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"There! I told you we'd win it!"
For a few minutes on Sunday afternoon, the English Premier League race looked to be back on but it just goes to show how quickly football can change. When Emanuel Adebayor quite literally handed Arsenal the lead at Old Trafford, the roars back in London were deafening. It wasn't just the Arsenal fans cheering at the thought their team was about to breathe life back into their flagging season but Chelsea fans sensing they were going to benefit from a United slip.
This London joy was premature though as Manchester United inevitably came back and took advantage of Arsenals inability to hold onto a lead. Yet again, William Gallas let down his team-mates and fans and when you give Christiano Ronaldo a free shot from 12 yards, there is only going to be one outcome. With the scent of blood in the air and Arsenal heads inevitably dropping, there was no surprise that United grabbed the winner. The surprise may have come from the fact that it was Owen Hargreaves as opposed to Ronaldo who scored the winner but with that, Arsenal were finished.
It was a harsh result on Arsenal who yet again was the better team with regards to possession and attacking flair but with such a fragile defence, it was no great surprise that they lost again. Taking the lead against Chelsea, United and Liverpool in the same month indicates that there is nothing wrong with the goal-scoring exploits of the Gunners but to throw away cheap goals game after game means you won’t win leagues and Arsenal will have to settle for third place.
Fat Frank's Tummy & Other Problems
So, with United extending their lead at the top, Chelsea had a home game versus Wigan to contend with and no one held out much hope for anything but a home victory. Trouble seemed to strike Stamford Bridge just before kick-off when Frank Lampard pulled out of the team with what was listed as a stomach ailment, which no doubt caused many observers to chuckle at Fat Frank suffering with this type of injury.
In the aftermath of the game, there has been greater confusion over the true reason for Lampard's absence but in the first half, Chelsea were definitely toiling. After half-time, Chelsea looked like a different team and there was no surprise when Michael Essien fired the home side into the lead. As the evening continued only the woodwork and some excellent goalkeeping from Chris Kirkland kept the score down but it looked as though the job was done.
With 90 minutes on the clock, Chelsea looked to have done enough to maintain the heat on the Champions but an injury time equalizer from Emile Heskey moved the Latics further away from the relegation dogfight but more importantly, seriously derailed Chelsea’s title push.
Alex Ferguson has seen enough in his time as manager to be left unsurprised at anything football can throw at you but even he must have had a wry smile on his face at his two closest rivals falling away at the crucial part of the season.
Thursday: Everton v Chelsea
Things could get even better for Manchester United before they next kick a ball as Chelsea travel to Everton on Thursday night. Given that Chelsea played on Monday, it is not altogether fair that they are back in action so soon but when you sell the rights to TV and demand the millions in return, you are in no position to moan about fixture congestion. Everton are not quite out of the running to clinch the final Champions League qualification place but it is probably beyond them.
However, the Merseyside team still has plenty to play for as they are being pushed for Uefa Cup qualification and can be guaranteed to give the London blues a tough game.
If Everton triumph in this match, it will offer Manchester United the chance to win the league at the weekend, ensuring they can square off against Barcelona having wrapped up the title already. However, if Chelsea takes something back from Goodison or United fail to win at home, the title could be decided at Stamford Bridge the following week.
Happy Fergie & 'Johnny Cash'
Its always good to win the title when playing at home as it ensures that the largest number of your fans will be able to witness it but there is no doubt that Fergie will take a level of pleasure at walking into their closest rivals ground and walking away with an unassailable lead. When he was manager at Aberdeen, Ferguson built his reputation on repeatedly triumphing at the home of his closest rivals Celtic and Dundee United, with Rangers languishing in mid-table team during this era, and he takes the same pleasure at doing the same with United. Whilst another title will only further enhance the reputation of what is possibly the best manager of current times, things do not look as bright for his rival.
Avram Grant may be nicknamed Johnny Cash due to the way he dresses all in black but he may be in mourning if the title is clinched on their home surface. Chelsea remain undefeated at home in the league since before the days of the Special One and it was Claudio Ranieri who last managed Chelsea to a league defeat at home. Unless Chelsea win this years Champions League, it is looking as though Avram Grant will be exiting the Stamford Bridge hot seat before next season and losing the title at home may be the final nail in Roman Abramovich's highly expensive coffin.
It remains to be seen who will be in charge of Chelsea's campaign next season and no one can second guess the shenanigans that are happening at Liverpool, so it is likely that that Alex Ferguson will still be lording it over the rest of the league and the Scot shows no signs of stopping.
It's been a long season since August but just when it looked as though the season was going to reach a thrilling climax, the two main challengers to Manchester United's crown have have thrown it all away and left the coast clear for Unites dominance of the Premier League to continue.
I've been a member since July 2003, maybe one of the first to join the Silver Circle. 2004 was a good year but I really enjoyed the long run we had in, I think, July 2005. It was exhilarating! 2006-2007 was not as exciting although still quite profitable and so far 2007-2008 looks quite good. I'm wondering if we're going to hit a long one again soon. Anyway, it's been a pleasure as always with your service, Greg. Armstrong and you are one of the few people I trust on the internet. You have made my retirement so much more fun and financially happy!
Best Wishes, Trent Wrayford, Sidney