Byline: David McDonnell
WAYNE ROONEY has vowed to cont inue his goalscoring exploits in the coming weeks and months, and strike a significant psychological blow for Manchester United in the title race.
The striker is arguably in the best form of his career, with eight goals in his last seven games for United and England and a handful of assists.
Rooney, who missed the first five weeks of the season with a broken foot, is clearly making up for lost time and could not be in better shape going into the most eagerly-awaited game of the season, against Arsenal.
The 22-year-old believes this season's title race will be the most fiercely contested for years.
With United and the table topping Gunners locked on 26 points and Chelsea and Liverpool within touching distance, Rooney is expecting a fight to the wire.
"Arsenal are playing some really good football right now and Chelsea are starting to get back on a good run, so they're a big threat as well," he said.
"And we know Liverpool will be there or thereabouts, so I think it will be a much closer title race this season, without doubt.
"It's good for the Premier League, for the fans and for English football to have so many teams competing for the title.
"I'm delighted with my game at the minute. I'm playing well, scoring goals and we're winning games, so I just want it to keep that going.
"When you're out, as I was at the start of the season, you're always looking at other players who are scoring and playing, and you just want to be out there with them.
"So it was frustrating, but I'm just delighted to be back, doing what I love most. The difference now is I'm scoring on a more consistent basis.
"In previous years I'd score for three or four games, then go three or four games without a goal. This year I've managed to do it in consecutive games, which is great. Now I feel like I'm going to score every time I play."
With Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger both putting their faith in the next generation of talent, the coming weeks should provide a fascinating glimpse into the future.
The likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are nearing the end of their careers and Fergie has sought to fill the void they will leave by ushering in the next generation stars.
Led by Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Nani and Anderson - average age 21 - Sir Alex believes he has assembled an attacking unit that can ensure United remain a major force.
And in Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, Mathieu Flamini, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner - average age also 21 - Wenger also has a group of players capable of achieving sustained success.
And Rooney, hardly a raw recruit in his sixth Premier League campaign and with 40 England caps, is relishing the challenge of coming up against some of the top flight's emerging talents.
"I think it's good Arsene Wenger has put faith in his younger players," said Rooney.
"That's what you need, a manager who trusts his players. You're seeing that all around Europe, young players are making an impact at a lot of the top sides.
"As a young player, that's what gives you confidence and makes you want to play well. …