Arsène Wenger last night conceded his title hopes were extinguished yesterday, although he hinted that his next assault on the title will be with the same group of young players.
"I believe this team is good enough," Wenger said, as he all but dismissed suggestions that he needs to invest this summer if he is to stage a more realistic bid for silverware next season. "We have the quality and we are young. I've worked a lot with this young team and these young players."
In a striking comparison with the way his side's frailties allowed Liverpool a penalty after they had squared last Tuesday's Champions League tie, Arsenal were ahead for just six minutes here before William Gallas conceded the penalty which Cristiano Ronaldo converted at the second attempt.
But Wenger suggested his side were the victims – "the winner is praised beyond reason, the guy who does not is slaughtered," he said – and insisted there was no deficit between his own side and Manchester United or Chelsea.
"It's very difficult to swallow as we don't feel there's a different technical quality between us and Chelsea and Manchester United," said Wenger, echoing his words at Anfield six days ago. I feel we have done a lot for the Premier League this year. "I'm not an idealist [and] I feel we must win trophies. We lacked a bit of maturity in some games but trophies will come."
Despite the travails of Alexandre Song and Gilberto in this match, which hinted at weaknesses in the strength in depth of Wenger's side, he maintained that bad fortune over the past few months has had as much to do with the way Arsenal have faltered.
"The confidence has dropped a bit for three months. We've gone through a difficult period. When you get knock after knock it's difficult to take," he said. Sir Alex Ferguson said his side were two wins away from the title now after a game from which, he admitted, Arsenal deserved to take something. "I thought we were poor in the first half," he said. "These games are emotionally tight and we were a bit nervous."
Owen Hargreaves enhanced his reputation as a stand-in Ronaldo with his immaculate second-half free-kick from 20 yards and he revealed that he would have taken a first-half kick had Ronaldo allowed him. "He [Ronaldo] said, 'No it's too far for you'," Hargreaves said. "The second one was a bit closer. It's a good distance for me."
United's route to the title
Manchester United can win the title by winning their next three games.
With their far superior goal difference, United could even afford to lose at Stamford Bridge provided they then proceeded to defeat West Ham and Wigan. Chelsea would need to win on 26 April and hope United slip up in one of those games.
19 April Blackburn (a)
26 April Chelsea (a)
3 May West Ham (h)
11 May Wigan (a)
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