Sir Alex Ferguson jumps to defence of rival Wenger

Manchester United's manager hits back at criticism of the Arsenal coach, ahead of the two sides' clash at Old Trafford.

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While Arsene Wenger is coming under attack from all angles, the man facing him tomorrow in the dugout - Sir Alex Ferguson - has passionately defended the Arsenal manager.

After six seasons without a trophy, Wenger was already in the spotlight before the high-profile departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri this summer and a winless start to the season.

However, after 15 years as a rival, Ferguson has chosen to speak out on Wenger's behalf ahead of Sunday's encounter between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford.

"The hounds are in full cry and they are after Arsene Wenger," he told United Review. "I have every sympathy for the Arsenal boss because current criticisms take us beyond the normal competitive nature of football.

"All managers live in a world of intense rivalry because it is what the game is all about, but sometimes I despair at the way fans and the media focus on a manager who obviously has problems but who is treated in such a cavalier fashion.

"It is fair to say that United and Arsenal have had their battles over the years, both on and off the pitch, but I have never lost my respect for a man who is an accomplished manager and has served the Gunners well. I think all managers would echo that view.

"Unfortunately, the press have become more cynical, a downward plunge that started when former England manager Graham Taylor was portrayed with a turnip head for losing against the Swedes.

"It was cruel and humiliating, but that didn't seem to matter and it was an approach that helped contaminate the minds of supporters, who are much more critical and demanding these days, encouraged by phone-ins and the like on radio."

Arsenal travel to Manchester with a squad depleted by injuries and suspensions. Gervinho, Emmanuel Frimpong and Alex Song are suspended, Keiran Gibbs, Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere are injured and doubts surround Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen.

United, meanwhile, will be without the captain Nemanja Vidic and the right-back Rafael in defence, though they hope Rio Ferdinand will recover from a hamstring injury in time to start the game.

If Ferdinand does not make it, United have an able deputy in £18 million (Dh108m) summer signing Phil Jones, according to teammate Jonny Evans.

"He has shown a lot of confidence, has a great physical presence you don't get in many players of his age, is quick and has great ability on the ball," said Evans. "It is hard to believe he is only 19."

* Agencies

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