Arsenal, United resume title chase

LONDON, March 18, 2011 (AFP) - After being dumped out of three competitions in 13 days, deflated Arsenal will turn their attention to their last remaining route to a trophy on Saturday as the Premier League title chase resumes.

The Gunners travel to West Brom on Saturday with manager Arsene Wenger putting a brave face on what has been a grim fortnight for the Londoners, with defeat in the League Cup final followed by Champions League and FA Cup exits.

Manchester United's striker Javier Hernandez (R) wins a header as Arsenal's defender Johan Djourou (L) looks on during the FA Cup quarter-final football match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in Manchester on March 12, 2011. AFP

On paper, Arsenal remain perfectly positioned to launch an assault on league leaders Manchester United as the title race enters the home straight.

They are just three points behind United, who face Bolton at home on Saturday, and have a game in hand over Sir Alex Ferguson's side.

But Arsenal ended up well-beaten by United in the FA Cup last weekend, when all the old doubts about the fragility of Wenger's side resurfaced.

And while only four members of Wenger's current squad -- Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Emmanuel Eboue, Gael Clichy -- have won a trophy with Arsenal, United's ranks are packed with title-winning know-how.

Wenger insists however that the Gunners' recent league form -- 11 games unbeaten -- augurs well for their title hopes.

"We have a good opportunity to keep our run going," Wenger said.

"We are a on a long strong run in the championship and that’s what we want to keep on doing.

"For me we have a good opportunity to win the championship. In fairness we have not had many off days and if I look at what the team has done over the last three months, people forget the level of performance we have put in.

"We have been consistent in the league. We have gone out in the Champions League in unusual circumstances and that affected our performance at Manchester United.

United have continued to roll along in three competitions with relative ease. Last week's quarter-final win over Arsenal was followed by a 2-1 Champions League victory against Marseille in midweek.

Although Ferguson was hit with a five-match ban for improper conduct this week, the United manager's biggest problem has been a mounting injury crisis that has left his defence on its last legs.

Rio Ferdinand remains out with a long-term calf injury, while John O'Shea and Rafael both limped out of the win over Marseille.

Nemanja Vidic remains a week away from fitness as Ferguson struggles to cope with an injury crisis that echoes last season, when United were reduced to fielding a patchwork back four.

"We hope a similar thing doesn't happen," said Ferguson. "We hope it is just a bad spell. Apart from this period, we have been OK. It has all just fallen apart in the last week."

Bolton arrive at Old Trafford on Saturday on the back of encouraging recent away form that has seen them win three out of four games on the road.

Manager Owen Coyle insists that his team will not be overawed by United, who he regards as the champions elect.

"Every time we enter the field we feel that we have a chance of winning the game and we will certainly need that on Saturday, going to what I believe are the champions elect and a team that are truly outstanding on every front," Coyle said.

In other matches this weekend, Tottenham will attempt to maintain the pressure on Chelsea and Manchester City as they push for the fourth Champions League berth. Spurs face West Ham in the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday.

Chelsea meanwhile face a heavyweight meeting with Manchester City, knocked out of the Europa League on Thursday, at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, where a win will see the Blues move up to third place.

Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated):


Tottenham v West Ham (1245), Aston Villa v Wolverhampton, Blackburn v Blackpool, Man Utd v Bolton, Stoke v Newcastle, West Brom v Arsenal, Wigan v Birmingham, Everton v Fulham (1730)


Sunderland v Liverpool (1330), Chelsea v Man City (1600).

Other news