End-of-season staying power 'natural' for United teams, says Ferguson
Of all the barbs aimed at Arsene Wenger amid the wreckage of another imploded campaign, the one that struck hardest was Paul Merson's remark that Arsenal did not understand that the final five games were entirely different to the previous 33.
Once, not long after Merson had left Highbury, they did understand it. In 1998 and 2002, a different, tougher, older Arsenal reeled off a string of 10 and 13 straight victories respectively to push past Manchester United in the final furlongs. The first remains one of only two occasions in which Alex Ferguson has lost a significant lead in the final weeks of the season.
When Manchester United lose a championship, it is generally from a long way out. Between '03 and '06 they could not live with the early pace set by first Arsenal and then Chelsea. But in the final weeksthey rarely falter.
"It is a natural thing," said Ferguson when asked about resilience at the end of a campaign yesterday. "The longer players are here, it becomes a natural progression of the way the club has been over the last 15 years. They have had winning qualities going back all these years and that is why they are dominant now.
"I have been a bit surprised by what has happened to Arsenal," he said before a journey to the Emirates that two weeks ago would have been billed as a title decider.
"Chelsea are the dark horses in the sense that some people seemed to think they were out of it, but I looked at their programme and thought they had the easier run-in and now they are on our coat-tails."
Nevertheless, United will only feel the breath of Stamford Bridge on their necks if they fail to beat both Arsenal and Chelsea in their two upcoming fixtures.
If they win both, they are champions at Old Trafford on 8 May.
There will be those who would say that the team that won United's 19th title was one that lacked fantasy. They have not won an away game against a side in the top half of the table.
Ferguson argued that United were more of a team than in the days when their play revolved around Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo; Tuesday night's triumph in Gelsenkirchen was proof of the power of United's collective will, he said.
"I don't think it matters if this team is not given enough credit," he said. "We have had enough criticism about our away form and some of it was justified.
"I wasn't happy myself with some of the away form but our form at Old Trafford has been magnificent (two points dropped all season). We have had some great performances and scored most goals in the league. (© Independent News Service)