Chelsea turn screw on Arsenal as officials' mistake rescues United

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The Independent Football

The Premiership title race looked to have swung decisively in Chelsea's favour last night when Jose Mourinho's side capitalised on draws by Arsenal and Manchester United to open up a seven-point lead on Arsène Wenger's side with another devastating performance.

The Premiership title race looked to have swung decisively in Chelsea's favour last night when Jose Mourinho's side capitalised on draws by Arsenal and Manchester United to open up a seven-point lead on Arsène Wenger's side with another devastating performance.

While Mourinho's team swept aside Middlesbrough with two early goals by Didier Drogba, Arsenal struggled to come from behind against Manchester City with a late equaliser by Freddie Ljungberg. United were handed a remarkable let-off in injury time when, with the game goalless, replays clearly showed that Pedro Mendes' punt was dropped by Roy Carroll and crossed the line before the goalkeeper scooped it out.

Sir Alex Ferguson, with his side now 11 points behind Chelsea, admitted the title was now Mourinho's "to throw away". "That's the sum of it but in football that can happen," the United manager said. "You never know. An 11-point gap is bigger than nine, that's sure. Leads like that have disappeared before. We have thrown away leads like that."

Wenger said his team would not give up the chase. "We will keep going," the Arsenal manager said, "to give up now would be criminal and unprofessional.. But I still feel that we want to give our best to the end of the season. Chelsea don't look like dropping seven points - but you never know. The only chance we have is to believe we can come back and give everything in every game. Of course, it's not easy, but if you want an easy job then you should stay at home. This job is for strong men.

"I feel that giving up and saying they had won the title now would be criminal. It would not be professional - it would be absolutely disastrous."

The Chelsea assistant manager Steve Clarke said his side would not crack: "We are very happy as people were expecting us to drop points but we were focused and knew it was important to come out the other side with 12 points. We did that very well over the holiday period.

"But what pressure is going to be different from the pressure we have already had this season? At the moment we are out in front and we are enjoying it. There was no pressure in our performance tonight. We were fantastic and with a bit of luck it could have been five or six.

"The only thing that matters is to be in front in May, whether it is by three, five, seven or 10 points. Pressure won't affect us because we are just focused on what we have to do."

Chelsea are set to sign CSKA Moscow's Jiri Jarosik on loan. The Czech midfielder was at Stamford Bridge last night and a deal with the Russian side, who are also owned by Roman Abramovich, is expected in the next few days.

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