Emulating 'Invincibles' is spurring Fletcher on
Few players are able to get under Arsene Wenger's skin quite like Darren Fletcher, so the Arsenal manager will perhaps greet with disdain and irritation the Manchester United midfielder's assertion that emulating Wenger's 'Invincibles' of 2004 is a challenge being embraced within Old Trafford.
Alex Ferguson's team are unbeaten in 15 Premier League games this season and have not suffered a league defeat since Chelsea won at Old Trafford last April. Arsenal, of course, can derail that particular ambition when they travel to United tonight.
But in a campaign that has seen them throw away victories with injury-time concessions at Fulham and Everton, while rescuing points with late fightbacks at Bolton and Aston Villa, United face fixtures against Arsenal and Chelsea in the space of six days in the knowledge that the odds on them avoiding defeat throughout the campaign will shorten dramatically if they continue to post a '0' in the defeats column in the league table.
"It would be very difficult to go through the season unbeaten, but the challenge is there for us just now," Fletcher said. "The longer the run goes on, the more people will talk about it, but not losing or drawing can sometimes be detrimental to your season. We want to win those games."
Wenger's great team of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Sol Campbell and Patrick Vieira became the first since Preston in 1888-'89 to avoid defeat in an entire top-flight campaign.
Although Arsenal ultimately drew 12 games en route to the title, their combination of flair and steel proved decisive and Fletcher, still burdened by the 'anti-footballer' tag bestowed on him by Wenger last season, admits that the prospect of repeating Arsenal's feat is motivating the United dressing-room.
Victory against Arsenal tonight would see United return to the top of the table ahead of the trip to Stamford Bridge next Sunday and their recent record against Wenger's team, which has seen United lose just one of their last nine meetings in all competitions, highlights their dominance.
In those encounters, the tenacity and energy of Fletcher had been a key factor in United's ability to win the physical battle against their opponents, but the 26-year-old views Wenger's condemnation as part-compliment, part-curse.
"I got a bit of a label (from Wenger) last year, but I think it has gone now," Fletcher said. "It was probably the spur of the moment after the game, but my style of play isn't dirty or anything like that. I just try to win the ball.
"I'm sure it will get brought up again going into the game on Monday, but we have good referees in the Premier League who know and understand the nature of players. They understand the nature of me and know that I am not dirty or malicious." (© Daily Telegraph, London)