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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 May, 2003, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Ten weeks that turned the title
By Paul Fletcher


When Arsenal stormed eight points clear of Manchester United in early March, one bookmaker paid out on Arsene Wenger's team retaining the title.

But that decision was to backfire as the destiny of the Premiership turned spectacularly north towards Old Trafford.

Week-by-week, Arsenal's grip on top spot loosened as United refused to settle for second best.

Here is how it happened.


Week One: 1-7 March

Arsenal beat Charlton on 2 March, to extend their lead over Man Utd at the top of the Premiership to eight points.

On the same day United lose 2-0 to Liverpool in the Worthington Cup final.

The season seems to have swung decisively towards Highbury, but United beat Leeds 2-1 on Tuesday to reduce the deficit to five points.


Week Two: 8-14 March

There are no Premiership matches over the weekend, but Arsenal draw 2-2 with Chelsea in the FA Cup.

United, knocked out of the cup by the Gunners, have a week to rest and recuperate.


Week Three: 15-21 March

The race for the Premiership takes a decisive turn on 15 March.

United scrape past Villa 1-0 in an early Saturday kick-off while, a couple of hours later Arsenal slip-up at Blackburn, losing 2-0.

Suddenly Arsenal's eight point advantage is down to two points and United boss Sir Alex Ferguson can sense the Gunners stumbling.

Four days later Arsenal crash out of Europe after losing 2-1 in Valencia, a defeat which Wenger believes was a turning point in the Gunners' season.


Week Four: 22-28 March

United go top of the table for the first time in the season thanks to a comprehensive 3-0 win over struggling Fulham.

The pressure is now really on Wenger's team, who have seen their eight point lead eroded in the space of just 20 days.

Arsenal meet much-improved Everton on Sunday and win 2-1 through a Patrick Vieira goal after Wayne Rooney's equaliser had threatened disaster.


Week Five: 29 March - 4 April

With Euro 2004 qualifiers taking place there are no Premiership games.

Although both managers are anxious their star players avoid injury while away, Ferguson seems visibly relaxed and is relishing the challenge of regaining the title.

Wenger has to concern himself with his team's deteriorating form, a far cry from the scintillating football of earlier in the season.

Both men have started to exchange jibes and taunts, the media relishing this fascinating battle of wills.


Week Six: 5-11 April

United again kick-off early on Saturday 5 April, thrashing Liverpool 4-0.

Arsenal take to the field against Villa knowing they need to win to return to top spot.

But whereas United had ground out a 1-0 win at the same venue 18 days earlier, Kolo Toure inexplicably smashes the ball into his own net and the match finishes 1-1.


Week Seven: 12 - 18 April

United respond to losing to Madrid in the Champions League by thrashing Newcastle 6-2 at St James' Park, in the process finally extinguishing the Magpies' foundering title hopes.

It is an ominous statement.

The following day Arsenal narrowly win their FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United.

Arsenal meet United at Highbury in midweek in the match dubbed by many as the title decider.

United dominate the first half but Arsenal regroup after trailing 1-0. Wenger's men take the lead, but the game ends 2-2.

Ferguson leaves nobody in any doubt as to his thoughts on the result as he jigs triumphantly to the United fans, with beaming smile and raised arms.

United top the Premiership by three points and although Arsenal have a game in hand, they are hit by news that Patrick Vieira could miss the rest of the season with injury.


Week Eight: 19 - 25 April

It's as you were; Arsenal beat Middlesbrough 2-0 and United beat Blackburn 3-1.

Days later United are knocked out of Europe by Real Madrid, despite beating the Spanish side 4-3 at Old Trafford.


Week Nine: 26 April - 2 May

Arguably, the decisive Saturday. Arsenal squander a two-goal lead at Bolton in the last 10 minutes and leave with only a point.

The match is also Sol Campbell's last of the campaign before his suspension, incurred for elbowing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, ends his season.

United respond by beating Spurs 2-0 at White Hart Lane the following day.

Arsenal present a glum face to the media, admitting that the destiny of the Premiership is no longer in their hands.


Week Ten: 3 - 11 May

United edge closer to the title by thumping Charlton 4-1 with Ruud van Nistelrooy bagging his third hat-trick of the season.

The pressure is on Arsenal who have to beat Leeds to stay alive in the championship race - but they crash to a 3-2 defeat to hand their crown back to Manchester United.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Man Utd manager Alex Ferguson
"What a run we've had, it's been magnificent"


Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger
"We lost to a team who spend 50% more than we do"




MANCHESTER UNITED

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