EPL: Day 27 (Arsenal with a nine-point lead)

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
February 28th, 2004 • 11:51 pm

It was another famous day in Arsenal’s campaign to reclaim the English Premier League crown lost last year to Manchester United.

Arsenal managed to get all three points against a competitive Charlton, whereas Manchester United stumbled yet again against a Saha-less Fulham at Loftus Road and only managed to get one point of the game. This means that Arsenal now have a nine-point lead and that Manchester United have even dropped to third place behind Chelsea on goal difference.

In truth, things were much tenser than the final outcome of the day indicates. The Gunners were glorious in the first half of their game against Charlton, but were almost made to pay once again for their inability to kill the game. They should have been 3-0 or 4-0 up at half-time, and that would effectively have been the end of that. Instead, they were “only” 2-0 up, and a Charlton free-kick in the second half made for a very tense finish indeed. I must say I was quite disappointed to see that Lehmann didn’t even try to stop the free-kick (he just stood there and watched the ball fly past him). On the other hand, the work rate of most Arsenal players throughout the game was quite impressive. There is no doubt that there were a few tired legs on the pitch in the second half and that probably contributed to the tense finish.

But on the whole the Gunners’ performance was still miles ahead of Manchester United. They were incredibly sloppy in their passing, and would have been rightfully booed if they had been playing at home.

Saha’s opener was classy, but that was pretty much the only good thing about their game. One cannot help but question Ferguson’s tactics here: Why on earth did he field such a weakened team — no van Nistelrooy, no Giggs, no Howard in the starting lineup — at such a crucial stage in the championship race? Arsenal were seven points ahead at the start of the day, and clearly Manchester could not afford to drop any more points.

I understand the need to rest players, but several of them, all at the same time, against a team that actually beat them at Old Trafford not long ago? With or without Saha, Fulham have many hard working players, and that was evident again yesterday. They fully deserved their point, and probably would have won with another striker in their ranks.

Anyway, it was definitely an excellent week for Arsenal, with the win at Stamford Bridge, the win in Spain in the Champions’ League, the Ashburton Grove deal, and now this. Nine points is a huge lead at this stage in the season. You can’t help but feel that the game against Manchester United at Highbury in two weeks might be the final nail in the coffin — even if things are still mathematically not over, of course.

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