Last updated : 03 January 2006 By Ed

From The Torygraph:

Arsenal's north London derbies against Tottenham still retain their fiery passion, and the games against Chelsea remain English classics, but nothing quite stirs Robert Pires like a match with Manchester United.

"For both clubs," the Frenchman explains, "our two League encounters are always the biggest matches of the season. Bigger than our respective local derbies and bigger than games with Liverpool or Chelsea. These are the ones both sides are desperate to win."

In the last 10 years no other games have been as pivotal in deciding the final outcome of each Premiership campaign. "Arsenal and Man U have been such dominant forces in this country for so long," says Pires, who has been on the winning side just once against United in the League since he arrived in England 5½ years ago, "that the first priority is always to beat each other. A win or a draw so often means the title."

Think of Sylvain Wiltord's late winner at Old Trafford in 2002 that secured Arsenal the Premiership that year. "That's best-ever feeling, because it was against our great rivals and in their own back yard."

Or think of Ruud van Nistelrooy's wonder solo goal at Highbury in 2003 that inspired United to a 2-2 draw that ultimately helped them to regain the Premiership.

And then think of Old Trafford in October 2004. Arsenal arrived confident and unbeaten in 49 League matches only to leave defeated and, more importantly, deflated. "We were battered and bruised during that game," Pires recalls, "and, to be honest, we struggled to recover from the 2-0 loss for a long time."

Long enough to let Chelsea first overhaul what seemed a comfortable lead at the top of the table and then win the title at a canter. "Even last year, when we were actually battling with Chelsea for the title, it was still our two games against Man U that decided our fate. The defeat at Old Trafford derailed us and the one at Highbury killed off our title challenge. That proves how special these matches are."