Arsene Wenger insisted yesterday that the Premier League title remained Manchester United's to lose.
Arsenal will claim the league if they win all of their 11 remaining matches in the competition, starting this afternoon when they host Sunderland. They still have to host United, who are currently four points ahead of them but have played one game more. Wenger, though, is clear that it remained Arsenal's title to win rather than to lose.
Despite the disappointment of last Sunday's Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham City, Wenger is proud of his team's form in the Premier League. Since the defeat at Old Trafford on 13 December last year, Arsenal have been on a 10-game unbeaten run, made up of seven victories and three draws. This sequence, which Wenger said is responsible for his winning the manager of the month award for February, has moved Arsenal closer to the title than they have been for years, and Wenger recognised that his players are in a position from which they can win it. "We are on a good run in the Premiership and we want to continue," he said. "We are in the best position for years now. And we can finish the job."
When asked whether Arsenal's position is sufficiently strong to describe the title as being theirs "to lose", Wenger was explicit: "No, it is Man United's to lose." He pointed to odds offered by bookmakers, contrasting United at 8-13 with Arsenal at 13-8. This meant that United were still in what Wenger called a "leading position". But Arsenal have not won the title since 2004, and when asked when the club were last in such a strong position, Wenger pointed to the 2-2 draw with Birmingham City in February 2008, when Eduardo's leg was broken and a late penalty denied Arsenal the win.
"Mathematically, it's in our hands," Wenger explained. "But that does not mean that, if you look at the fixtures, that it's ours to lose at the moment because we have difficult games. I would say exactly the reverse: it's ours to win more than ours to lose, because [United] are in a leading position. So it's down to us, to our good behaviour, to win it."
Having gone unbeaten in the league until February, United have now lost two of their past four league games. Wenger refused to "count too much" on the possibility of their feeling the pressure: "I count more on my team than on any weaknesses of Man United."
Of Tuesday's 2-1 defeat for United at Chelsea, Wenger said it was "all United in the first half and all Chelsea in the second". "When Chelsea stepped it up, you see it coming, especially after [Wayne] Rooney missed the chance to make it 2-1. You cannot say United's form has been poor – they have been dominant at home, and we should not expect any weakness from them."