Fabregas: Arsenal must beat Chelsea to stay in title race

Captain says for Gunners to be down would be 'crazy' despite thumping by United
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The Independent Football

Cesc Fabregas could even manage a joke at his own expense when he was asked what it was like to be 3-0 down at home to Manchester United with more than 30 minutes to play, but he admitted that if Arsenal are to stay in the title race they must beat Chelsea next weekend.

"I felt fine, especially in the first half, but when you find yourself, two, 3-0 down, it's difficult," Fabregas said. "Even Lionel Messi would struggle to do anything."

Messi, of course, was among those chiefly responsible for inflicting a similar humiliation to the one suffered by Arsenal on United in Rome in the Champions League final in May last year. It was on Barcelona that Arsène Wenger remodelled Arsenal this summer, switching his 4-4-2 formation to Barcelona's trademark 4-3-3 and attempting to pass the opposition off the pitch. Unfortunately for Arsenal, it was United whose interpretation of the 4-3-3 system on Sunday was by far the more devastating.

Wenger's team have been a delight at times this season, especially in their recent renaissance, but their manager's pre-match claim that they were a "different animal" to the side demolished by United in last season's Champions League semi-final second leg at the Emirates was debatable on Sunday's evidence.

As for Fabregas, he promised that Arsenal were not out of the running for the league – and no one will argue if they win at Stamford Bridge on Sunday to close the gap on the Premier League leaders Chelsea. However, in the four games that Wenger claimed would shape Arsenal's title destiny they have taken just one point from the two played so far.

"I really don't care what people think," Fabregas said. "It's all about what we believe until the end of the season. It's up to us to show what we can do. It's difficult. We have to bounce back. We have massive games against Chelsea away and Liverpool at home.

"We have to be positive. It's very easy to say 'we lost to United' and to get down. That would be crazy. We have to be strong and be together more than ever and do our best until the end of the season. We took our chances, they had chances, they also missed. They were the better team and they competed better than us."

Never mind the points, Arsenal need a signature victory to demonstrate that they have not fallen too far behind the big boys of English football. Their 2-1 win at Anfield in December is still the stand-out result of the league season. There have been two defeats to United, one away to Manchester City and that 3-0 humiliation against Chelsea at the Emirates in November.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, yesterday made it clear he believes his side can eliminate Arsenal from the title race with victory at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. A win for Chelsea would extend their lead over their London rivals to 11 points, assuming Chelsea beat Hull tonight, a gap Ancelotti suggested would be too great to bridge. "Yes, it is a big gap. If we win the game, then Arsenal has to run for third place," he said.

It is an assessment shared by members of the Arsenal camp. Fabregas said: "It's never a good time to play Chelsea whether you are nine points clear or nine points behind. They are a strong side and have been playing together for a long time. We have to beat them to stay in the title race. If you don't believe, you don't win things. We are still there [in the title race] definitely. I am always realistic. Chelsea were better than us, Manchester United have been better than us. It's something we have to think about and make sure it doesn't happen again."