"It is a marathon, not a sprint." No, not the Premiership - the rumbling row between Manchester United and Arsenal. It has gone into Fergie time, with Sir Alex Ferguson weighing in with a Manchester United video nasty in which all the naughtiest performers are wearing Arsenal shirts. Arsenal's Thierry Henry is the star, apparently, and the Football Association will be asked, when they enjoy a private viewing of that Old Trafford production "by the middle of this week", to assess his role in a scene in which United's Gabriel Heinze is subjected to a "bad tackle".
Whatever the FA's view of that incident, which provided part of the backdrop to the "soupgate" or "pizzagate" saga, Ferguson was left with egg on his face yesterday after a football reality show in which Portsmouth defeated United 2-0. The Scot faced falling nine points behind the Premiership leaders, Arsenal, square on by saying: "It absolutely destroys what happened last week against Arsenal. This was a bad, bad performance and an awful defeat. We've let everybody down and I'm not interested now in what happens at the top of the table."
It is beginning to look as if only two teams will be. "Concentrate on the football" looked like being valid advice for Arsenal as well as United until they rescued a 2-2 draw at home to Southampton, courtesy of a wonderful goal by Robin van Persie in injury time. Indeed, Arsène Wenger admitted: "To lose today would have put us in a confidence crisis." Henry, who missed a first-half penalty, gave the Premiership leaders the edge halfway through the second half. But in the last 10 minutes, Rory Delap scored twice to offer Steve Wigley a glimpse of his first victory in charge of the Saints. Then came Van Persie's piece of brilliance to restore some form of order and keep Arsenal at the top.
But they now lead only on goal difference from a Chelsea side who are beginning to look the only real threat, as third-placed Everton were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Aston Villa. Chelsea took the moral high ground this week with their decision to sack Adrian Mutu for his drug offence and they were denied football's equivalent only by Van Persie's goal after they thrashed West Bromwich Albion 4-1 at the Hawthorns. William Gallas set them moving on the stroke of half-time, and Eidur Gudjohnsen and Damien Duff quickly put Chelsea in control as Zoltan Gera tried to launch a fightback. Frank Lampard made the points safe.
Arjen Robben drew the lion's share of the praise from Jose Mourinho, Chelsea's manager, who said: "Robben was fantastic. He moved the ball and created things. Every time he had the ball the whole stadium thought the goal was in danger."
Sections of the Old Trafford stadium had different views of two penalty incidents during United's defeat of Arsenal last Sunday - one not given against Rio Ferdinand and one given against Sol Campbell. Almost inevitably it was a penalty conceded by Ferdinand that started the rot for United yesterday. He collected a yellow card for his efforts and David Unsworth scored from the spot. Yakubu Aiyegbeni guaranteed United's misery 18 minutes from time.
At least Ferguson could have found some solace in the promise of more civilised post-match behaviour than last Sunday's food-throwing. Harry Redknapp, Portsmouth's manager, was offering a glass of red wine - that's without the "h".Reuse content