It’s facetious to say, but it’s true:
There are some obvious things Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea can do to win the League.
They need to stay fit, score goals, keep clean sheets, and win games. Whichever team manages the most of these important footballing elements will win the title.
But there are also a few less obvious things that each of the three can do to improve their chances...
Of the three, Arsenal have the least to do to improve their chances—despite the fact that Manchester United are favoured to win.
Arsenal most need to keep doing what they’re doing.
Goals are coming from almost everywhere. Adebayor and Eduardo continue to score from the front; Rosicky, Fabregas, and Flamini have been chipping in goals from the midfield, and even Bendtner’s been scoring goals when he comes on as a sub.
They are none too shabby in defence either.
In fact, they’ve been surprisingly solid in the absence of Kolo Toure. Even shaky Philippe Senderos has settled into his role beside William Gallas, returning to a semblance of the form he promised two seasons ago. And Manuel Almunia continues to silence his critics in goal.
Still, a quarterfinal knockout of the Ivory Coast from the African Cup of Nations wouldn’t hurt. Toure’s return would certainly add security, if nothing else. But that seems unlikely.
So what the Gunners really need is for Fabregas and Hleb to return to their dominant early season form.
They’ve both been decent, and Fabregas remains influential even when he’s having a bad game, but if both of them were to turn it on in the last third of the season, Arsenal would become nigh on impossible to beat.
Chelsea have the hardest task, simply because they're the farthest back, but a title is definitely not beyond their reach.
What they need most is consistency in midfield and attack, and the only one providing it right now is Michael Ballack.
In fact, their most consistent performers are either hurt or away at the African Cup of Nations, leaving the mercurial talents of Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips as their primary goal scoring threats.
On any given day one or the other can score a brilliant goal, but they are just as likely to miss a sitter, as Wright-Phillips did against Portsmouth on Saturday, leaving Chelsea in a position where the best they can do is grind out a result.
And more and more of those results will be draws unless Avram Grant’s side finds attacking consistency and finds it soon.
Beyond the Chelsea attack, Avram Grant needs to have the guts to stay with his in form players.
In the weeks to come, his injured and away players are going to start trickling back. But should Ballack, who has finally found his legs in the Premiership, be booted for Lampard?
The answer is decidedly no.
But that doesn’t mean he won’t be.
Likewise, Alex and Ricardo Carvahlo have created a strong partnership in defence, and even without Carvalho by his side Alex remains strong, but Alex will be quickly replaced when John Terry is healthy.
And that is not necessarily the best thing for Chelsea.
Indeed, the return of Lampard and Terry could very well be the undoing of the Blues.
Manchester United, on the other hand, have an entirely different problem facing them.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the Premiership’s most consistent player. He is in top form, he is healthy, and there seems to be nothing he can’t do.
But therein lies the rub—and potentially the toughest task facing any of the title hopefuls.
Ronaldo’s dominance is beginning to affect his teammates, and if anything happens to him or his form the Red Devils could find themselves in serious trouble.
Too often lately, United have relied on their superstar to win games. They are becoming less and less a team, and more and more a one-man show.
Tevez and Rooney occasionally show up with a goal, but their influence is dwindling. Giggs and Scholes are always looking for Ronaldo, which is completely out of character for them, and they are missing better passes to other players.
Only Nani seems unaffected by Ronaldo’s form, and he continues to go for goal regardless of Ronaldo’s field position.
Even worse for United is that their opposition is beginning to discover their Achilles' heel.
If a team can shut down Ronaldo, they can shut down the United.
It’s already happened this season at Upton Park and White Hart Lane. There’s no doubt it can happen again.
So how can the United players overcome their seemingly unwavering tendency to let the best player in their midst dominate their play?
It is up to Fergie or fate.
If fate manipulates proceedings and Ronaldo gets hurt, United’s other top players and their strength in depth will bring them back together as a team—stronger for Ronaldo’s absence.
Or Fergie can take matters into his own hands and manage his team into taking responsibility as a unit, with Ronaldo as an element of the team rather than their raison d’etre.
And while he’s at it, Sir Alex should entrench Michael Carrick in defensive midfield and drop Own Hargreaves.
(Only after Manchester United plays Arsenal in the FA cup, though. I’d much rather see the Gunners face the overrated Canadian than the underrated Englishman.)
All of this could be moot, of course, if Ronaldo stays in form.
If that happens, Manchester United must be considered favourites to win the Premiership.
But if something goes wrong in Ronaldo-ville the Red Devils could easily slip out of the race.
Chelsea and Arsenal fans everywhere will be making offerings to their gods for just such a slip up to occur.
I’m going to sacrifice a cow myself.
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