It has been a long time since Arsenal finished ahead of Manchester United in the Premier League. Indeed, so long is it, that every single club in the top four divisions bar one have changed their manager since Arsenal last looked down on the denizens of Old Trafford back in 2005.
That one club retaining any hint of continuity is Arsenal, the final remaining managerial sinecure in English professional football.
For Arsene Wenger, when he steps out at Old Trafford on Sunday it is going to be like old times again, a return to the days when this fixture had a profound bearing on the top of the table. And how pleased he will be at the nostalgic return.
Since the era when this game mattered so much visiting players danced like insane dervishes around an opponent who had missed a penalty or hurled pizza at the opposing manager, things have not gone so well for the grand old Arsenal boss at the home of his most serially effective rivals.
The nadir was in August 2011, when United won 8-2. If you want evidence of how much the temperature in the north London v south Manchester clash had lowered to that point it is there in Alex Ferguson’s autobiography.
In it he stated that he had become embarrassed for his opponent that day. He wanted his team to stop scoring because it was way too upsetting to see an old rival so humiliated. How condescending is that? Once the two almost came to blows in the tunnel, now here was Ferguson claiming he could not bear to see Wenger so belittled. For the Arsenal boss such ersatz sympathy must have been almost as difficult to stomach as the result.
One thing we can be sure of: it will not be like that on Sunday. Arsenal will arrive in Manchester revived and firing, suggesting at last that they might have wider ambition than merely finishing in the top four. Winning away at the hipster’s favourites Dortmund will have engendered enormous self-belief. Not least in Aaron Ramsey.
Back in 2011, Ramsey, who had spurned the chance to move to United in favour of Arsenal, had looked battered and bewildered, like the man who had turned down the Beatles. Now he looks like the best attacking midfielder in the Premier League. And it is United fans who are regretting rather than mocking his decision.
They know how United could do with a player like Ramsey. While the Welshman was driving his side to victory in Germany, United were stalling in the middle in Spain. They looked static and unimaginative, not words that would be used to describe the fluid attacking force generated by of Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla, Arteta and Rosicky as they conspired to pull off the perfect European smash and grab.
Indeed Ramsey’s insistent seizure of his opportunity this season contrasts illuminatingly with too many of his counterparts at Old Trafford. While he has been in the form of his life, a rotating cast of United personnel have been underperforming woefully.
David Moyes has been fortunate that he has been able to rely on Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez, Adnan Januzaj and David De Gea to gather him points. Because if he left it to some of his other players, United would be far worse off than sitting in eighth position.
The front cover of the United matchday programme for a game against Stoke a fortnight ago featured a picture of Nani looking determined alongside the headline “time to stand up and be counted.” Rarely has there been such disconnect between intention and performance. Whatever the opposite of standing up and being counted might be, Nani was doing it that day. For such a skilful performer, he was simply woeful.
And disappointingly for Moyes, Nani is by no means the only culprit. Too many of his squad have failed to grab the chance to secure their place in the new boss’s first-choice side. Between Rooney and De Gea, there has been an ever rotating cast of passengers. Shinji Kagawa, Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Maroune Fellaini and Tom Cleverley: none of them would get within 100 yards of the current Arsenal midfield.
As for the hapless chubster Anderson and the Tom Daley-alike Ashley Young, never mind Arsenal, the way they have played in United red this season they would be lucky to get on the bench at Colchester.
While Arsenal will arrive on Sunday with a side that picks itself, Moyes has yet to find a combination in midfield or defence that can complement his excellence in attack. In possession of the best record in the division over the last calendar year, the Gunners are flying. For Moyes, five months into his new role, lift off has yet to be achieved.