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Will Tidey - Can Arsenal win the title without beating their rivals?

Published: 16 Dec 2010 - 07:51:31

Arsenal's 1-0 defeat to Manchester United reinforced the argument that Arsene Wenger's men are a fragile force who crumble on the Premier League's giants' causeway. And had many writing off their title credentials.

For some unknown reason Arsenal forgot how to play at Old Trafford. The most technically proficient team in the land couldn't string a pass together, and to force home the point they were beaten by a United side on autopilot.

Some will point to Sir Alex Ferguson's spoiling tactics, but in truth United did what they always do against Arsenal. They harried and pressed, put a foot in and gave the impression they wanted it more.

Arsenal dallied on the ball and the joyous attacking force we've seen fizzing all season fell flat - exactly as they did against Chelsea. Exactly as recent history suggested they would.

But while Arsenal's loss made it 10 defeats and a draw from their last 11 matches against United and Chelsea (their last win was against Chelsea in November 2008), beating your rivals isn't necessarily a prerequisite of lifting the title.

In 2000-01 Manchester United won the league by a 10-point margin, despite gathering just five points from their six games against the fabled 'Big Four' of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. That put United bottom of the mini-league, but top of the one that mattered. (Thanks ESPN for the numbers)

Arsenal have one point from a possible nine against those three teams this season, but have played all three away from home. A win and draw in the second round of matches would be enough to match United's haul in 2000-01.

And if you substitute Liverpool for Manchester City in 'The Big Four', as perhaps we should, Arsenal have three points - and the confidence of a 3-0 away win against one of their major rivals to lean on.

But United's 2000-01 success was something of an anomaly. In the four seasons that followed the team that performed best in the Big Four mini-league won the title, and Chelsea's four wins from four against United and Arsenal last season unquestionably proved the difference.

That said, this is strange season and when you consider Arsenal will go back to the top of the league with a win against Stoke on Saturday, with Chelsea and United squaring off in a game that has 1-1 draw written all over it on Sunday, Arsenal are still very much in the race.

How they cope with Stoke's physicality at the Emirates will give us a good indication of just how much they want to win it.

DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:Will Tidey
Will Tidey writes on sport for CNN, Eurosport-Yahoo! and Bleacher Report, amongst others. His first book, 'Life with Sir Alex', an account of Sir Alex Ferguson's 25-year reign at Manchester United, is set for release in October this year. Pre-order it now at http://tinyurl.com/6xzl62b. And follow Will on Twitter here - www.twitter.com/willtidey

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