteful element by calling for his club's supporters not to engage in the disgraceful personal abuse of opposite number Arsene Wenger.
However, Wenger has been partially drawn into a spat by the inflammatory comments of Patrice Evra, who clearly feels the Gunners are far too concerned about the style of their football rather than any end product.
Nasri stepped-up for absentees
Yet Giggs, whose stellar career probably enjoyed its most notable moment against Arsenal with the 1999 semi-final replay winner that has been voted the greatest FA Cup goal of all-time, retains a healthy respect. In particular, the 37-year-old has noted the input of Samir Nasri, whose recent performances have allowed Arsenal to shrug off the potentially devastating loss of star man Cesc Fabregas due to injury.
"Nasri has probably been one of the best players in the Premier League this season," said Giggs. "He has got balance and speed, can play on either wing or off the front. He is really versatile and has scored some great goals as well.
"He really seems to have come of age this year. Arsenal deserve a lot of credit for the way they have coped with losing a quality player like Fabregas and still carried on winning."
Aside from long-term injury absentees Michael Owen and Owen Hargreaves, whose career has been brought into fresh doubt following reports that United are considering paying up the remainder of his contract, which expires next summer, Ferguson has a full-strength squad available.
Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes are both desperate to be involved, the latter man possibly at the expense of Anderson, whose recent displays are said to have persuaded Ferguson to offer the Brazilian midfielder a new contract.