Ferguson bets on United and lashes Rooney gambling claim

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The Independent Football

United delivered an impressive response to 10-man Chelsea's earlier defeat of West Ham with a 2-0 victory over Arsenal, their ninth consecutive win in the Premiership, and though Ferguson's men have only five games to overturn a seven-point deficit on the League leaders, the Scot saw no reason to alter his pre-match assertion that victory over the Champions' League semi-finalists had the potential to become a defining moment in the title race.

"We firmly believe that we have an outstanding chance now but we need a collapse," the United manager admitted. "That's what we need and it can happen. It happened to us in 1992 when we lost three and drew one in the final week. Chelsea have important games coming up. They've got Bolton away, and can you see Bolton losing five in a row? I can't. They've got Blackburn away and on the last day of the season they go to Newcastle, for Alan Shearer's final game. There are a lot of things in our favour but the real decider will be at Stamford Bridge."

United, with Rooney inspired, were deserving winners on a day when Thierry Henry was surprisingly omitted from the Arsenal starting line-up. Ferguson added: "That was a real attacking performance. We felt we had to test Arsenal today and so we decided to get right at them. It was an important victory."

The England striker appeared unconcerned by revelations about his £700,000 gambling debt to reprise his performance in the corresponding fixture from last season, scoring one and engineering another, this time for Park Ji-Sung, who sealed the result when he tapped in Rooney's 78th minute cross from the by-line.

But Arsène Wenger said: "I don't think Rooney was the difference between the teams. I just feel Manchester United were sharper than us physically and mentally after the first half-hour and that is why they deserved to win. We had chances in the first half that we didn't take and missed two great chances, through [Robin] van Persie and [Emmanuel] Adebayor, at 1-0. In a big game you must take your chances and score first." The Arsenal manager revealed Henry, who made a late substitute appearance, was not injured but in need of a rest following his midweek exertions in Turin.

"He has played more games than the others and played twice against Juventus as a lone striker, which is difficult," he said. "I don't think Thierry Henry was a major factor in this result. We did not concede that first goal because Henry was on the bench."

Despite the loss Wenger did not appear to share Ferguson's conviction in the potential for upheaval at the top. When asked if United had a chance of usurping Chelsea the Frenchman, peering between pursed thumb and index finger, said: "Very little."