Towards the end of every Premier League season there are fixtures between teams at the top and bottom of the table that can go a long way to deciding the destination of the title or which sides go down. On this day in 2008 the title race was between three teams: Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, and two of those, the Red Devils and the Gunners, met at Old Trafford.
Before the game, Sir Alex Ferguson's men were top of the league by three points from Chelsea with Arsenal the same distance behind their fellow Londoners. A win, even if it seemed unlikely, for Arsenal would have put them within a win of their great rivals and would have ensured a tense finish to the title race. There was goal difference to contend with too, but at this stage of the season really anything other than a win would not have done.
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With the onus on Arsene Wenger's side to win, the manager picked both Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor up front and the attacking formation certainly worked in the first half. United were surprisingly in front of their own fans where they had dropped points just twice all season and the Gunners were able to control much of the play. Cesc Fabregas was instrumental in the midfield that his side dominated for 45 minutes, but somehow they were not out of sight at the break.
Fabregas and Alexander Hleb were finding pockets of space throughout the half and if it was not for Adebayor's profligacy, Arsenal would have had two or three goals in the first 45. The Togolese striker had an effort brilliantly blocked by Rio Ferdinand when really well placed in the box before he squandered two efforts from around the edge of the box and towards the end of the half he picked out Edwin van der Sar with a tame shot.
United could even have taken the lead themselves after Arsenal's wastefulness. Patrice Evra and Cristiano Ronaldo combined well to set up Wayne Rooney but Jens Lehmann, back in the side having missed out a couple of games, made a fine stop to deny him. The England striker had another less good chance saved before the break but United really were fortunate to go in level.
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Arsenal finally took the lead just three minutes into the half, but it was controversial. Van Persie dropped off his man again on the left side to thread an angled through ball to Adebayor who managed to bundle the ball into the net, although it did appear to take a final touch off his arm. As it stood, Arsenal were now level on points with Chelsea and three behind United, but of course this was a Ferguson team and they never knew when they were beaten.
The Gunners' frailty when ahead this season reared its head once more just four minutes later as United were level on 52 minutes. There was another handball from an Arsenal player, this time William Gallas in the box, but his did not go unnoticed. There was no reason for him to handle Owen Hargreaves's cross, but he did and it allowed Ronaldo to step up to level matters from the spot. It took until about that time for United to get into the game, but from then on they were the better team.
Carlos Tevez rifled a shot from range inches over the bar having been brought on as a substitute, and Gael Clichy saw a cross tipped on to the post by Van der Sar. Then came the final blow to Arsenal's title chances. Patrice Evra was brought down 25 yards from goal and Hargreaves curled a superb free kick over the wall and past the stranded Lehmann for a six-point lead going into the final four games of the season.
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