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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March 2008, 12:58 GMT
Alan Hansen's column
Alan Hansen
By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Wenger and Ferguson
If Man Utd beat Liverpool and Arsenal lose to Chelsea, Wenger can forget the title

The Premier League pace-setters face a pivotal weekend as the top four meet in direct opposition - with a lot of pressure on Arsenal as Manchester United turn up the heat.

In-form Liverpool visit Manchester United, while Arsenal go to Stamford Bridge to play a Chelsea side who cannot yet be discounted when it comes to the title.

Arsenal were in pole position a few short weeks ago, with a run of games that would hardly have sent fear shuddering through the Emirates Stadium. And yet they have drawn away at Birmingham and Wigan and at home against Aston Villa and Middlesbrough.

And their slump would have been compounded even further had Chelsea beaten Spurs on Wednesday night.

But the thrilling 4-4 draw sees the west London outfit sit two points behind their north London counterparts ahead of Sunday's derby.

If United beat Liverpool and Arsenal lose at Chelsea, Wenger can wave the title bye-bye in my opinion.

If we look at Manchester United's meeting with Liverpool, it has all the ingredients to make a classic on paper and yet - because it is so tight and tension plays a huge part - it normally ends as a non-event.

I believe the key will come at both ends. How will Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic fare against Fernando Torres, whose partnership with Steven Gerrard looks magnificent? How will Liverpool's defence cope with Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez?

Javier Mascherano
Torres and Gerrard have been superb, but no more influential than Javier Mascherano

Liverpool are looking really good, and while all the bouquets are understandably being aimed in the direction of Torres and Gerrard, Javier Mascherano has really caught my eye.

In the last five or six games he has been absolutely outstanding, giving great protection to Liverpool's back four.

This is where it looks like Liverpool have got the balance right - they have got Mascherano making them difficult to score against and Torres and Gerrard giving them potency going forward.

I will be very interested to see how Torres plays at Old Trafford because he didn't play well against Ferdinand and Vidic when United won at Liverpool. He will have more space away from Anfield, so it will be intriguing to see how he fares.

I am still of the opinion that if Rafael Benitez had played Torres in all Liverpool's games earlier in the season, rather than rest him in goalless draws against Portsmouth and Birmingham, they would be a lot closer to the title than they are.

He has grown into the season, has pace to burn and has the capability to score goals of any kind.

These games are usually decided by the odd goal - more often in United's favour in recent times - but Liverpool will go there thinking they can win.

If every 20 passes brought a goal, Arsenal would have beaten Middlesbrough 45-0 - but football doesn't operate on that basis

BBC Sport's Alan Hansen

Arsenal's game at Chelsea is of huge importance to them after the way they have seen a healthy advantage disappear in recent weeks.

I think a number of factors have produced this slip, starting with the poor performance against Manchester United in the FA Cup, when they looked like they didn't want to be there, to William Gallas's behaviour at the end of the 2-2 draw with Birmingham.

I have been asked what would have happened under a manager like Bob Paisley at Liverpool if our captain had walked away from that last-minute penalty that gave Birmingham a point.

Well, first of all it would not have happened, and if it had, the person involved would not have been captain in the next game.

606: DEBATE
AnnaT - BBC Sport

It was a message of defeat from a captain whose side were six points clear in the Premier League. I found it incredible.

Arsenal have also had a problem they have had for years. When games are tight, their passing style is not equipped to grind out wins in the way Manchester United and Chelsea would do.

If every 20 passes brought a goal, they would have beaten Middlesbrough 45-0 - but football doesn't operate on that basis.

Sometimes you need another option and just get the ball up there - but Emmanuel Adebayor has gone off the boil in recent weeks so we are back to pass, pass, pass.

I would actually call both games as a draw.

It is all getting very interesting at the other end of the table - only Derby are down and after Spurs in 11th place, no-one can feel safe.

I actually feel Bolton will have enough to get out of trouble, but keep an eye on Fulham because I think Roy Hodgson has done a good job there.

They got a draw at Blackburn and then had a great win against Everton. Now they go to Newcastle in a massive game. I think Roy has sorted a few things out and got them playing.

I feel Newcastle will stay up, especially with Michael Owen to score goals for them, but there will be some nervous teams in the bottom half of the table in the next few weeks.

Alan Hansen was talking to Phil McNulty



SEE ALSO
Chelsea v Arsenal
21 Mar 08 |  Premier League
Man Utd v Liverpool
21 Mar 08 |  Premier League
Tactical analysis
21 Mar 08 |  Premier League
Big four set for Sunday showdown
21 Mar 08 |  Premier League
Tottenham 4-4 Chelsea
20 Mar 08 |  Premier League
Man Utd 2-0 Bolton
19 Mar 08 |  Premier League
Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea
16 Dec 07 |  Premier League
Liverpool 0-1 Man Utd
16 Dec 07 |  Premier League


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