Man United on brink of Premiership glory

LONDON: When Sir Alex Ferguson walked through the door at Old Trafford in 1986 he memorably defined his job at Manchester United as "knocking Liverpool off their f***ing perch."

Twenty-two and a half years years later, the Scot finds himself on the brink of being able to declare "mission accomplished".

One point against an Arsenal side with nothing to play for in Saturday's lunchtime encounter will secure yet another triumph for one of the most extraordinary personalities his country has produced.

One point will mean a third consecutive Premier League title, the 11th of Ferguson's reign, the third trophy of this season and, most importantly for the man himself, it will mean that United have finally matched Liverpool's record haul of 18 English titles.

Arsenal are eminently capable of gate-crashing the party of course, but all the signs are that it should be an afternoon to savour on the Stretford End.

Memories of United's end-of-March blip have receded as the champions have hit their stride in recent weeks and they had something in reserve as Arsenal were swept aside in the Champions League semi-final earlier this month.

Typically, Ferguson has refused to let his players relax even though the finishing line is in sight, challenging them instead to take maximum points from their last two matches and finish the season with 92 points, which will be a club record in the Premier League.

The mood in Arsenal's camp will not have been helped by last weekend's 4-1 humiliation at the hands of Chelsea, but the recovery of Russian playmaker Andrey Arshavin from a flu virus gives Arsene Wenger's side a weapon they were unable to deploy in the Champions League, although they will be without injured first-choice goalkeeper Manuel Almunia.

For Arsenal, who have now gone four years without any silverware, the day is likely to trigger bittersweet memories of 2002, when Sylvain Wiltord's goal clinched 1-0 win and the title at Old Trafford.

Wenger has hinted that he will seek to add some experience to his squad, but he has also cautioned Gunners fans not to expect a summer splurge and reiterated his faith in his tyros.

"I believe in this team and from what I have seen in this season, that makes me quite optimistic. These players have the quality to beat anybody else."

While Wenger has graciously conceded that United have earned the title, there has been no such concession from his Liverpool counterpart Rafael Benitez, who will be keeping his fingers crossed for a Gunners victory that will keep the title alive until the final day of the season.

Liverpool travel to bottom side West Brom on Sunday and, if the title is lost by then, the Spaniard will readily pin most of the blame on bad luck with injuries.

"You cannot imagine if Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres had been fit all season where we would be now," Benitez said. "It has been a good season but we know it could be better."

Four points from their final two matches will guarantee Liverpool of second place ahead of Chelsea, who entertain Blackburn on Sunday with their thoughts increasingly focused on the FA Cup final against Everton at the end of the month.

At the other end of the table, both West Brom and Middlesbrough know defeat, at home to Liverpool and Aston Villa respectively, will make relegation a virtual certainty.

Hull have been installed as the favourites to join the bottom two in the Championship next season after slipping into the drop zone as a result of Newcastle's win over Middlesbrough on Monday.

And with Manchester United due at the KC Stadium on the last day of the season, Phil Brown's side know they must go all out for a win at Bolton and hope that Newcastle slip up at home to Fulham.

Wins for both Hull and Newcastle on Saturday would leave Sunderland in the bottom three ahead of their trip to Portsmouth, who are also not completely safe yet, on Monday.

Fixtures (1400 GMT unless stated):


Bolton v Hull, Everton v West Ham, Manchester Utd v Arsenal (1145 GMT), Middlesbrough v Aston Villa, Newcastle v Fulham, Stoke v Wigan, Tottenham v Manchester City


Chelsea v Blackburn (1500 GMT), West Brom v Liverpool (1230 GMT)


Portsmouth v Sunderland (1900 GMT)