Paul Ince: This is Arsene Wenger’s chance to prove that Arsenal are genuine title contenders

Former Man United midfielder Paul Ince looks ahead to Saturday's clash between the Red Devils and Arsenal - and he thinks this is Arsene Wenger's chance to lay down a marker for the league title

People accuse Arsenal of lacking a back-bone. Roy Keane famously said last season that the squad is ‘soft’ and that there was ‘a weakness in the team’. Now the Gunners can prove their critics wrong. Shkodran Mustafi has joined from Valencia and alongside Laurent Koscielny they have formed a really strong defensive partnership. Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka are in the middle of the park – and there’s no way you could accuse either of those men of being soft!

Sunderland pulled them level this year and the Gunners kicked on and beat them 4-1. Burnley held them at Turf Moor until the 92nd minute but Arsenal came away with three points. They have that winning mentality. The question is can they maintain it?

Sir Alex Ferguson used to tell us that the season doesn’t start until March. At Manchester United we were focussed on just getting to March and being in a position to challenge for the league – then you kick on when the pressure ramps up. That’s the time of year when you tough it out, get the results and can become champions.

Manchester United are good at it. Arsenal aren’t. Now is their chance to change that.

If you’d asked me a month ago who would win this game at Old Trafford, I would have said Arsenal without hesitation. But now it’s a different scenario. Manchester United played well against Swansea, they found some rhythm. Zlatan Ibrahimovic got among the goals again and Paul Pogba is settling into his role with each game. While there are still issues at the club – they have taken another step forward in where they want to be.

High Profile Hammerings

It’ll be playing in the back of Arsene Wenger’s mind that he’s never beaten Jose Mourinho in the league. Arsenal fans will also remember some painful thrashings they’ve had at OT. Five years ago they were annihilated 8-2 by a team which had a midfield partnership of Tom Cleverley and Anderson! In 2001 it took Dwight Yorke just 22 minutes to notch a hat-trick and United won 6-1 that day.

We went to Highbury in a League Cup game in November 1990 and beat them 6-2 as well for those with a longer memory. Lee Sharpe bagged the perfect hat-trick that day and we played some untouchable stuff. We were electric and it was an evening game under lights so the atmosphere was fantastic.

Clashes between Manchester United and Arsenal need to be played at a high tempo and I hope that it is a fiery encounter in the early Saturday kick-off. In 1995 we beat the Gunners 3-0 at home and it was a game with a real bite to it. It was filthy. Nigel Winterburn in particular put in more than his fair share of naughty tackles. The game has changed since then, and there aren’t as many characters in either team, but I want to see some hard-hitting clashes.

The key for Arsenal is going in to this game at Old Trafford with confidence. The Gunners are in in flying form unbeaten in 16 games in all competitions, and this United team look vulnerable at home. They’ve already lost the derby there, and then dropped points to Stoke and Burnley. The team look nervous at the Theatre of Dreams and you can feel the crowd get anxious. Arsenal have to capitalise on that. They have to silence the crowd early doors and put pressure on Jose Mourinho’s side.

Both teams will feel they can win this game. Alexis Sanchez has been in great from for Arsenal but there’s questions over his fitness after the international break, while Mesut Ozil is different class on his day. For Manchester United it’s important they get a result and kick on from the improved performance against Swansea.

This is a great gauge for Arsene Wenger to see where his team are at in terms of challenging for the league. It’s their first away game to a top seven side, and if they get a result it would make them serious contenders.

What do you think?