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Premier League: it’s crunch time

Last update - Thursday, April 8, 2010, 13:04 By Eoin Reynolds

On 16 May 2009, Manchester United clinched their third consecutive Premier League title with a goalless draw against Arsenal. That title race went all the way to the last day of the season – are we in store for a similar spectacle this year?

For the first time in three seasons, it would seem that there are three genuine title contenders remaining, in the closing stages. While Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have all had their individual hiccups this season, this is traditionally the time of year that one team rises to the occasion and stamps their authority on the league.
But who among them possess the strength and character to make the final important lunge across the finish line?
While Man United have had their defensive frailties this season, it would seem that they’ve steadied the ship somewhat, with the return to form of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Critics have warned that they have been too heavily reliant on Wayne Rooney’s goals this season, but with Rooney seemingly on the injured list for the next month, it's a great chance for Dimitar Berbatov to show his quality.
Sir Alex Ferguson has been involved in title races several times, and will not be fazed by the congestion of fixtures or high pressure matches. Traditionally the Red Devils excel at this stage of the season, and with the experience of their manager and their senior players, it’s hard to look past them sealing a fourth title on the bounce.
In comparison to last year, Chelsea have had an indifferent season. At times their soccer has been utterly explosive, although since the John Terry scandal their usually watertight defence has looked leaky at the seams.
Their recent exit from the Champions League at the hands of Inter Milan seemed to put a dampener on their whole season, with many of their players looking demoralised and lacking in self-confidence. However, they have improved their shaky league form recently and with real winners like Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba on their books it’s hard to discount them.
In many ways Chelsea’s absence from European competition may hand them a huge advantage, with United and Arsenal both having mid-week and weekend ties to worry about.
Many see the Gunners as the perennial dark horses. Each season we expect to see their crop of young stars emerge into a team of men, only to see them fall within sight of the final hurdle.
In many ways they have proved themselves more capable this season than any one preceding it. Their hunger to win something this season has been evident in the way they’ve battled for league victories, and how they’ve overcome setbacks like losing Robin Van Persie and more recently Aaron Ramsey to long-term injury.
Despite their newly acquired battling qualities, the recent season-ending injury suffered by Cesc Fabregas may prove to be their downfall. Their lack of firepower is also evident: Nicklas Bendtner has been thrust into the spotlight and expected to spearhead their attack, but he has the consistency of a runny egg.
It remains to be seen whether Wenger’s boys are ready to graduate into Premier League champions, though they are many neutrals’ favourites as a result of the calibre and style of football they play. 
In a season of irregularities, it’s all shaping up to be an exciting end to the English soccer league calendar. There are three horses still left in this race, and I for one am glad there’s no clear favourite to back.

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