Simon Bird's Premier League review: Why United are still in control of the title race

Simon Bird steps in for Martin Lipton to review the weekend's Premier League fixtures. Come back this Friday when Martin will return to provide his expert analysis on the weekend ahead and unveil his predictions...

Arsenal 1-0 Manchester United

"Obviously it gives Chelsea a great chance now...."

The words Alex Ferguson hoped he'd never have to speak.

How did it come to this? Chelsea trailed Manchester United by 15 points in February.

United are supposed to be the ones who finish every season strong, fresh and with zeal when a trophy is within their grasp.

Will the energy, mental and physical, of chasing the Champions League catch up with Ferguson's men? Perhaps. Note that all three other semi-finalists, Schalke, Real Madrid and Barcelona, also lost their domestic games this weekend.

With his "great chance" comment, Ferguson sounded the alarm bells to his squad after defeat by Arsenal. Now he awaits the response.

Maybe a few tired legs will be rested against Schalke in midweek with the tie virtually won. Then on to the potential Premier League decider at Old Trafford next weekend - the visit of Chelsea.

Ferguson will be aware of that his side can't afford a repeat of the way they played for two thirds of the clash with Arsenal on Sunday.

But he will take comfort from the fact that United have two of their last three games at home, and that they then have Blackburn and Blackpool to conclude the campaign - surely easier games than Chelsea's home clash with Newcastle and their final day trip to Everton?

United were unusually jaded at the Emirates. Many have commented over the course of the season that they have ground out results without looking like a vintage United team. Stopping this theory manifesting itself in a late collapse is now top priority.

Typically, Ferguson had a rant about a refereeing conspiracy against his club - timely given the magnitude of next weekend's clash - but as well as United deserving a penalty when Michael Owen was fouled by Gael Clichy with three minutes remaining, Arsenal were denied a blatant penalty after Nemanja Vidic got away with a diving handball on Theo Walcott's centre.

For Arsenal, it was a morale-boosting win, but one that will ultimately produce more frustrations when Arsene Wenger and his side ponder what might have been. Too many let-downs when the pressure was on, and here they were beating the title favourites when the pressure was off.

Proving your quality when you are out of the race, rather than in the heat of battle, is no good. Potential and ability needs to be allied with maturity and resilience when Wenger does his transfer business this summer.

So, will United crumble? It's unlikely. But Arsenal have made this one of the most thrilling finales for years.

What better for the neutral to have a three-game showdown for the big prize?

What better for the ultimate victor than to win it when the pressure is at its greatest?

May the best team win. Whoever that might be.....

Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham

If Carlo Ancelotti's side do end up overhauling United, they may cast their minds back to being 0-1 down to Spurs and the good fortune that shone down on Stamford Bridge.

Frank Lampard's equaliser, courtesy of Heurelho Gomes' fumble, didn't cross the line. Maybe Lampard was due a bit of goal line luck after his World Cup exploits last summer?

Salomon Kalou was offside for the late winner. But none of the home crowd cared.

Ancelotti went on to claim that Chelsea have "same power, same strength, same ability," as United. Win on Sunday at Old Trafford, and it is same points too!

Spurs' quest for a repeat of their Champions League adventure is looking an impossible dream, and Liverpool could pip them for an automatic Europa League berth too.

That would be a huge blow to their budget, and hopes of attracting more top signings.

Harry's in need of a strong finish.

Manchester City 2-1 West Ham

Fresh starts for both clubs are on the horizon.

For City, the stage that their multi-million pound squad requires, the Champions League. For West Ham, the Championship.

It's five successive defeats for the Hammers now, and they look doomed. Especially with that hefty wage bill to sort out if they drop.

Now such worries for Roberto Mancini. A top-four finish looks a cert, and the relentless spending on superstars can be ratcheted up to a new level on the biggest stage.

Liverpool 3-0 Newcastle

So is this the week that Kenny Dalglish is anointed as the long-term boss of the club he has expertly helped rediscover its soul?

The revival under King Kenny means Liverpool should end up back in the Europa League - an achievement that not so long ago they were eight places and 10 points adrift of realising.

Eight goals in two games, and not surprisingly the Kop were chanting for Dalglish's installation. After Liverpool's worst start to a season in 57 years, the campaign ends on a high with fresh hopes and dreams.

As for Newcastle, they appear to think it's job done. Survival was the aim. Survival will be achieved.

Hard work on signings is already under way... and no one should be in any doubt (this performance proved it) that more quality is needed to bolster Alan Pardew's side.

Elsewhere...

Wigan's failure to finish off Everton despite taking the lead, gives them the look of relegation candidates, despite Roberto Martinez's unbreakable cheery demeanour.

Over at Blackburn, Steve Kean may win over a few fans, after his side beat Bolton and gave themselves considerable breathing space in the race to beat the drop.

Blackpool's scoreless draw against Stoke might not be enough come the final reckoning, but Mick McCarthy's Wolves look intent on ruining their survival plans with defensive mistakes.

Big off-the-pitch questions have to be answered at Aston Villa soon: How can Gerard Houllier possibly return as manager? Local rivals West Brom continued their revival by winning their derby despite going a goal behind.

The sooner the season ends for Steve Bruce, the better. Fulham's 3-0 win at the Stadium of Light had the home fans booing and leaving early (again). Bruce's authority and plans for the summer are being eroded by a terrible run of form.

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williamhill.com

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