Gunners look set to continue Moyes' tough start
United's poor record against big sides under new boss means Londoners will fancy chances
Life as Manchester United manager may eventually become a little easier for David Moyes, but his difficult early fixture list continues this weekend with the visit of Arsenal, the English Premier League leaders, to Old Trafford.
Before a ball had been kicked this season, Moyes was quick to complain about the inequity of the fixtures handed to United, who had to play five teams from last season's top 10 - including three fellow big-six teams - in their opening six games.
That start would have been difficult enough for United under former boss Sir Alex Ferguson, but it was made even more problematic during the inevitable period of adjustment to Moyes' way of thinking.
United have struggled in the big games - so much so that this is the joint-worst start United have made in 22 years of the Premier League - and Moyes takes his side into battle with an eight-point deficit to make up on Arsenal. The relative positions are almost the mirror image of last season, when United were top of the table with 24 points (Arsenal have 25 this time) and Arsenal were well behind on 15 (United have 17 this time).
In the 18 seasons since the Premier League was reduced to 38 games, only four teams have won the title after taking fewer than 20 points from their first 10 games and the last was in 2002-03 (United).
Not even Ferguson, however, won the title after taking 17 points from the first 10 games. The only time United had a total that low at this stage under Ferguson was in 2004-05, when they could manage only a distant third behind Chelsea, who set a Premier League record with 95 points.
Moyes clearly faces an uphill struggle to win the title in his first season and defeat on Sunday is almost unthinkable. Even a draw would be another blow to United, who have taken only one point out of nine so far against the other big-six teams.
There has been little wrong with United's performance against the bulk of the Premier League - 16 points out of 21 against teams outside the big six - but they will have to wait until December for a straight run of six games in that lesser category and it may be too late by then unless they can improve their big-match results.
The team that tops the mini-league of the big six often ends up winning the title, but United are currently bottom. They have lost two of their first three games in that category - a notable statistic considering they lost no more than three games out of 10 against the big six in the previous four seasons since the formation of that elite group.
Arsenal are top of the mini-league with two wins out of two (both at home, against Tottenham and Liverpool), but they have benefited most from the early fixture list. This is their first away match against a team from the current top 10, which gives them a new question to answer as they seek to cement their title claims.
The midweek Champions League win at Borussia Dortmund indicates that Arsenal are capable of winning away to elite opponents and Old Trafford at the moment will hold no fears for them. The Gunners, in fact, are arguably best set up for away games - their record on the road in all competitions in 2013 is won 15, drawn four, lost two.
With their fluid counter attacking, as well as a much-maligned defence that is actually much-improved, Arsenal rate a good chance on the handicap against United. It is almost a year since Arsenal were held scoreless on the road - a run stretching back 26 games - and it is notable that United have won only one out of three when conceding at home in the Premier League this season.
Four of United's five Premier League wins were against current bottom-five teams, which raises a further question mark about their ability to deliver under Moyes.
The other handicap bet that stands out in the Premier League is West Ham, mainly because of their mean defence and hosts Norwich's struggling attack.
It is worth looking for possible surprise results and the most likely candidates are Cardiff at Aston Villa, Hull at Southampton and Newcastle at Tottenham.
Southampton and Hull have two of the best organised defences and their results this season point to under 2.5 goals.