Arsenal legend Alan Smith believes the pressure that awaits both sets of Manchester United and Manchester City players on Monday night is like nothing either side will have experienced before.

The history of the Premier League indicates it is unusual for the top two to meet so late in the season and with the destination of this season's title hinging on the result, both Roberto Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson have been keen to downplay the significance of the clash.

Nevertheless, the stakes are obvious. Victory for Manchester City will see them top the league on goal difference with two games to go, while a draw or a win for Manchester United will see Ferguson's side take a giant step towards a 20th league championship. And former Arsenal striker Smith insists the build-up to the encounter will be more daunting than the match itself.

Alan Smith
copyright: REUTERS

Smith played in Arsenal's unforgettable 1989 title decider against Liverpool when the Gunners arrived at Anfield needing to win by two goals to claim the title and deny Liverpool a historic Double.

The Arsenal forward notched the first goal before turning provider as Michael Thomas scored the second in injury-time to bring the title to Highbury.

"The build-up is actually the worst bit," Smith told the Telegraph. "Every time you turn on the TV they are promoting the match, every time you pick up a paper someone is writing about it and everyone you meet on the street talks about nothing else.

"In our case, though, nobody thought Arsenal could get the required result. The pressure was off in the lead-up. Even so, you just want the game to come around quickly in order to leave all the talk behind."

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has played down his side's chances of winning the Premier League title if they triumph in the 162nd Manchester derby, saying: "If they beat us, I think they will probably go on to win the title". But Smith remains adamant he would rather be in United's position, than being forced to chase the game.

"You would rather be United with the points in the bag," said Smith. "That said, City can go into the game with a clear focus, knowing only a win will do. That can be an advantage because it leaves no room for doubt. It's do or die for them.

"Manchester United, however, can play it a little more cautiously. With their know-how and the vast experience of Sir Alex Ferguson they definitely hold the upper hand.

"United, of course, will know they are doing a good job if they sense the atmosphere turning a little sour. The trick then is to keep it that way; don't give the crowd anything to cheer about. Because if the Blue Moon starts to rise, the City players will suddenly find an extra yard."