ONE LAST INVITATION TO THE TITLE PARTY?

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For optimists and believers in the optics, Hilary Clinton’s early vote count deficit to Donald Trump in the recent US election was but a mere reflection of ‘early days’ in the vote count. As the clocks hit 11pm on the West Coast, when the projected winner is usually called, it was the Republican candidate still ahead on the electoral votes count if not the popular vote.

In the blue corner, optimism quickly gave way to depression and what is now known as  the ‘Trump Acceptance Resistance Disorder (TARD)’. The unstated mathematical law of averages is that whilst an average is difficult to improve, it can also be difficult to overhaul once you fall off the pace.

Ander Herrera’s argument about the swing in the points gap in the premier league makes for a compelling counter argument. Speaking to the Mail this week ahead of his debut for Spain against England, the 27 year old said;

”And in the league, the thing is that in the 2011-12 season, we gained eight points on City towards the end and then lost eight points on them and lost the league on the final weekend with the same number of points.”

Herrera’s allusion can be distinguished in light of the present circumstances in 2016/17 season. Manchester United, in sixth place on the log in November, have at least four genuine title contenders ahead of them. Five if including Tottenham Hotspur suits you. Not just the one as it were in 2012. Whilst Ander was well meaning in his interview, unwilling to throw in the towel barely past the first third of the season, the reality is that United’s distance from the summit of the league is not in the points gap from the top but in the number of sides they have to get past.

Indeed, nothing underlines this more than the reality that even if all results go their way, United will not move a place higher in the standings. Such is the photo-finish look of the premier league this season that results against Stoke City and Burnely at home will continue to hurt throughout the season because it looks like come May, everything will be down to the odd point or two!

But despite the hits United have taken this season so far, the remain with a puncher’s chance at gate crashing the title contenders’ bonanza taking place in the top four places of the league. So far, Jose Mourinho’s side has fallen short when the big boys have come calling. City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool can point to a major scalp over a rival so far whilst United have just the Anfield point to show for their clashes with the big boys.

Could this weekend present a last chance saloon for United to haul themselves back in the mix with a statement result? If the Old Trafford faithful were asked to pick a choice candidate in the top four to visit on Saturday at noon, fans would unequivocally point at Arsene Wenger’s team. Not since the days of Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor have Arsenal left Red Manchester with all three points. Indeed, so long ago was that particular day that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer featured in that fixture. At Old Trafford, they like to think they have the beating of the Gunners. This particular form book was not even undone by the reigns of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.

Indeed, it was only until February 28th this year when Arsenal came to Old Trafford as favourites. A Manchester United team decimated by injuries and confidence shot took a strong Arsenal side eyeing a chance to avenge the 8-2 drubbing a couple of seasons earlier. United were so thin in terms of player personnel that 18 year old Marcus Rashford was drafted in to lead the line on his premier league debut. Michael Carrick had to start in central defence alongside Daley Blind with Guillermo Varela filling in at right back duty. Incredibly United still managed to beat Arsenal on the day 3-2 with just 39% ball possession.

 Such is the trajectory of this fixture that until Arsenal, recorded a 3-0 win at the Emirates last season, United were last beaten by Wenger’s side in any league fixture between the teams in 2011. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it has to be added that this is a different Arsenal this term. Alexis Sanchez through the middle plus a rejuvenated Theo Walcott has given the London club an attacking threshold to behold. Jose Mourinho will not have it all his way on Saturday lunchtime and the undue pressure shall be on him to salvage his ego in a contest against the team he loathes most in the division.

For Manchester United on the wider scale, hauling themselves to within three points of Arsenal will do well to resurrect their title challenge. As it is, the title party looks like it will soon be constituted. United will not fancy being the bloke that gets to look on from a distance as the rest of the sides battle it out at the top. 

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