Is it Arsenal or United’s title?

After Arsenal’s surprise Carling Cup final loss to Birmingham last weekend, United again took the lead before losing, this time to Chelsea, to give the London side renewed hope.

In what promises to be an exceptionally close title race, it appears that it will be these two teams toughing it out until the end of the season, in a flashback to the end of the 1990s, when Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger’s teams regularly contested two way title tussles.

The prediction I will make must include a giant red disclaimer – this journalist is an Arsenal fan. There is no way I will predict that Manchester United will win the league title. So whilst my prediction is tainted with an obvious bias, I will make it anyway, and I will attempt to do so as objectively as is possible for a supporter of a team involved in the race.

Mentally, both teams have what it takes to win the league. Ferguson’s side are the masters of recovering from adversity and have demonstrated their ability on numerous occasions this season to win when not playing well. If there is an edge in the battle, it could be that United are better at doing that, whilst Arsenal have a habit of contriving to draw or lose games that they dominate.

But then conversely, United have dropped more points to teams lower down the league than Arsenal this season (15 points from 16 games against the bottom 10). Whereas Wenger’s men have ceded just six points in 15 games against the same teams. This is largely due to Arsenal’s record away from home, where they have picked up crucial victories in games United have only drawn, against the likes of Aston Villa, Birmingham and Everton.

The riposte to this would be simple; Manchester United have an incredible record at home, having dropped points only once – to West Brom. Arsenal on the other hand lost to the Midlanders, whilst also managing to lose to Tottenham and Newcastle.

Both teams have dropped points in games they should not. In Arsenal’s case, they have so far improved significantly, winning six and drawing once, against Champions League contenders Manchester City, since their third home defeat to Tottenham. Manchester United meanwhile, have started to win away from home, beating West Brom, Wigan and Blackpool, though they have also lost those games to Wolves and Chelsea.

So it is reasonable to suggest that whichever team does better at rectifying their flaw will win the league, given that the teams are so narrowly separated. The evidence of 2011 so far is that Arsenal have narrowed the gap slightly whilst improving their home form, whilst United have also improved their away form. But one crucial point is that it is easier to improve home than away form. Ok, I’ll get off my fence and make a prediction.

Arsenal remaining games:
V Sunderland (H) 2-0
V West Brom (A) 2-1
V Blackburn (H) 3-0
V Blackpool (A) 4-1
V Liverpool (H) 1-1
V Tottenham (A) 1-1
V Bolton (A) 2-1
V Manchester United (H) 2-2
V Stoke (A) 2-1
V Aston Villa (H) 3-1
V Fulham (A) 1-0

Man Utd remaining games
V Liverpool (A) 0-0
V Bolton (H) 2-1
V West Ham (A) 1-1
V Fulham (H) 2-1
V Newcastle (A) 2-1
V Everton (H) 3-1
V Arsenal (A) 2-2
V Chelsea (H) 2-1
V Blackburn (A) 1-1
V Blackpool (H) 4-0

And so the grand points totals each side would achieve in the highly unlikely event that I predict all of these scores correctly will be 83 to Arsenal, and 82 to Manchester United. It must be stressed that I used the BBC’s wonderful predictor tool and as I went through making these predictions, I did not know who would be ahead week by week so this is not as biased a prediction as it could be, but my Arsenal tinted glasses have probably shone through. In the ultimate analysis, my prediction is for Arsenal to close the gap before United surge ahead as fixture congestion takes its toll on Wenger’s men during April, but for Ferguson’s side to fall at the penultimate hurdle with a draw against a tough Blackburn side giving Arsenal the title.