Arsenal pile on the pressure

The EPL title race hots up as the Gunners draw strength from their European success.

    Arsenal will gain confidence from their big win over Porto in the Champions League  [AFP]

    The impeccable form of champions Manchester United has dominated headlines following their demolition of Italian side AC Milan in the Champions League.

    But Arsenal, like United, are also coming off a big victory in Europe, a 5-0 crushing of FC Porto on Tuesday, as the London side booked their spot in the Champions League quarter-finals.

    Now both clubs must turn their attention to the English title race where Arsenal are snapping at the heels of United and Chelsea in a bid to win their first silverware since 2005.

    Easier ride

    Arsenal lie in third place in the league, two points behind leaders United and level with Chelsea, who have a game in hand.

    The Gunners travel to Hull City on Saturday, the first game in a nine-match run-in that looks easier than both United's and Chelsea's.

    Arsenal are poised on the shoulders of their rivals as the home straight looms but this is definitely not the time to stutter.

    "We've been written off twice already I think," said Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.

    "Maybe we will have the last laugh, we will see at the end of the season. You have to focus every game and we will see where we are at the end of the season."

    Only four of Arsenal's remaining games are against sides currently in the top half of the table with the potential dangers lurking away to Tottenham Hotspur and at home to Manchester City, both of whom are fighting for the fourth spot.

    "I feel that we know we are going into a period where every game is vital," manager Arsene Wenger said, after watching Nicklas Bendtner score a hat-trick against Porto.

    EPL fixtures

    Saturday March 13

     Birmingham v Everton
     Bolton v Wigan
     Burnley v Wolverhampton
     Chelsea v West Ham
     Hull v Arsenal
     Stoke v Aston Villa
     Tottenham v Blackburn

    Sunday March 14

     Man Utd v Fulham
     Sunderland v Man City

    Monday March 15

     Liverpool v Portsmouth

    Tuesday March 16

     Wigan v Aston Villa

    "We are focusing on every game in the Premier League because if you don't do that you can lose anywhere. Already in my mind is Hull because I know that will be a big game for us."

    Arsenal are almost certain not to have Fabregas back for the trip to Hull due to injury, but with Samir Nasri in scintillating form and Sol Campbell a reassuring rock at the back, Arsenal are buoyant.

    No mistakes

    After Wayne Rooney took his goal tally for the season to 30 with two more against Milan, Manchester United have a home game against a Fulham side who have won only one league game in 14 away from home and should be confident of staying two points ahead of Chelsea and Arsenal.

    But with Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City all still to play boss Alex Ferguson will remind his players they have little margin for error as they chase a 19th English league title.

    The biggest danger to United could be the fitness of Rooney, who has been hampered by a nagging knee injury which kept him out of last weekend's 1-0 victory at Wolves.

    "His performance was a continuation of his form in the last few months, just sensational and unbelievable,'' Ferguson said.

    "He's still carrying a bit of an injury, nothing serious.''

    With Michael Owen sidelined for the rest of the season, Ferguson has fewer chances to rest Rooney. With Wednesday's game against Milan virtually won, he took Rooney off and replaced him with Dimitar Berbatov.

    Chelsea will hope to bounce back after their home loss to Man City [GALLO/GETTY]

    Back on track

    Chelsea have not played in the league since a 4-2 home defeat by Manchester City and will be anxious to get back on track against struggling West Ham United on Saturday.

    "Our home record has probably been as good as anyone's over the last few years but bad results can happen and sometimes they can be a kick in the right direction if you react positively enough," Chelsea's former West Ham midfielder Frank Lampard told the club's website.

    "We have certainly got it in us to go on a good run and every team has faltered at times this season when there has been opportunities to kick on in the league. The team that puts together a consistent run now can go and win the league."

    Elsewhere, the race for the lucrative European fourth spot continues.

    Tottenham are fourth going into a home game against Blackburn on Saturday but are level on points with Manchester City, who visit Sunderland on Sunday and have a game in hand.

    Liverpool squandered a chance of going fourth when they tamely lost 1-0 at Wigan on Monday and are a point behind having played a game more.

    Rafa Benitez' team do not play their next league game until Monday, however, when they host last place Portsmouth.

    Lurking behind Liverpool are Aston Villa, who have four points to make up on Tottenham but have played two games fewer. Villa visit Stoke who have proved tough to beat at home. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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