MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The idea of Arsenal and Manchester United going head-to-head for the Premier League title feels like a throwback to a bygone era many younger fans will never have known.
The same goes for some players.
Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka was only 2 years old when Arsene Wenger’s “Invincibles” won the London club’s last title in 2004. He was 11 when United last won in 2013.
Both teams, however, head into Sunday’s match at Emirates Stadium knowing victory would be a significant boost to their respective title ambitions at the expense of the other — even if doubts remain over their credentials to break Manchester City’s dominance.
Arsenal continues to confound pre-season predictions by leading the way at the top of the standings, with last week’s north London derby win over Tottenham the latest evidence that the team coached by Mikel Arteta is a genuine contender.
While United’s momentum took a blow on Wednesday when conceding a stoppage time equalizer against Crystal Palace, victory against City last week was another sign of the ongoing improvement under manager Erik ten Hag.
United has lost only one game in its last 20 in all competitions, winning 16 on that run.
The form of both teams sets up a highly-anticipated match, brining to mind the famous battles of the past when the two teams consistently competed against each other for the title in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
A win for Arsenal would potentially put an end to talk of United seriously challenging at the top this season by extending the gap between the clubs to 11 points. United, however, is the only team to have beaten Arsenal in the league this season and has the motivation of moving within five points of the leaders if it can repeat that feat.
If the meeting between Arsenal and United is an unexpected title showdown, then the context of Liverpool’s game against Chelsea on Saturday is also unexpected.
Liverpool has gone from challenging for an unprecedented quadruple last season to mid-table mediocrity. The Champions League finalists from last season are in ninth place, one spot above Chelsea on goal difference.
Back-to-back losses in the league against Brentford and Brighton have typified Liverpool’s erratic form as the team led by Jurgen Klopp looks to be in danger of missing out on the top four.
Victory against Wolverhampton in the FA Cup lifted the mood at the Merseyside club, but it needs to put a run together in the league to challenge for Champions League qualification.
Chelsea’s top-four hopes are also in jeopardy after a season of upheaval under new owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.
Champions League-winning manager Thomas Tuchel was fired in September, and pressure is mounting on replacement Graham Potter after seven losses in the last 11 games.
Last week’s win over Palace was much-needed, but another loss at Anfield would raise fresh questions about the former Brighton manager’s ability to take on such a high profile job.
West Ham’s game against Everton on Saturday is a clash between two teams who are sinking fast. Both are in the relegation zone after miserable runs, with West Ham winning one of its last eight games in all competitions and Everton winning one of its last 13 and winless in nine.
To add spice to that contest, West Ham manager David Moyes was formerly in charge at Everton before leaving to take over at Manchester United in 2013. Everton manager Frank Lampard began his playing career at West Ham.
Leicester’s form has also plummeted since the holidays and sits two points above the relegation zone heading into its game against Brighton on Saturday.