Arsenal will want to salvage pride against Manchester United
Arsenal v Manchester United, Premier League, Emirates Stadium, Sunday May 1, 2.05pm. Live on Sky
ARSENAL supporters may not be feeling too generous to other clubs at the moment, but they should realise this weekend that they owe a debt of gratitude to Chelsea.
If Carlo Ancelotti’s side had not won both of their Premier League games in the past eight days, then Gunners fans could be preparing for the rather unpleasant sight of Manchester United winning the title at the Emirates on Sunday.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side are nine points clear of the Gunners and know that victory this weekend will see them take a massive stride towards the title.
But they cannot officially win the crown for a record 19th time on Sunday, even if Chelsea lose to Spurs in another titanic tussle taking place on Saturday evening.
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Ironically, Chelsea could be on the sharp end of United’s celebrations a week later when they travel to Old Trafford, although they will be hoping that Arsenal can put a dent in United’s ambitions this weekend.
Make no mistake, if Arsenal can defeat their great rivals this weekend, and Chelsea do the same to Tottenham at Stamford Bridge, then the title race will be well and truly alive for Ancelotti’s side.
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But beating United is far from simple for Arsenal these days – the Gunners have lost their last four encounters with Ferguson’s side and have not beaten them in any competition since 2008.
The last seven games between the sides have resulted in six wins for United and a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in 2009 that sealed the Premier League title for the Red Devils.
That makes fairly depressing reading for those of an Arsenal persuasion, and last season’s corresponding game, when United ran out convincing 3-1 winners, was also an occasion to forget.
Two defeats without scoring at Old Trafford so far this season have only added to United’s recent dominance of this fixture, but Arsenal will still be confident they can alter that on Sunday.That is because United’s form away from home in the league this season has been average to say the very least.
They have won just five out of 17 away games so far, with nine draws and three defeats.
In any other season, such a miserable record on the road would have cost them any chance of being champions but Chelsea’s mid-season slump and Arsenal’s springtime implosion has rendered it almost academic.
Ferguson knows he has got lucky this time, although the way he disregarded Arsenal last weekend will have added some fire to the Gunners’ players ahead of this weekend’s meeting.
“I said a few weeks ago that Chelsea would be our main challengers but I don’t know if anyone was listening,” said Ferguson at the weekend. “Now they are above Arsenal. Looking at them, Chelsea are far more experienced than Arsenal – strong team, strong experience. Arsenal are better footballers, but Chelsea are the better, stronger team.”
The United manager, who will win his 12th league crown if his side prevail over the coming weeks, is also bullish about his team’s chances of success this weekend.
“The thing that puzzles me is that people keep saying we still have to play Arsenal and Chelsea and they talk about these games as if we are going to lose them,” said Ferguson.
“Why can’t we win these games? Why can’t we go to the Emirates Stadium and win, as we have done previously? I told the players to forget about all that nonsense and just win their games.”
Winning games is exactly what United have been doing all season at home, where they have dropped only two points all season and scored winning goals in the last 10 minutes no fewer than six times.
It is that ruthless streak that sets them apart from the other challengers and, most strikingly, Arsenal. The 1-0 win over Everton last weekend was a case in point.
“There is that winning attitude about the players,” added Ferguson after that game. “We will keep our heads down and not get carried away. There are only four games left and the way they are going about their business and the effort they have shown, it gives them an outstanding chance of being champions. You can test people’s character but they keep coming through.”
There are few who doubt that United will ‘come through’ again in the next few weeks. But Arsenal have a point to prove on Sunday, and should end their losing run against their great rivals.
Prediction: Arsenal 1
Manchester Utd 1