Thrillers from history teach us to always expect the unexpected

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The Independent Football

The focus is on Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba and Cesc Fabregas, but the key man in the title race may prove to be one of the supporting cast. That was the case the last time the Premier League title was this closely contested with seven games to go.

At that stage eight seasons ago, two points separated Manchester United, Arsenal (who had a game in hand) and Liverpool. In a very open season, by contemporary standards, Newcastle had led the league at Christmas, and Leeds at new year, but both fell away, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.

Back at the top it was Freddie Ljungberg who stepped up as the clocks went forward. The Swede scored in five successive matches, totalling six goals, as Arsenal cruised clear. Their run-in was to feature 13 successive victories. With six straight wins behind them, and seven winnable matches to play, the Gunners could repeat that feat this year.

If they do, they will surely win the championship, though probably by a narrower margin than in 2002 when they finished seven points clear after clinching the title, with a match to spare, through Sylvain Wiltord's goal in a 1-0 win at Old Trafford. Arsenal had already won the FA Cup, played early to accommodate England's World Cup preparation.

Of the current Arsenal players, Andrei Arshavin is perhaps the most likely player to emerge to produce such a surge, with Florent Malouda and Luis Antonio Valencia his equivalents at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford. Then again, maybe it is time Dimitar Berbatov produced a serious return on his £30m fee.