Sir Alex Ferguson has dragged Manchester United back into the title race, Jose Mourinho's pre-eminence is under serious threat but Arsène Wenger still claims that it is Arsenal who could yet decide the destiny of the Premiership. It was with a grin on his face that the Arsenal manager looked forward to his visit to Old Trafford on Sunday and suggested "if [Roman] Abramovich calls me, we can help him".
With the title race potentially alive again, English football regained a familiar aspect on Saturday: Mourinho blamed the media for twisting his words and Wenger set the terms for what will be another memorable confrontation with Ferguson. There are just seven points between leaders Chelsea and United in second place, down from 18 on 6 March, yet if Wenger's side win at Old Trafford, they will all but end United's resurgent challenge.
Choosing which one of his most bitter rivals he would rather see win the Premiership was a question to which Wenger protested indifference. However, he could not resist that mischievous aside about granting a favour to Chelsea owner Abramovich by beating United - a remark which may have the rare effect of provoking the tempers of Ferguson and Mourinho.
"Chelsea have dropped points [against Birmingham] they should not have dropped maybe but still I think they are in a very good position," Wenger said. "The championship will be completely decided at Chelsea v Man U [on 29 April]. That makes it interesting. If Abramovich calls me, we can help him next Sunday. With six games to go I can't imagine they'll let the championship go. I don't mind who wins it [the Premiership]."
Arsenal travel to Turin tomorrow for their Champions' League quarter-final second leg against Juventus with doubts over the fitness of Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Eboué. Fabregas had a scan on a bruised foot yesterday that Wenger said made his chances to play "40-60", although the Arsenal manager's attitude suggested he was hopeful.
Mourinho protested against referee Dermot Gallagher's decision to disallow a goal from Asier del Horno, but by his combative post-match standards the Chelsea manager was reserved, conceding that Birmingham City had done enough to merit their goalless draw. However, Mourinho reminded his team that they will successfully defend their Premiership title if they win their three remaining home games.
Mourinho saved his most trenchant criticism for the media, inviting the BBC and Sky to "bring your pundits out to say what they want" while bemoaning the "nightmare" of having his words misinterpreted by the newspapers. As a manager who has attended no more than two pre-match press conferences since the start of the year, it was difficult to understand exactly what words he was referring to. Frank Lampard said that despite the disappointment of the result the team still hoped to have the title settled before United's visit.
"We are confident we won't stutter, if anyone had offered us the chance of being one point clear at this stage of the season back in August, we would have taken that," he said. "We are seven clear, we know what games we have to come and we are capable of winning them all. Our main interest is winning the League, we've got to play United as well but we are confident we will win the Premiership and we have been for a while.
"We just need to keep winning. The disappointing thing about results like this is that we had our minds set on getting the four wins we need back to back but it is not that easy. In our eyes we want to win the next four games and win the title. It will be nice to win it before we play United. We've got West Ham at home and then Bolton away - you are not talking easy games."
Mourinho has maintained good terms with Ferguson, a bond that may have been strengthened by their mutual antipathy towards Wenger. Ferguson, whose side came from behind to beat Bolton 2-1, began testing the limits of the friendship when he said his United team were "asking questions of Chelsea". "People expected them to beat Birmingham," Ferguson said, "but they didn't".
With so much at stake now, it would be difficult to imagine Ferguson resisting the temptation to ask profound questions of Chelsea's ability to see out the last six matches of their season. His team have a serious test on Sunday against a Thierry Henry-inspired Arsenal but Ferguson has not lost to Wenger in the Premiership since Sylvain Wiltord's goal at Old Trafford on 8 May, 2002, a goal which decided the title.
Wenger's invitation to Abramovich may have been in jest but Ferguson will recognise in that comment all the enmity of the past.Reuse content