Chelsea lead ambitious final charge
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech has warned Manchester United and Arsenal that his side are ready to take advantage of any more stumbles from their Premier League title rivals.
Carlo Ancelotti's side, who host struggling West Ham United on Saturday, are the Premier League's on-form team after winning five and drawing one of their last six matches. That run has catapulted them back into the title race just in time for the season finale.
In contrast, leaders United, who host Everton on Saturday, dropped two points in a 0-0 draw at Newcastle United on Tuesday and crashed out of the FA Cup against Manchester City and also have a UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg against Schalke next week.
Arsenal, who travel to Bolton on Sunday, have fared even worse in recent weeks, with five draws from their last six matches pushing them down to third place. United remain favourites to win the sprint to the title, but Cech is convinced second-placed Chelsea are capable of catching Sir Alex Ferguson's men.
"They have to play a Champions League semi-final, so let's see how they cope," Cech said. "We have one competition to focus on, which is to our advantage because we can prepare all week and get more rest. We've been saying for a long time we want to keep winning and maintain the pressure on everybody.
"Arsenal are third for the first time in a long time so let's see how they cope with this new situation. They had plenty of chances to close the gap and haven't taken them. United have to play us and Arsenal so there could possibly be six points dropped by them.
"We have two games at home against West Ham and Spurs to come and, if we win both, the situation could change again."
Back to the drawing board
While Chelsea have been revitalised by their winning run, Arsenal are a team low on belief after blowing leads against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. A penalty deep into injury-time rescued a point for Liverpool last Sunday and then Tottenham came from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 in Wednesday's north London derby.
Those were significant blows to an already fragile group and Arsenal winger Andrei Arshavin admits the title could be beyond them now.
"We are fighting, but we have few chances," Arshavin said. "To catch up with Manchester United is of course very difficult. The main task for us now is to achieve maximum points from our remaining matches."
Tight race for fourth
The battle for fourth place promises to be just as enthralling, with Manchester City currently clinging onto the last Champions League spot ahead of Tottenham. Although FA Cup finalists City could be surpassed by Tottenham by the time they face Blackburn on Monday, manager Roberto Mancini is relaxed about his team's top-four challenge.
"Everything is in our hands," Mancini said. "We do not depend on Tottenham or other teams. If we win our games we will go in the Champions League."
Spurs striker Peter Crouch concedes his team must beat West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane on Saturday to stay in the hunt, but the England international claims all the pressure is on City. "They're under more pressure than we are," Crouch said. "That doesn't make us have any less desire to get in there, but we have probably got a bit more freedom than them."
At the other end of the table, third bottom Blackpool will be boosted by the news that captain Charlie Adam is fit to face Newcastle after suffering a foot injury in last weekend's loss to Wigan Athletic.
Bottom of the table Wolverhampton Wanderers host Fulham, while fourth bottom Wigan face a massive battle against Sunderland, who are five points from the relegation zone and look in free fall after losing eight of their last nine matches.
Assistant coach Gary McAllister will take charge of Aston Villa for their home game against Stoke as manager Gerard Houllier rests in hospital after being taken ill earlier in the week.