MANCHESTER (AFP) — Sir Alex Ferguson has praised Arsene Wenger for masterminding Arsenal's Premier League recovery ahead of Saturday's showdown between the two clubs at the Emirates Stadium.
But just in case anyone thought he was going soft on his old rival, the Manchester United manager warned Wenger that 'rough days' lay ahead for his team and that their position at the summit meant nothing in November.
Arsenal will open up a three point cushion at the top of the table if they defeat United, who are level on points, for the third time running in the Premier League.
Ferguson said he was not surprised by Arsenal's strong start to the campaign after their disappointing fourth place finish last term.
"I thought that Arsenal would make a strong challenge throughout the season and at this moment in time that has proved correct," said Ferguson.
"But it's a long season and other clubs will have a say yet.
"I know from my own experience that there are rough days ahead.
"I said in pre-season that there was no way that Arsenal would want to be 20 points behind Manchester United again.
"I expected them to be stronger."
Ferguson insisted Wenger did the right thing by allowing striker Thierry Henry to leave north London in the summer.
"Henry had served his time there," added Ferguson.
"Whether his departure has liberated Arsenal I don't know but Arsene did the correct thing by letting him go."
It is the 23rd time Wenger and Ferguson have locked horns in the top tier and there is little to separate the Frenchman from United's long-serving Scottish boss.
Both have emerged triumphant eight times with the remaining six meetings ending in a draw.
Ferguson, who celebrates his 21st anniversary in charge at Old Trafford next Tuesday, is desperate to gain the upper hand after seeing Arsenal complete the 'double' over his side last season.
United have not won on their last two visits to Arsenal but the United manager insisted his players were keen to put that right.
Ferguson revealed that French striker Louis Saha was available after injury but Wayne Rooney, who has found the net eight times in his last seven appearances for club and country, is likely to spearhead the attack with Carlos Tevez.
England midfielder Michael Carrick is also available again after recovering from an elbow injury and could feature in the first-versus-second clash.
United could not be arriving at the Emirates Stadium in better form. They have scored four times in each of their last four outings yet Ferguson admitted he will be happy with one against Arsenal - as long as United are looking down on the rest of the Premier League tomorrow night.
"I couldn't be happier with our form," said Ferguson.
"We couldn't be going into the game in better shape and I'm sure Arsene Wenger is saying the same."
Ferguson also had special praise for Cesc Fabregas.
The 20-year-old Spanish talent has scored ten goals in all competitions this season and Ferguson said: "He's very young and is in the same category as Rooney, Anderson and Nani who are all showing signs that they can be world-class players."
Ferguson said he was not concerned that Howard Webb had been selected to referee the game - six days after taking charge of Arsenal's game at Liverpool.
"It is a surprise that he's doing two Arsenal games so close together, but I think Howard Webb is an honest referee," added Ferguson.
"He was fair last weekend and I'm sure he will be tomorrow."
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