Last updated : 01 January 2006 By Ed

From The Indie:

"It depends what you call a coward and a cheat. Some people would call it spitting in another player's face," said Ferguson, a reference to the six-match ban and £45,000 fine Vieira received for spitting at West Ham's Neil Ruddock in October 1999. "That was not a very brave thing to do. I guess we all have different ways of looking at these things."

United travel to Highbury on Tuesday for a contest that has lost its bearing on the title race with the visitors now 11 points adrift of Chelsea and Arsenal 20 points behind in sixth. However, even without the departed Vieira and Roy Keane, the fixture's most volatile pairing in recent years, Ferguson expects the animosity to continue. "The rivalry became very intense when George Graham was at Arsenal and it has not altered since, although I would still argue the games against Liverpool are bigger, both from a historical and geographical perspective," Ferguson said.

"But the major difference is that the Liverpool matches, while very competitive, have traditionally been well behaved, whereas the Arsenal games have had those flashpoints which have been unsavoury at times."

Ferguson's birthday celebrations will give fresh impetus to the debate on how long he has left at Old Trafford, though he declared that, at 64, he still had the stomach for the task of threatening Chelsea's dominance and of putting United "back on track".

The Sunday Times:

The resentment of Vieira and Arsenal towards Van Nistelrooy stems from their controversial visit to Old Trafford in 2003, when Vieira was sent off for clashing with the United striker. Asked why he thought Arsenal had a problem with his player, Ferguson said: "I’ve no idea. Some people have fixations about players. Our behaviour has been good. Any questions that have been asked of us in the last year, the behaviour has always been on our side."

He doubted Vieira’s criticism will have got to Van Nistelrooy: "I never asked him, he never said anything to me. But I wouldn’t have thought it bothered him too much."

The United manager also scotched the notion that Arsenal will be able to compete with United in terms of popular appeal when they move to the new 60,000-seat Emirates stadium next season. "Rival United? They will need three stadiums, 33 teams to rival us as a club," Ferguson said.

"Nobody is as big as Man United, Arsenal just never. Of course it (the new stadium) will make them bigger. It will give them more attendances, maybe. I don’t know if they can get 60,000 people every week."

Reiterating his desire, having celebrated his 64th birthday yesterday, to continue in charge at Old Trafford, Ferguson said his team still had much to play for at Highbury. "It is important to win," he said. "Maybe it’s not a title decider but what I’ve said in the past few weeks is that we want to be closest to Chelsea if they do slip up. They apparently played poorly the other night (against Manchester City) and won 1-0.

"When we were winning titles and the Treble in 1999 we got bits of luck like that, getting late goals. That is what happens when you get in the ascendancy. We have to maintain our position as the closest to them so we’re there if they slip up. The Arsenal game is always big."


"I've still got the scars from that game.

"I'm just glad only one Neville will be coming to London with United - but I hope this game will not have any violence in it."