Gunners pile on the pressure

LONDON - Five weeks after their title hopes seemed to have been destroyed by a 3-0 home loss to Chelsea, Arsenal could emerge from the weekend just a point off the pace with a game in hand.

Arsene Wenger's side had slipped 11 points adrift of Chelsea and six of Manchester United but they recovered strongly in December with four wins and a draw.

Their hopes of moving within a point of the lead on Wednesday were foiled when their home game against Bolton Wanderers was snowed out. But a home victory over Everton tomorrow would maintain the momentum as Chelsea visit Hull City and Manchester United travel to Birmingham seeking to end City's 12-game unbeaten run.

"We refused to give up. We continued to fight," Wenger said. "We have grown up together, we want to achieve. We haven't won anything yet together and that makes us hungry for success."

Arsenal hammered Everton 6-1 at Goodison Park in a spectacular start to the season but the Toffees have toughened up since and are on a five-game unbeaten run in the league.

A trip to Birmingham would not ordinarily look too daunting for Manchester United but Alex McLeish's team have shown real quality in recent weeks, just as the champions have wobbled with league defeats by Aston Villa and Fulham and to Leeds United in the FA Cup.

Birmingham have climbed to eighth, only five points off an unlikely Champions League place.

United scraped a 1-0 win over Birmingham with a Wayne Rooney goal on the opening day of the season and Ferguson would be delighted at a repeat. Chelsea's lead has been whittled down by draws with Everton, West Ham United and Birmingham and defeat at City, though confidence was restored with a 5-0 FA Cup demolition of Watford.

The battle for fourth place heats up on Sunday when incumbents Tottenham Hotspur visit Liverpool. - Reuters

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