Fergie's third world
Arsenal take nine-point lead in the Premiership as Chelsea overtake United
Sunday 29 February 2004
Fans around Manchester are used to the charge of the light-blue brigade under the orders of their adventurous leader Kevin Keegan, but it was novel to hear the commander of the red brigade similarly espousing the theory of attack being the best form of defence.
The United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, should have realised, on recent evidence, that someone might blunder in his defence. Against Fulham at Loftus Road that someone was Wes Brown, who allowed Luis Boa Morte to cancel out the inevitable opener from United's former Craven Cottage favourite Louis Saha and claim a 1-1 draw. Ferguson was no doubt even more dismayed to learn that the luck that all good generals need had again deserted Keegan, and Chelsea had claimed the points at the City of Manchester Stadium with Eidur Gudjohnsen's late goal after being run ragged for much of the match.
Now it is Chelsea who are leading the charge after Arsenal - 2-1 home winners over Charlton Athletic - albeit from nine points behind, with United trailing them in third place on goal difference.
Admitting that United face an uphill fight after three Premiership games without a win, Ferguson said: "We're capable of winning matches and could go on a run of victories." Not if he thinks they can thrive without Van Nistelrooy, Giggs and Howard, as they tried to yesterday, and not if they keep giving away goals. That was not the problem, though; it was not Brown's fault, it was Alan Wiley's. "This is the new dawn in football with professional referees but that's very questionable," Ferguson said as he wondered why the Staffordshire referee had not given United a penalty when Saha fell under Edwin van der Sar's challenge. But he did concede: "When you're not having a good run, you don't get the breaks."
Chelsea got one at Keegan's expense, and their manager, Claudio Ranieri, was happy to admit it. Keegan said: "Claudio came up to me after the game and said, 'You played fantastically well, we were poor. You lost, we won - it is crazy, but that's football'. Then he walked off." With three points in his pocket.
Arsène Wenger still refuses to accept that he has the title in his, even though Arsenal have only 11 games to protect their nine-point lead. "When we're in this position, everyone will say it's done and then the tendency is to lose a bit of the edge and sharpness that's needed in every game," he cautioned. "You could become tense if people say you could only lose it."
The threat to Arsenal is not tension but becoming too loose. Robert Pires claimed his 50th Arsenal goal after two minutes and Thierry Henry scored No 20 of the Premiership season two minutes later. Then Arsenal became the Highbury Globe- trotters, all tricks and flicks, and nearly came unstuck as down-to-earth Charlton battled. Claus Jensen pulled one back, and in injury time Jonatan Johansson's shot hit the post. Lucky? Arsenal are on a good run.
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