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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 12:13 GMT
Premiership set for thrilling finish
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger watches his team in action at Newcastle
Wenger's Arsenal are in the strongest position

It was billed as the start of the final phase of the Premiership season.

And at the end of a Sunday that saw the three title contenders in action, two managers will probably look to missed opportunities and the other to the future.

HEAD-TO-HEAD
Arsenal - 57pts
Man Utd - 54pts
11 games left
Showdown at Highbury on 15 April
Had Newcastle beaten Arsenal on Sunday the Premiership would unquestionably now be a three-horse race.

Manchester United's failure to defeat Manchester City at Old Trafford really opened the door for Newcastle to close ground on the top two.

Sir Bobby Robson would have been all too aware of the situation after Shaun Goater's late goal earned City a point in the early kick-off game at Old Trafford.

If Robson's team could defeat Arsenal at St James' Park, the resurgent Magpies would trail the former champions by just two points and Arsenal by five - and this with a game in hand on them both.

His young side, recently buoyed by the arrival of Jonathan Woodgate, went into the game confident of a positive result.

They had taken 36 from a possible 39 points at home.

But if Sunday concluded anything it is that Newcastle's failure to beat Arsenal extinguished their quietly optimistic hopes of making a late charge for the Premiership.

Sir Alex Ferguson watches his team's 1-1 draw with Man City
Ferguson: "Carelessness cost us"
"We've lost that little chance now," Robson said afterwards.

Nonetheless, for a man soon to turn 70 Robson can look to the future with great optimism.

Ferguson and Wenger are not so much looking to the future as much as the next 11 Premiership games.

Sunday's two fixtures had no effect on the standing at the very top - with just three points separating the top two.

Fluctuating fortunes throughout the day would have left both men debating the ever-changing merits of a point.

Ferguson was furious about his team's failure to defeat City - blaming missed chances and poor refereeing.

When the final whistle went at Old Trafford, Ferguson would have been kicking himself at leaving the way open for Arsenal to extend their grip on a Premiership title they are determined to defend.

After a trophyless campaign last season the United manager is desperate to deliver.

I'm happy with the performance and the spirit we showed

Arsene Wenger on the draw at Newcastle
His personal antipathy towards Wenger only heightens his competitive instincts and desire to restore his team's position as the country's finest.

But Arsenal failed to defeat a Newcastle team that played the last 30 minutes with 10 men after Laurent Robert's petulance undermined his team's chances just minutes after his brilliant goal had restored them.

And after Newcastle held Arsenal Ferguson could reflect on how his team are still within three points of the leaders.

Had Arsenal won at Newcastle they would have extended their lead and dented United's sense of momentum.

Arsenal players celebrate Thierry Henry's goal at Newcastle
Henry (left) scored against for Arsenal
Nevertheless, Wenger did not sound too disappointed with a point and knows United have yet to travel to Newcastle.

There will doubtless be many more twists and turns as the season nears it climax - but one thing if for sure.

For the remainder of the season the race for the Premiership will see the league's two heavyweights toe-to-toe for the title - and never more so than on 15 April when they meet at Highbury.

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