Why Arsenal and Manchester United is a fixture declining in stature
Arsenal and Manchester United will go into Sunday afternoon's Emirates Stadium clash outside the Premier League's top four, demonstrating the decline in the fixture's stature.
Traditionally title rivals, the pair have had to take a back seat in recent seasons as Chelsea, Manchester City, last season's shock champions Leicester and Arsenal's rivals Tottenham have captured centre stage.
United currently lie fifth, looking merely to break into the Champions League places this season. Even that may be beyond the Gunners, who are five points further back in sixth and could even be seventh by kick-off time if Everton beat Swansea on Saturday.
A look back at Arsenal and United's league positions going into their meetings throughout the Premier League era shows a marked decline in recent years, as Press Association Sport outlines:
- From the 2007-08 season to 2010-11, every fixture between United and Arsenal kicked off with both teams in the Premier League's top four. That last happened in May 2015, though, and t his will be the second time in the last six meetings in which both are outside the Champions League places.
- Even more strikingly, five of the last six clashes have seen both teams start outside the top two - the exception coming in October 2015, when United were second. In only six of the 44 previous Premier League meetings were both teams third or worse.
- United's average league position going into all 50 of their Premier League meetings with the Gunners is third - 2.98 to be precise - with Arsenal at 4.48. Taking both teams together, the average league position is just inside the top four at 3.73 (or 3.74 if Everton overtake Arsenal on Saturday).
- There are, however, three unrepresentative figures from fixtures in the first six games of a season. Slow starts saw Arsenal 10th in September 1998, 17th in September 2006 and 16th in August 2011, whereas they would finish those seasons second, fourth and third. Remove those three values from the calculation and the average league position leaps to 3.35.
- Over the last four seasons - since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure as United manager - the average position is a sorry 4.75, or 4.81 if Arsenal find themselves seventh by Sunday.
- That compares to an average of 3.68 over the final seven seasons of Ferguson's reign - or 3.15 if Arsenal's aforementioned slips to 16th and 17th are discounted.
- The best run in terms of the fixture's prestige came between the 2000-01 and 2004-05 seasons - when the teams won two titles each, including Arsenal's unbeaten season of 2003-04, and never finished outside the top three. Their average league position going into their meetings was a lofty 2.55, despite November 2001's fifth-v-seventh clash.