|Arsene Wenger has his side ready to pounce [GALLO/GETTY]|
English Premier League club Arsenal have moved into pole position to claim this year’s league title after they extended their lead over main rival Manchester United to five points and third placed Chelsea lies a further three points back with 12 rounds to go.
Because FA Cup and Champions League fixtures follow, that lead will remain for close to two weeks at least and could give Arsenal a psychological advantage.
"Five points in front, we're not going to believe we have no chance,'' said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose team beat Blackburn 2-0 Monday to move to 63 points from 26 games.
"We believe we have a chance to do it, but we're conscious as well that we have to keep our humility, our team spirit and the way we want to play the game. We have to focus on that.''
Wenger, who has guided Arsenal to three Premier League titles since arriving in 1996, has been quietly confident all season that his team could win the championship for the first time in four seasons.
"We have still 12 games to go. We are in a good position. We believe we can do it,'' Wenger said.
"We always had the belief from the first day, but there's still a long way to go. As soon as you're not at your best at the top, you can drop points.
"It's far from being over. We'll have to fight until the last minute of the championship. We still have a hard games ahead of us.''
The Gunners go to Manchester United in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday and a victory would be another major blow to the Red Devils, which lost 2-1 at home to Manchester City on Saturday.
"It was a very good weekend for us,'' Wenger said.
|We are in a good position. We believe we can do it,'' Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manger|
"We were a bit under pressure to take advantage of the situation after what happened on Sunday.''
Arsenal still has Manchester United and Chelsea to play away from home.
The Gunners were held 2-2 at home by Man United in November, but beat the Blues 1-0 a month later.
Bookmakers William Hill now have Arsenal as a strong 4-7 favorite to win the title.
Defending champion Manchester United is at 2-1 and Chelsea, which won five league games in a row before drawing with Portsmouth and Liverpool, is 6-1.
Before United lost to City on Sunday, Ferguson's team was still the favourite, but the defeat prompted bookmakers to swing toward Arsenal even before the Gunners kicked off against Blackburn.
|Sir Alex Ferguson: May be haunted by the lost |
points against Manchester City [GALLO/GETTY]
Man United can still make up ground by winning its own games against its two big rivals. The Red Devils host Arsenal and visits Chelsea two weeks later.
"It was an important weekend for Arsenal in that ourselves and Chelsea dropped points,'' Ferguson said while in South Africa to promote United's tour ahead of next season.
"But points will be dropped by all the teams. There is a long way to go and it makes it interesting now,'' Ferguson added.
"It's going to be a really good, tight finish. It's something the neutrals will all be enthralled by.''
Chelsea's title chances will be boosted by the return of four players from the African Cup of Nations.
Strikers Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou and midfielder Michael Essien reached the semifinals with the Ivory Coast and Ghana.
Chelsea manager Avram Grant, who also lost midfielder Jon Obi Mikel to the Nigerian team, said his squad did well to stay in the Premier League title contention with so many players missing.
"I think there was big physical pressure on the players, a small group in the last two months, so maybe they are a little tired having also played with the national team,'' Grant said.
"This is part of the game now at top clubs, they did a good job until now and I hope they continue.''