Before kick-off at the DW Stadium yesterday, Arsène Wenger had insisted that Chelsea's 2-1 defeat at Spurs on Saturday meant he had probably conceded the title too early on Wednesday night at White Hart Lane. However, three Wigan goals in the final 10 minutes of a contest Arsenal controlled but lost 3-2 ensured he would not have to make a retraction.
Instead the Arsenal manager was left to warn his players that they still needed to ensure they were not caught by Tottenham or Manchester City for third place: "We would have been back in the title race had we won here, absolutely, but now we need to focus on winning on last three games. Tottenham can still catch us, Manchester City can still catch us, and so we need to win these last three games."
Wenger, whose side had not lost after going two goals up for nearly 12 years, blamed what proved a terminal defeat on Arsenal immaturity and complacency. "I believe the goals we conceded were very poor," he said. "Unlucky, but poor. In football you have to keep focused for 90 minutes, especially against a team that is fighting to stay up like Wigan were today. We did not stay concentrated and we were punished for that in the end."
Another error from Lukasz Fabianski that gifted Wigan their equaliser once more reopened the debate about the quality of goalkeepers Wenger has brought to the Emirates. Wenger disagreed with a suggestion by one of his former players, Paul Merson, that Arsenal would never win a title until they bought a high-class keeper: "Everybody has an opinion. I will keep my opinion to myself. You cannot say we lost this game because of the goalkeeper but I will have to look at the goal again. I thought Wigan's first goal was very important. We were not in the right position for that goal and that was an important moment. In top-level competition, you have to be focused for 90 minutes or you'll lose games." Asked who he thought would now win the title, Wenger replied that he neither knew nor cared.
At Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti predicted his team, who saw their lead cut to a single point by Manchester United on Saturday, would cope with the additional pressure. "It's not a time now to be disappointed, it's a time to stay calm and to look forward to the next game," he said, adding that Paul Scholes' late winner in the Manchester derby had not unhinged Chelsea mentally.
Chelsea's problems, though, were made more intense by the loss of John Terry for Sunday's encounter with Stoke at Stamford Bridge, a day after United face a resurgent Tottenham.
Discussing the challenge on Gareth Bale that saw his captain dismissed at White Hart Lane, Ancelotti said: "I was a player and you know sometimes you are not always rational. I think people are looking at his performances too much. He has had a fantastic season and maybe against Tottenham he didn't play too well. But you have to look at Terry's season in total and he has been fantastic."
The big winners on a weekend where they were expected to be eclipsed by their neighbours at Eastlands were Manchester United, whose captain, Gary Neville, declared that nothing was settled yet: "People probably thought the championship would have been decided by us dropping points at City and Chelsea winning at Tottenham but that wasn't the case.
"Obviously, we would prefer to be in Chelsea's position because they are ahead, but we know if we win our three remaining matches and Chelsea slip up again, the title will be ours. We were hoping there would be twists and turns before the end of the season like there was yesterday, and we hope there are more to come."