Sat, Jan 22, 2005 - Page 18 News List

Gunners need to beat Newcastle


Arsenal's Freddie Ljungberg, left, celebrates with teammate Robert Pires after scoring on Manchester City at Highbury, London on Jan. 4. The game ended a 1-1 draw.


Already 10 points behind league-leader Chelsea, Arsenal can't afford another slip-up against Newcastle this weekend. Anything less than a win and the Gunners can virtually say goodbye to their Premier League title.

Just ask Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.

"There is so much ground for the teams chasing us to make up," Mourinho said. "If it goes from 10 to 12 or 13 points then maybe it will be over."

Either Arsenal or Manchester United has won the last nine league titles, but Chelsea has all but wrapped up the championship this season.

For either Arsenal or Manchester United to win the title, they would have to win all their remaining 15 games, while Chelsea would have to drop at least 10 points.

The Blues are 10 points clear of defending champion Arsenal and 11 ahead of Manchester United as they seek their first league title in 50 years.

Manchester United hosts Aston Villa, while the Blues play Portsmouth at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. If both win, Arsenal could be down to third place before it hosts Newcastle on Sunday.

Last week, Arsenal lost 1-0 to Bolton, while Manchester United edged Liverpool 1-0 and Chelsea beat Tottenham 2-0 for its sixth straight league win.

Chelsea has such a big lead that British bookmakers rate Mourinho's team as 1-9 title favorite, with Arsenal and Manchester United both at 8-1.

Arsenal and Manchester United seem more preoccupied with the spat between their respective managers, Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson.

The two have sniped at each other in the media since Manchester United ended Arsenal's 49-match unbeaten league streak in October. Players and officials from both teams scuffled in the tunnel after the game, and Ferguson was pelted with soup and food.

British sports minister Richard Caborn, the Premier League and even local police have urged the two to stop the feud ahead of the teams' league meeting at Highbury on Feb. 1.

"They can say what they want to each other," Mourinho said. "There is no pressure at the top -- the pressure is being second or third."

United plays Villa after needing a replay to eliminate non-league Exeter in the third round of the FA Cup. After an embarrassing 0-0 draw at Old Trafford, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney scored to win Wednesday's replay 2-0 in Exeter.

Arsenal has one boost ahead of its Newcastle match -- Magpies midfielder Nicky Butt will likely miss the game after getting injured in training. The former Manchester United player has missed the last 11 matches with a hamstring injury and now may need an operation.

"It is a massive blow to us and him and he is naturally very disappointed to have been hit with the same problem against just as he was on the verge of returning to the side," Newcastle manager Graeme Souness said.

At the other end of the table, the relegation battle has narrowed down to four clubs. Last-place West Bromwich Albion has 13 points from 23 matches.

Southampton has 15 points, Norwich 16 and Crystal Palace 18.

Today, it's West Brom versus Manchester City, Southampton versus Liverpool, Norwich versus Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace versus Tottenham. In other matches, it's Birmingham versus Fulham and Everton versus Charlton.

In the Football League Championship, leader Ipswich goes to Reading, Wigan hosts Watford and Sunderland hosts Sheffield United.

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