The Premier League title race is still too close to call even after thumping wins for Manchester United and Chelsea on Saturday had left Arsenal in the shade given how unpredictable the season has been.
United’s 4-0 win at Bolton Wanderers came just two hours after Chelsea slaughtered Aston Villa 7-1 and left Alex Ferguson’s side just a point in front with six games to go.
Third-placed Arsenal, written off several times, squandered two points when they conceded a freakish last-gasp equaliser at Birmingham City and fell four points off top spot but it would be a brave man to bet against further twists and turns.
There are so many factors at play which is why the fight to be crowned champions will be so absorbing over the weeks ahead.
For starters, Chelsea have the luxury of a full week to prepare for next weekend’s seismic clash with United at Old Trafford — the one positive they gleaned from losing to Inter Milan in the Champions League.
United, chasing a unprecedented fourth consecutive title and their 19th in all, visit Bayern Munich in the last eight of the Champions League on Tuesday before focusing on Chelsea while Arsenal host Barcelona and Lionel Messi on Wednesday.
“It’s still a three-horse race,” United manager Alex Ferguson told the club’s website (www.manutd.com).
“It was bad for Arsenal conceding to drop points so late in the game. They are now four points behind us but I think everyone will drop points. The name of the game is dropping less than the rest,” he added.
The stretchArsenal’s run-in looks easier than that of Chelsea and United but, whereas their rivals are packed with players who know how to hold it together down the stretch, Arsene Wenger’s side are still novices when it comes to winning silverware.
Wenger looked flattened when Kevin Phillips equalised with a freakish goal on Saturday to wipe out Samir Nasri’s beautiful strike and the Frenchman admitted the 1-1 draw could have damaging consequences for his side’s hopes of winning the title for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
“It is a big blow for our title hopes, of course,” Wenger said. “We were in a position where we had to win all our games and not to win today is a big blow to our chances.”
Wenger can only pray that United and Chelsea battle themselves into a stalemate next weekend and his side take full advantage at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Chelsea and United were missing key players on Saturday, with Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney not risked by their respective clubs after struggling with niggles.
While they got away with it in spectacular style, Ferguson and Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti will keep their fingers crossed that their big guns stay fit for the rest of the season.
Rooney has been so devastating for United this term that his absence on Saturday prompted speculation the England striker is struggling with aching knees.
“Wayne’s got a bruise on his foot. If he’d played and got a whack on it, then he would have been doubtful for Tuesday,” Ferguson said.
“We’ve got a big week. We have to use our squad in situations like this. I’ve no qualms about that at all. They’ve all done their job well, and I’ll have Rooney and (Rio) Ferdinand available for Tuesday.” — Reuters