Neck-a-neck at the top
Controversial scarf hits headlines ahead of Man Utd v Arsenal as United players scornful of 'snood' worn by Gunners.
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2010 10:20 GMT
Arsenal say players like Samir Nasri have medical reasons for wearing a 'snood' scarf in matches [GALLO/GETTY]

Manchester United take on Arsenal in the pick of the weekend's English Premier League matches, with fashion grabbing the headlines as much as the battle for points at the top of the table.

United go into the match at Old Trafford a point behind leaders Arsenal, but it is the choice of winter neckwear that is dividing the two teams.

Cold weather in England has led to many players – particularly those from sunnier climes – donning a 'snood', a type of scarf.

Along with tights and gloves, the accessory is causing controversy in a country that tends to scorn any attempt to ward off the cold, even in below-freezing temperatures.

United defender Rio Ferdinand was adamant his teammates would not be following a trend that Manchester City's ex-United striker Carlos Tevez has embraced, writing on Twitter: "U won't see a Man Utd player wearing a snood".

'Real men'

And boss Alex Ferguson has banned his players from wearing them, according to local media, saying: "Real men don't wear things like that".

But Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said the snoods helped to prevent injury, with several of his players sporting them over the past weeks.

"I get advice from the medical team," Wenger said on the club website.

EPL fixtures

Saturday December 11

 Aston Villa v West Brom
 Everton v Wigan
 Fulham v Sunderland
 Stoke City v Blackpool
 West Ham v Man City
 Newcastle v Liverpool

Sunday December 12

 Bolton v Blackburn
 Wolves v Birmingham
 Tottenham v Chelsea

Monday December 13

 Man Utd v Arsenal

"We had some players with neck problems before the Aston Villa game, (Samir) Nasri and (Marouane) Chamakh.

"That's why we decided to let them wear them because they had some medical issues."

Talk about snoods before the week's biggest game is in keeping with a season that has featured a series of extraordinary results that have created a table where the top four are each separated by only one point.

The drop zone is only 11 points away from fifth place, meaning any team stringing together a couple of wins can jump from a relegation battle to challenging for Europe very quickly.

Managers are scratching their heads.

"In the normal situation, in a normal league, you would say this is probably the most important part of the season," Ferguson said ahead of Monday's match.

"But in the way that this league has turned out it is difficult to assess. It's changed, there were slight indications of that last season but more so this season because Chelsea, Arsenal and ourselves have dropped points.

"We're all probably analysing how we have dropped points but it's just the nature of the league."

United are second in the table with 31 point from 15 games, a point behind Arsenal who have played a game more. Chelsea are third on 30, while fourth-placed Manchester City have 29.

The spotlight falls further down the table on Saturday, with Alan Pardew taking charge of Newcastle United for the first time following the unpopular sacking of Chris Hughton, with Liverpool the visitors.

City are at West Ham United the same day.

Chelsea take on high-flying Tottenham Hotspur in an intriguing London derby on Sunday, when Bolton, three points behind Spurs in sixth, have a Lancashire derby against Blackburn Rovers.

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