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Slipperduke

The Camden Cad
Joined
Aug 24, 2004
Messages
4,333
Location
North London
From the way that Manchester United fans have been celebrating, you’d think that their lead was significantly more than eight goals. Arsenal fans, likewise, have been mooching about the place as if they’ve just been docked ten points for passing the ball too much. It’s not over yet, not by a long way, especially when you consider what we have store for us on Sunday.

At Old Trafford, the division’s two form teams go head-to-head as Liverpool seek to avenge their Anfield defeat by thrusting a walking stick through the spokes of Manchester United’s wheels. Later that afternoon, the Gunners limp over to Stamford Bridge for a match which will determine the length of time that we can continue to refer to this as a three-horse race. So, stock the fridge up, ready the sofa and tell work that you might be a little late on Monday. This will be a weekend to relish.

It’s all about character now. I was at The Stadium of Light on Saturday and Avram Grant cut an interesting figure. Usually he walks into the press conference and slumps into his chair, his eyes blank and expressionless, his voice soft and timid. Not this weekend though. After a competent, professional performance that put his side just three points off the top, he was suddenly straight-backed and enigmatic. He bore a thin Mona Lisa smile that screamed out, “Ha! Three points off the top! How many of you thought that would be the case when Jose left, eh? Eh? You heard me, Macintosh!” Well, that’s what I thought it screamed anyway. He was confident and, dare I say it, charismatic. It was all very surreal. The Chelsea players must be looking at him and thinking, “Blimey, if this guy looks happy, we must be doing something right.”

The mood is a little darker over at The Emirates Stadium where Arsenal have hit a curious run of form, repeatedly drawing against the more mediocre elements of the division. It’s not all that it seems though, especially as the Gunners have been very unfortunate. They had a perfectly valid goal ruled out when Emmanuel Adebayor picked up George Boateng’s through-ball from an offside position, though I suppose it was asking too much for the referee to remember that Boateng plays for Middlesbrough. They have a very difficult job, you know.

The underwhelming run of form has driven some Arsenal fans in the UK to despair. One popular English website actually received emails calling for Arsene Wenger’s head, though I suspect that they might have been written by Jose Mourinho. People can’t be that stupid, can they?

Manchester United ‘s three recent 1-0 victories don’t exactly point to a team pushing the needle into the red, but they do suggest a depth of character and emotional strength that Arsenal could do with emulating. William Gallas has called for his team-mates to show their ‘mental strength’, but after his tantrum at St Andrews that’s a little like Wayne Rooney asking his team-mates to stop swearing at the officials. United are the team that you would expect to hold it together when the pressure starts to build, mainly because they have five or six players who are better leaders than Arsenal’s captain. However, they are still playing without an out-and-out striker and that may hamper them in their efforts to get through Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool.

Football is a very short-sighted sport, as you can tell from the number of reports, letters or emails out there suggesting that we have just watched the weekend that decided the title race. Nonsense. Arsenal and Manchester United are level on points and Chelsea are only three behind with nine games to play. Wenger hasn’t blown it, Ferguson hasn’t stolen it and Grant is neither here nor there. This weekend, we’ll get a chance to see how the big teams fare when they face their own kind. Far from being over, this title race is just beginning to get interesting.
 
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