Arsenal vs Manchester United: 5 Ties That Will Decide the Premier League Winner
By now, even the most ardent Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City fans will concede the fact that the Premier League is a two-horse race. If not, they are blinded by the fact their teams are contrived to drop points every few weeks, showing the bark they had at September and October failed to match their bite. Not to rub a little salt in the wounds, but here are some of my favourite quotes.
"We have the quality, so we have to believe in ourselves. With the squad we have, we can do everything." - William Gallas after beating Arsenal at the Emirates.
"We have the chance to win the league this year and the decisive factor could be Edin Dzeko." - A somewhat enthusiastic Mancini on the impact of new £27 million signing.
"If we play with the spirit we played, I have no doubt we'll win the league, because we've got the quality in our team." - Frank Lampard in December as he eagerly awaited for a phoenix-like revival in form.
So, as the title suggests, there are only two teams in it and only a theoretical four points between the two with United in pole position. If there are going to be five matches that do decide the title it will be the following and assuming they can best the tricky matches in front of them and maintain home wins, it will make for an exciting clash come May 1.
Showdown at the Bridge
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The first deciding tie will be the Chelsea match at Stamford bridge in two weeks on Tuesday 1 March, which will begin a three-month final leg of the Premier league.
On current form, Chelsea were on a three-match winning streak in the league before losing at home to Liverpool and then drawing away to Fulham. Fresh off an away win against Copenhagen midweek, their only other recent venture was losing at home to Everton on penalties in the FA Cup.
While they don't bring a strong run on form they can prove to be solid and with Luiz looking like a great capture, Chelsea will be waiting to see if Fernando Torres can regain his form in time repeat his performances against Vidic and the United backline.
Chelsea can take some hope from six clean sheets in their last 10 games and five wins, three draws and two losses in those 10. Of the two recent losses, Chelsea failed to score against Liverpool or Wolverhampton but have four clean sheets of the six they have won. At home in the league, Chelsea have scored 24 and only conceded eight, of which three came courtesy of their loss to Sunderland and the 3-3 draw to Villa.
United have recently lost Anderson to long-term injury. Anderson is one of Fergie's favourite players in his big-game 4-5-1 formation, with Berbatov normally the casualty. Coming off a midweek draw away against Marseille, United will hope to banish their indifferent away form in the league with three wins, eight draws and a loss, scoring 18 while conceding 16.
United are in fine form at the moment and in their last 10 games home and away they've picked up an impressive seven wins, two draws and their only loss of the season. Though they've only kept five clean sheets in the same period, of their seven recent wins, only two were by a two goals or more margin and the rest were by a single goal.
Head to head in this fixture, it's been nine matches since United won away at the Bridge in 2002, with Chelsea taking five wins and four draws in between and of those wins only one, their 3-0 win in 2006, was by more than a single goal.
Verdict: Chelsea 0 Mancherster United 0
Chelsea are a lot more solid at the back since Luiz came and have been fairly consistent though Torres has looked uninspired. I expect Drogba and Anelka to lead the line. United have lost Anderson but will be looking at star players Nani and Rooney to bag vital points. However, United's away form and Chelsea's lack of cohesion in strike will probably mean in a 0-0 draw with half chances for both teams.
Showdown at Anfield
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To cap off a difficult week for United after going away to Chelsea, they'll need to go away again to Anfield. Liverpool are going to have to play West Ham away before entertaining United who will host Chelsea on Tuesday.
Liverpool scrapped past a plucky Sparta Prague midweek without Gerrard or Suarez, the former of whom should be aiming to make it back in time for the United match. Liverpool have seen a turn of form with Dalglish at the helm, with a eight-match unbeaten streak, of which five were wins. In this little run of form they've enjoyed six clean sheets but have been struggling for goals with six in their last six, though five of those goals occurred in their winning matches.
In the league, Liverpool remains strong at Anfield with eight wins, four draws and two losses, though with 23 goals scored and 11 conceded, they're averaging at just over two goal a match. Against United they are currently on a two-match win streak at Anfield to add to their 3-3 draw earlier in the season. However, in the last 10 visits to Anfield in the league, United have managed to win four with a single goaless draw in the middle.
Verdict: Liverpool 1 - United 1
While United have struggled away this season, they have pulled much-needed points in these fixtures. Their never-say-never attitude has allowed them to maintain their place at the top of the league, where they might've struggled in previous seasons. It will nothing short of a cracker and form would suggest Liverpool have the advantage, but I expect the game to be won in midfield and on the break, again the star players making all the difference but a solid defence will restrict chances at both ends.
Showdown at the Emirates
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On Sunday 17 April, a nightmare run for Arsenal—who may still have other competitions to worry about—is about to begin. If you don't already include the visit to Blackpool the weekend before, after facing Liverpool at home, they'll need to travel to White Hart Lane midweek before facing Bolton away a few days later, giving some breathing room before the clash at Old Trafford.
While the previous two fixtures have recent form to build on, in a month no one knows how the table will look and if Arsenal aren't in a strong position by mid-April they could see their title chances go down the drain before they take on United.
Arsenal at home are very much a different prospect from Arsenal away. With 10 wins, one draw and three losses, it's not impossible for Liverpool to snatch all three points. At home, they are joint second goal scorers with 30 goals and 12 conceded. Vermaelen and a full-strength 11 should be available unless there are some more injuries to come.
Liverpool, on the other hand, should see the return of Carrol and their main 11, though they come with a poor away record of three wins, two draws and eight losses on the road, giving Arsenal the edge. Both teams have found form recently with Arsenal on a 11-match unbeaten run to Liverpool's eight.
Liverpool do find it tough to score on the road and 12 goals and 21 conceded though it is mainly attributed to their earlier form. In their last three away Premier League games, they have scored five and conceded two, they will look to build on their form with Dalglish at the helm.
In the last five meetings at the Emirates, Arsenal have three wins and two draws, so they should be looked on favourably to repeat their recent successes, though Liverpool will be a different beast when they are able to field a side containing Carrol, Suarez, Meireles, Gerrard and Cole.
Verdict: Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1
I expect Arsenal to continue their form and no doubt find it tough against a strong Liverpool side. With an on-form Fabregas and Van Persie to consider, I am leaning toward a home win.
Showdown at White Hart Lane
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By the end of next week, Arsenal could see United's lead chopped down to nothing but that doesn't exclude them from their own nightmare week continuing on 20 April. While the previous two fixtures have recent form to build on, in a month no one knows how the table will look and if Arsenal aren't in a strong position by mid-April they could see their title chances go down the drain before they take on United.
Tottenham have a pretty good record at home this season and have only a single loss, which is only bettered by United, in addition to their seven wins and five draws. While they've been exciting to watch, they have a similar record at home to Liverpool, averaging at just over two per game. With their star players all near full fitness and possibly only Ledley King out for the game, they'll be looking to bring a full squad and repeat their win against Arsenal earlier in the season.
Arsenal, on the other hand, still boast the best away record this season with seven wins, four draws and two losses, scoring 27 times and conceding 15, four of which came in the Newcastle draw. They average two goals scored and one conceded away this season and have only been bested by Chelsea and United, with both signalling Arsenal's recent turn of form and coinciding with the returns of Fabregas and Van Persie to the starting lineup and the introduction of Szczesny.
Head-to-head, in the last 10 visits to White Hart Lane, there have been seven draws, with only one goalless and Spurs picking two wins to Arsenal's one, Spurs winning the most recent before a draw and Arsenal's most recent win before that.
April is still along time away and by then Arsenal will be looking to have a full-strength squad with only Thomas Vermalen looking to break back into the starting 11, which will no doubt be a massive boost. Arsenal will be wary that being in so many competitions will work against them and they still may be in three competitions with the fourth already decided.
Arsenal fans will also have to remember that with February over, with only a few niggling injuries, they will be looking to avoid any potential season-ending injuries to their star players.
Verdict: Tottenham 2 Arsenal 2
Destined for goals, this match looks set to be a draw though the neutral would be leaning on Spurs' recent record over Arsenal, though they'd have to be reminded that Arsenal are a force to be reckoned with when travelling.
Showdown at Old Trafford
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May 1 and it will be a long time since Arsenal lost, having only lost once to Ipswich in the Carling Cup and having 10 wins and four draws in all competitions. Looking at more recent form in their last 10, they have eight wins and two draws with the comeback against Newcastle and the second-string draw against Leyton orient recently.
United will be looking to improve their poor away record in the coming months and will take some solace form the fact they've taken two 3-1 victories form their last two visits. Though the win last season was the first since 2005, with Arsenal winning twice and drawing twice since.
Arsenal will look to be favourites unless United can improve their home form, a fairly even contest with both having a lot to go for them. With the current lead only a theoretical four points, this match can be a potential six-pointer and could swing the title chase either way. It may already be decided by May 1, but neither side will want to lose and allow the other to catch up.
Verdict: Arsenal 2 Manchester United 2
Arsenal don't draw often at home but then again United rarely lose, we should expect fireworks but I'm hoping to see the title decided on the final day. As always, Arsenal will take a firm lead before witnessing a comeback dash any hopes of three points.
There are a lot of factors to take into account before then but I think that whoever can gain the most points out of these fixtures will have the Premier League in the bag. United will be hoping Arsenal implode as they often do when chasing honours, while Arsenal will be hoping United's away form will let them down again. Either way, I'll be hoping Arsenal will be lifting the trophy at the end of May, I've been as unbiased as I can but these are matches where both sets of fans will be happy to take a point.