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Chelsea's title race dented by Gunners
Latest Updated by 2006-12-12 17:45:11
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Any faint hopes Chelsea may have had of another comfortable run to the Premier League title looks well and truly scuppered by its 1-1 draw with Arsenal.

By December 12 in 2005, a buoyant Chelsea was 12 points clear at the top after a playing a game more and bookmakers had paid out three months earlier on bets they would retain the club's first title for 50 years.

Today, Jose Mourinho's men are eight points behind leader Manchester United, albeit with a game in hand, and locked in what promises to be a protracted dogfight with Alex Ferguson's side.

Chelsea needed a stunning 86th minute equalizer by Ghana midfielder Michael Essien to earn a point after trailing to a 78th minute strike from Arsenal's Mathieu Flamini.

It could have snatched victory after Essien and Frank Lampard hit the woodwork in a thrilling finale at a rain swept Stamford Bridge.

The role reversal, which also raises the stakes for Wednesday's home game with Newcastle United, is all the more of a surprise as Chelsea was typically lavish in its close-season spending.

Whether in fees, such as the 30 million pounds (58 million U.S. dollars) paid to AC Milan for Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko, or in wages, with the reported 125,000 pounds (243,496 dollars) a week earned by Germany midfielder Mich-ael Ballack, Chelsea proved once again it is without equal.

Add the arrival of promising young Nigerian midfielder John Obi Mikel, prized away from a planned move to United, and Chelsea had made English football's best squad even stronger. Yet things have not quite gone to plan for the club owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Mikel has been consigned to the remote fringes of the first team, while the other two are still adapting to the rough and tumble of the English game. The apprenticeship is proving a particularly painful one for Shevchenko.

In terms of results, Chelsea is not quite matching the irrepressible rhythm of a year ago.

Last season, it won 14 of its first 16 games. The draw with Arsenal left it with 11 wins from the same number of games and it has also scored nine fewer league goals than last time.

More importantly, Chelsea has been powerless to prevent the improvement at United.

With much the same squad, but with better form from forwards Cristiano Ronaldo and Louis Saha, plus tighter defending with Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, United is now winning matches it was only drawing before.

Ferguson said after last week's impressive 3-1 Champions League victory over Benfica that his younger players had gained in maturity and experience - and it certainly shows in the statistics. United won 10 of its opening 16 games last season - this time it has won 13 of them, conceding only eight goals along the way instead of 14 last time.

For Arsenal, Sunday's draw left only mathematicians and its most blinkered fans believing it can bridge the 18-point gap on United, despite a game in hand.

For all its entertaining football, Arsenal's domestic plans now revolve around cups and earning a Champions League place. That fate is shared by Liverpool, which coincidentally is Arsenal's opponent in both League and FA cup-ties.

This season's Premier League title race is already a two-horse affair. It may not be the ultimate in terms of cutthroat competition, but many will prefer it to another procession from west London.

Editor: Donald

By: Source:China View website
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