Sir Alex Ferguson last night conceded that "there is no one anywhere in the league" who can "match" Chelsea "at the moment" after watching his Manchester United side fight out a goalless draw with Arsenal.
Despite the competitive nature of the encounter, there was little of the bile and anger that have marked out previous meetings between the clubs, with the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, admitting that this may have been because "the game was less a battle for the title" than in previous years.
Chelsea were indeed the clear winners and now stand 13 points ahead of United and an astonishing 24 in front of Arsenal. The result confirmed Jose Mourinho's prediction that the leading teams would be taking points from each other while his side continued to pull ahead.
"They have been fantastically consistent," Ferguson said of Chelsea although he suggested the champions (and champions-elect) did not have the "quality in their game" of United. "But they have reached that consistency where they are happy to grind out 1-0s."
Ferguson and Wenger could only live in hope last night that their teams would do the same, although United did have the more clear-cut opportunities. "I thought we had the best chances, the clearer chances, but a draw was a fair result," Ferguson said. Nevertheless Wenger argued that Arsenal should have had a penalty when Gary Neville tackled Cesc Fabregas from behind, but it appeared a legitimate challenge.
Thierry Henry said: "I thought it was a penalty and with a bit more luck on our side the referee would have given the decision."
Both managers agreed that the fatigue of four games in eight days had also taken its toll and may have dulled the contest. Another factor was undoubtedly the absence for the first time in 11 years of either Patrick Vieira or Roy Keane. There was little controversy to match their tunnel encounter last season or the so-called "battle of the buffet".
Wenger, who said his players had tired after an impressive first-half, agreed that, with Chelsea's points, advantage Mourinho's side did now appear untouchable. "They have power and they have belief and I feel we are coming back to that level," he said while refusing to concede that even United and second place are out of touch.
Darren Fletcher, the United midfielder, added: "Chelsea will have been watching and will be pleased that we have lost points. Chelsea were the winners tonight."Reuse content