Arsenal win sets up final twist
The Premier League season that refuses to go quietly is offering up the enticing possibility of the most dramatic twist of all after Arsenal deservedly beat Manchester United at the Emirates.
If the unseemly scramble and bunching at the bottom is not enough to ensure nerves will be tested fully in the final three games of a less than vintage season, United and Chelsea now meet at Old Trafford next Sunday with the title on the line.
Arsenal's role in the plot that unfolded with Sunday's fine victory will have been a source of delight, optimism, frustration and disappointment for manager Arsene Wenger, his players and their supporters - all in the space of 90 minutes.
Delight and optimism at a performance that proved Arsenal, as they have done against the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona at the Emirates, can get it right against the toughest opponents. Frustration and disappointment because they know carelessness and faultlines running through the side have cost them so dearly.
For United, there is still the not inconsiderable comfort of knowing their fate is in their own hands and it will be played out at their Old Trafford fortress, but also suddenly the knowledge that Carlo Ancelotti's side present a shadow on their shoulders.
Sir Alex Ferguson remains in prime position to claim United's 19th title but in a campaign of unpredictability it should come as no surprise that the race is going down to the last few yards.
Wenger fully expected this to be a day of impact on the destination of the title, irritatingly for him it was ultimately about what Arsenal could do for Chelsea rather than what they could do for themselves.
Ramsey celebrates his goal for Arsenal against Manchester United at the Emirates
"We were 1-0 up in the 97th minute against Liverpool and drew, we lost a 3-1 lead at Spurs and then missed chances to go 2-1 up against Bolton and ended up losing.
"If we could have made nine points from those games we would be ahead of Manchester United - so that was the time. I felt so strongly that we would win this championship"
Arsenal's display provided evidence that Wenger does not need to blitz his side in the summer, but make tweaks to his team and philosophy to ensure they are more fit for purpose over an entire season and in differing circumstances.
In so many aspects this did not tell us anything about Arsenal that we did not already know. Wenger's team has the talent to beat the best but also the unaddressed flaws that mean they can lose to the rest.
It also offered a glimpse into the possibility of life without Cesc Fabregas, which many think is an eventuality that will confront Arsenal sooner rather than later. Aaron Ramsey deputised for the injured captain and his match-winner was just reward for his team and for himself after a 14-month rehabilitation from the broken leg he suffered at Stoke City.
Ramsey and Jack Wilshere offer rich potential for the future, but Wenger must add some iron will and leadership around them if it is to be fulfilled. Fabregas' absence was overcome and the youngsters flourished as he watched in his black leather jacket form the sidelines.
United's players were silent as they trooped away, although substitute Michael Owen tweeted their dissatisfaction with how they performed in an uncharacteristically timid offering, a sharp contrast to the threat and thrust their Champions League semi-final win against Schalke in Germany.
Wayne Rooney followed suit on his Twitter feed by stressing the title is still in United's hands, but this was not a game he or United will recall with pleasure.
Ferguson has enjoyed much success by setting up his side to lie deep before punishing Arsenal on the counter. Here they were lying very deep but rarely offered a threat on the counter, perhaps a tell-tale sign for a side with only five away wins in the league this season.
Yes, United were below their best, sorely missing the experience and quality in possession of influenza victim Ryan Giggs, but it would be doing Arsenal a grave injustice to attribute the result to his absence alone. They were good value for a result that appeared to have Ferguson chomping his way towards the world gum-chewing record, especially during a first half that was virtually an uninterrupted tale of Arsenal domination.
This was Arsenal's day and although Ferguson had a justifiable grievance about not getting a late penalty when Owen was fouled by Gael Clichy, Wenger could trump that by offering up Nemanja Vidic's blatant - bizarre almost - handball that escaped the notice of the officials.
As Arsenal celebrated joyously at the final whistle, there may just have been a few cheers drifting across from west London as Chelsea and Ancelotti sense an opportunity to regain their crown that looked to have escaped them a few weeks ago.
Chelsea remain outsiders and Ancelotti still has Fernando Torres-sized tactical equations to solve before they travel to Old Trafford but they are in with a much bigger shout now than they were before kick-off at the Emirates.
United have it all in their grasp and have the experience of going course and distance, so the smart money remains on them - but it is no surprise this season threatens to play one last trick.