LONDON - For those with a morbid fascination for other people's misfortune, the Emirates Stadium is the place to be on Sunday as Arsenal and Chelsea meet in the wake of shattering midweek experiences. Both fell at the semi-final hurdle of the Champions League with Arsenal simply outclassed by Manchester United in a 4-1 aggregate drubbing while Chelsea had two feet and a hand in the final before Barcelona knocked them out deep in stoppage time. Arsenal's self esteem will have to return quickly if they are to trouble a Chelsea outfit burning with a sense of injustice from Wednesday's traumatic finale against Barca when they had four legitimate penalty claims turned down. The Gunners looked demoralised as they were torn to shreds by a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired United on Tuesday, and manager Arsene Wenger's body language suggested his faith in his side's ability to become a true force is shaken. Another defeat by Chelsea, following last month's FA Cup semi-final loss, would end Arsenal's slim hopes of nicking third place from the Blues and thereby avoid the lottery of a non-seeded fourth qualifying round tie for a place in next season's Champions League. They are also still to visit United in the league. With three matches remaining Chelsea are six points above Arsenal and six behind leaders Manchester United, who with a game in hand hold a three-point lead over second-placed Liverpool and look odds on for an 18th title. Liverpool have valiantly pushed United all the way this season and will be hoping for another twist in the title race when United host Manchester City on Sunday at Old Trafford, although Liverpool first must take three points from Gianfranco Zola's seventh-placed West Ham United on Saturday. Rafael Benitez's side should have striker Fernando Torres back for the trip to east London where victory would take them back to the top, for 24 hours at least, although midfielder Xabi Alonso, victim of a horrible tackle by Newcastle United's Joey Barton on Sunday is doubtful. Liverpool have scored a whopping 35 goals in their last 11 matches and, according to defender Alvaro Arbeloa they are not yet calling off the chase of United. "I prefer to play before United," Arbeloa told Liverpoolfc.tv. "If we can win, maybe they will play against City with a bit more pressure. United need just seven points from their remaining games to retain the title and manager Alex Ferguson said on Tuesday his side were peaking at the perfect moment. While there is still plenty on the line at top end of the table, down in the gloom of the relegation zone, a real muck and nettles scrap is brewing at the St James' Park on Monday where Newcastle United host Middlesbrough. Should Hull City and Sunderland win on Saturday against Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers respectively, both Alan Shearer's Newcastle and Boro will be six points from safety with three matches remaining and defeat for either would likely be terminal to their hopes of staying up.
7 May 2009
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