Stop crying Arsenal fans – the Premier League title race is back on

Manchester United’s defeat at Chelsea has given a lift to downcast Gunners

ARSENE Wenger’s belief that his side can be Premier League champions for the first time in seven years has held firm during 2011 because of one reason – Manchester United’s remaining fixtures.

By Wednesday, January 5 of this year Arsenal had played away against United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool, and were still in touch in the title race.

They had also beaten Chelsea 3-1 at the Emirates and, on that cold January night, drawn 0-0 with Roberto Mancini’s defensively-minded City side.

Wenger knew that Arsenal had played the bulk of their big games, against the possible title contenders, and that United still had them all to come.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side still had to play Chelsea twice and to go to Liverpool and, of course, Arsenal in a game now scheduled for May 1. In the first of those big away games, United came unstuck in fairly spectacular fashion at Stamford Bridge last night.

“Well we all have pressure now because that’s the period where it starts, in March, everyone is under pressure,” said Wenger. “Chelsea will be, Man United will be, everybody is, but that’s part of being in the position we are in.

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“Three months ago when we lost at home against Newcastle, who would have given us the chance of even being in the top four?

“We have come back in a strong position and I will not complain, I am very happy that we have a chance to be in there.”

Now the pressure on United is immense. And while Arsenal can close the gap to a single point by beating Sunderland on Saturday, United have the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Anfield to contend with.

This always looked a pivotal week in the title race, and while Chelsea now must be considered contenders again given that they will travel to Old Trafford on May 7, six days after United travel to Arsenal, they are still a considerable way behind – eight behind the Gunners and a sizeable 12 adrift of United.

The advantage from last night is conclusively Arsenal’s. The Gunners’ next four league games see them play Sunderland at home, West Bromwich Albion away and then, on the other side of the international break, Blackburn at home and Blackpool away.

Of course, as Birmingham showed on Sunday, these are still the kind of games where Arsenal can come unstuck, and trips to Bolton (on April 24) and Stoke (on May 7) will look just as difficult to Gunners’ fans as what is sure to be a titanic north London derby at White Hart Lane on April 20.

But Arsenal should be in with a shout of the Premier League crown heading into the final straight for the first time since winning it without losing a game in 2004.

The Gunners still have it all to do, but last night’s result means that the destiny of the title is now in Arsenal’s hands. They can decide their own fate, if they can beat United.

Wenger could not say it on Sunday, because he knows how big-headed it would have sounded.

But if Arsenal get their hands on the title again come May, the Carling Cup defeat in February will barely register in the memory.