Sir Alex Ferguson believes the Premier League title race is down to Manchester United and Arsenal. Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images
Sir Alex Ferguson has ruled Manchester City out of the Premier League title race for the first time after declaring it is now a straight two-horse race between Manchester United and Arsenal.
Ferguson has concluded Arsène Wenger’s side are the only serious threat to United’s hopes of winning a record 19th league championship, and that there is no capacity for City to haul back an eight-point deficit, particularly as Roberto Mancini’s side have played a game more.
The front two have broken clear of City, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, with United hoping to capitalise on Arsenal’s involvement in the Carling Cup to extend their lead at the top of the table to four points by maintaining their immaculate winning record against Wigan Athletic.
“I think Arsenal or ourselves will win it,” he said. “What I said earlier in the season was that normally two teams break away. You come towards the end of the season and it always seems to come down to two teams and that’s the way it’s looking now.”
It is only a few weeks since Ferguson said there were five clubs with genuine title aspirations, insisting that the possibility of a Chelsea recovery could not be discounted. His shift in thinking seems to stem from winning the Manchester derby a fortnight ago and Chelsea’s home defeat to Liverpool. With only one league defeat all season, United can move 15 points clear of Carlo Ancelotti’s side by winning at Wigan – a 25-point swing since September – and Ferguson quickly dismissed John Terry’s suggestion that the 18-times champions may yet buckle.
“You try things. We all try things. But it won’t be easy to come back from that kind of points deficit. I said some time ago that the most consistent team would win the league.”
United’s manager is frustrated that his team have won only three away games in the league when they have such a formidable home record, with only two points dropped throughout the campaign. After the trip to Wigan the next assignment is a game at Chelsea on Tuesday and then Liverpool at Anfield next weekend.
“Our away form has not been as good as it normally is. That’s the acid test, I suppose. We’ve got these three away games now. It’s difficult to say why it’s been this way but our record at Chelsea recently has been poor and we have to do something about that. That’s what Tuesday is about but, first, we have to focus all our attention on a Wigan side that play very good football.”
Rio Ferdinand is targeting the trip to Liverpool for his comeback from a calf injury. “Chris Smalling has been fantastic but he is only 20 and, going to Liverpool, if Rio is fit and ready I will definitely play him,” Ferguson said. Ryan Giggs and Michael Owen should both return to the squad for the Wigan match. Ferguson was asked about Owen Hargreaves’s fitness and replied: “I’m not getting into that.”