The jury is out and the debate is beginning to intensify over the team that will take the Premier League title away from Chelsea.
Will it be the unbeaten Manchester United who have been, by far, the greatest nemesis for the Blues in recent years? Or will it be the energetic Arsenal squad that has managed to be the only club in the country that remains in contention for all four titles?
This is a tough one to call, for sure. And it’s not like the element of suspense was unexpected. It became very evident, before the season even started, that this is set to be the toughest title race we have seen in recent years. Yet, every twist and turn continues to surprise us more than expected.
Given Chelsea’s recent revival, some are even arguing that the title won’t switch hands to begin with. As tempting as it is to write off the Blues, their fighting spirit is impossible to question.
So, considering the unpredictable nature of the circumstances, we are back to square one. We are still searching for an answer to that all-important question. Who – if anyone – will be crowned the new champion of England: Manchester United or Arsenal?
Only 15 more games are left in the season and Manchester United must be reaching out to feel the finish line. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are so close to repeating the achievement of the 2003-04 Arsenal side that the idea of doing so is almost tangible at this point.
Of course, there is a caveat, though. The Red Devils still have to play reigning champions Chelsea both home and away, and more importantly, they still have to avoid defeat at The Emirates against the very team that went unbeaten over six years ago.
The upside is that aiming for perfection will strengthen United’s position atop the table even if they actually fail to go unbeaten when it’s all said and done. Most of the club’s supporters are only concerned regaining the title, regardless of the final number in their loss column.
Besides their fantastic form, United also have a tried-and-tested winning mentality going in their favor. Whenever they are down – which is very rare - they find a way to ensure that they are not completely out. As they demonstrated so effectively at Blackpool yesterday, it is nearly impossible to control the game against them even with a commanding 2-0 lead.
In a nutshell, Sir Alex Ferguson knows more about winning than anyone else in the country while losing is certainly far from his forte. With him in-charge of this incredible deep United squad, it is likely that they can go on to become the new invincibles. If that doesn’t happen, they can still reclaim their crown, which is what this column is all about anyway.
Despite some clumsy defeats here and there, Arsene Wenger’s men have been the hustle team of the Premier League thus far. They have grinded out some difficult wins under pressure (read Manchester City and Chelsea) and their energy has been contagious for the rest of the league.
In particular, it is Arsenal’s away form that has kept them within striking distance (currently five points) of Manchester United’s five point lead at the summit. The Gunners have a league-leading total of 24 points on the road and their only two losses have been at tough venues such as Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge.
At home, they have struggled to dominate the way they should but the big 3-1 triumph over Chelsea last month went a long way in sending out a loud and clear message to the rest of the league: The Emirates can easily be an unbreakable fortress when the hosts are playing their best football.
Fortunately for their patient supporters, they are playing their best football at the moment and this is the way they need to keep playing till the very end of the season. Among others, legendary Arsenal striker Thierry Henry has tipped this team for glory due to the fact that their maturity is a notch above what it has been in recent trophyless years.
All said and done, can all the good things I have said about Arsenal translate to favorite status in the title race? Not yet. To reiterate, the North London outfit needs to keep performing to the peak of its potential to outrun an invincible (literally) United side in this marathon.
If you cannot pick Chelsea to win it all merely because you always cheer for the underdogs, how about giving them some consideration because their skipper said so? Seriously, as I said before, it is tempting to consider this a two-horse title race but it isn’t all that clever to discount the involvement of the champions just yet.
With nearly 40 percent of the season’s football to be played, there is a reason why John Terry fancies his side’s chances. All of a sudden, they are looking like the dominant outfit they were at the beginning of the season and more importantly, they are under less pressure than they have been all season now that their doubters are convinced about the crowning of a new champion in May.
The icing in the cake for the West Londoners is that two of their remaining 15 games are against leaders Manchester United and winning them both will cut the hefty 10-point deficit down to a slender four-point gap. Yes, that’s how close this title race could end up being!