The Premier League title race is shaping up to climax in quite remarkable style. That is, unless Chelsea and Manchester City stuff things up this weekend. Please don't...
Liverpool's most important league match in 25 years and a season-defining game for Arsenal. Chuck in a relegation battle and it's a bloody Big Weekend...
David Moyes can be optimistic about his side's resurgence in the Premier League, if three wins and a draw in four games does indeed warrant such a description, but Sunderland, Stoke and Fulham are teams that a United fan simply presumes will be beaten. That is not a sign of arrogance or complacency, simply an expectancy borne through past experience.
Therefore, the success of a manager at Old Trafford depends on performance in the highest-profile games, because these are the 'want to win' matches, when reputations can be enhanced, rather than 'expect to win' matches, when they can only be preserved. In Manchester United's three biggest fixtures this season (Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City) they are yet to turn in more than 30 continuous minutes of energetic, positive football. That's quite a damning statement, but it rings true.
On Sunday, David Moyes has his fourth opportunity to genuinely impress. If they play as poorly as they did against City and Liverpool, Arsenal in this form will overrun them in midfield, and they will swarm over a defence that has just two league clean sheets this season.
Failing to beat Arsenal at home, establishing the normality of beating the weaker teams while rarely beating those around them. I'll tell you what that reminds me of - Everton under David Moyes.
As I explained in Champions League Winners and Losers, the result in Dortmund was particularly positive for Arsenal because it stemmed from adversity, a requirement to dig in and contain rather than utilising the club's pretty obvious attacking threat. One suspects that four days ahead of a trip to Old Trafford is a particularly useful time to demonstrate such ability.
But this is the one. Beating Tottenham was good, because it demonstrated that Arsenal had grit. Beating Liverpool was great, because it showed that the club did not have to waver from their style in order to be successful in big games. Beating Dortmund was wonderful, because they were victorious as the underdog and validated the suspicion that defensive strength (both physical and mental) had been established. But this is the one - this is about exorcising demons.
This is the reason why Arsenal fans have refused to get excited, to hope, believe and dream. It's the 8-2 in 2011. It's the 3-1 in the Champions League in 2009. It's the 2-0 in 2004 to break the Invincibles, and it's the 6-1 in 2001, five goals conceded in the first 40 minutes. Whatever Arsenal's level of performance up to now, until they have done it against United, at Old Trafford, doubts will still remain.
It might just be three points, but if they lose on Sunday it will mean so much more psychologically. Win, and in my opinion they should immediately be installed as title favourites, because they will have no more psychological hoops to jump through.
Arsenal no longer have a reason to be afraid of United, but that does not mean that supporters won't have fear. Football supporters never forget.
There is not yet room for any real panic for Swansea, but supporters will have been concerned to see their side drop below rivals Cardiff in the table last weekend. Whilst last season's ninth-place finish will be damned difficult to better, sitting just three points ahead of the bottom three is not acceptable.
Furthermore, whilst Swansea's Europa League participation has not seemingly adversely affected the club's form (seven points from five games directly following Thursday matches is actually a better points per game than in alternative matches), this week provides the toughest test so far, a 2000-mile trip to Krasnodar, from which the squad will only return on Friday afternoon.
Playing this current Stoke side at home (Asmir Begovic is their joint top scorer) should be the perfect tonic for such fatigue, but Michael Laudrup will be keen to ensure that a response follows the disappointment of derby defeat. The home win against Sunderland last month is their sole win in five PL games.
The midweek news that Michu is set to miss the next month with an ankle injury will have caused significant concern in Swansea, particularly after his manager claimed that it would also give him time to "can get his knees solved as well". That sounds almost amusingly worrying.
It shouldn't have been an issue given the summer signing of Wilfried Bony, a £12million club record signing after scoring 37 goals in 36 games for Vitesse last season. But it is an issue, because Bony has been pony. He may have scored eight goals this season but only two have been in the Premier League; he lost his place for recent fixtures against West Ham and Cardiff City.
Speaking about Bony's loss of a starting place of late, his manager went on the defensive. "He's a little special case for a lot of reasons...there's always a lot of pressure and expectation on you...he didn't have a proper pre-season... he had to stay for away for nine days for the work permit. We are trying to give him a programme where we are doing extra things with him to get him at his best."
It all rather sounds like Laudrup is protesting a little too much, and the next month will be a true test of his new signing's ability to sink or swim in the Premier League. A goal against Stoke would be a good start.
If you get criticised by your manager for not making enough noise for a 4pm game, how sleepy will it feel for a midday kick-off? Time to set the alarms early chaps and warm up those vocal chords.
Football management is ever a case of when, rather than if, your employment becomes untenable, but Hughton is now far closer than most to clearing his desk. It seems mightily unfair to judge his performance against the Manchester clubs, but 11 goals conceded in those two games is merely indicative of the club's current slump.
In their last five matches Norwich have conceded a goal every 25 minutes and scored one every 225 minutes on average. You don't need me to tell you that that's relegation form, although I just have.
A game against West Ham this weekend (Sky's Saturday evening feast truly is a banquet to savour) is crucial if Hughton is to save himself. You feel that a draw might not even be enough - the forthcoming international break provides an ideal manager-searching window.
City may have been hugely impressive on both Tuesday and last Saturday, but in truth they told us very little more than we already knew: 1) Sergio Aguero combines breathtaking attractiveness with also being excellent at football, 2) It's easier to be a goalkeeper when the other side have very few shots and 3) City are completely unstoppable when playing at home.
Unfortunately for City on that final point, in the Premier League you do have to play half your fixtures away from home (I know, I find it hard to believe that's the way the balls came out of the bag, that's for sure, but apparently those are the rules).
For a side with City's quality, their away form is appalling. Four points have been taken from five games thanks to a victory at West Ham and a dreary point at the Britannia, with defeats at Aston Villa, Cardiff City and Chelsea. Even if City win every single home game, that away form would only be enough to gain 72 points, enough for fifth place last season - something has to give.
Few grounds should provide greater appeal than the Stadium of Light, but it has not been a happy hunting ground for City of late. A record of three consecutive 1-0 defeats needs to be banished rather quickly. A repeat could leave then below United come Sunday evening, a distant thought following the derby victory in September.
Allardyce's description of West Ham's trip to Norwich as "a six-pointer already" is actually a startling admission, because it's a concession that his side are involved in a relegation battle. 'But isn't this Allardici,' I hear you cry. 'Isn't this the man behind West Ham's successful Catenaccio defensive style?' And you'd be right.
The concession that West Ham are now firmly ensconced in the mire also piles a huge burden on Allardyce, a rather odd thing to do to yourself given that the Premier League is very firmly stuck on 'pressure cooker' setting. By highlighting the game's importance, Big Sam then invites criticism should his side not perform well. Sometimes, as we would so often say to Sam were we close to him (urgh, not that close), discretion may be the better part of valour.
The rest of us, meanwhile, will be betting on 0-0.
Whilst 'concentrating on the league' is seen as perfectly valid reasoning for naming understrength sides in the Capital One Cup, there was something inherently disappointing about a club such as Southampton effectively sacrificing an attempt to reach a cup quarter-final.
Ten changes for a defeat to Sunderland is not a phrase that stirs the footballing soul, but it will pale into insignificance should they see off Hull with any modicum of comfort on Saturday. Should Southampton slip, I hope that their fans see it as a big ol' shame. Because it is.
As Rafael's fitness for Sunday hangs in the balance, we are getting closer to the prospect of Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil running at Chris Smalling at right-back. One expects there to be a fight for that Arsenal left-wing spot.
Fans Of Premier League Numbers And Stats
After being cruelly denied last week thanks to the terms of his loan deal from parent club Sunderland, a two-month injury to Sone Aluko has left a space in the Hull side. You know what that means: start the snappily named how-many-minutes-since-Danny-Graham-scored-in-the-Premier-League counter.
Daniel Storey - tell him on Twitter that he's a lazy journalist.