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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 April, 2011, 12:00am


Winning is imperative at this stage of the season and that is still the case at the top of the table, despite Manchester United's six-point lead with five games to play.

After two setbacks in the past week, United need to reassert their advantage with a home victory over Everton in tonight's early kick-off and then it will be up to Chelsea and Arsenal to match them. The first to try will be Chelsea, at home to West Ham, and then tomorrow it is Arsenal's turn at Bolton.

Chelsea gathered more momentum in midweek when they beat Birmingham 3-1 to boost their goal difference, while United and Arsenal could pick up only a point apiece. Arsenal's draw at Tottenham was not unexpected, given the Gunners' faltering form, the derby atmosphere and the quality of their opponents, but United's failure to win at Newcastle may turn out to be more significant than it appeared. Having seen their treble dream ended by Manchester City in last weekend's FA Cup semi-final, United cannot afford to let their guard slip. Yet, for Chelsea in particular, the leaders' draw at Newcastle raised just a glimmer of hope that the run-in could turn out to be more closely fought than seemed likely.

The latest title odds at the Jockey Club have United at 1.10 and Chelsea 8.50 and, while that reflects the remote possibility of a late turnaround, there is no mistaking Chelsea have made it interesting with a run of six wins and two draws from their last eight league games.

Before the Birmingham game, Carlo Ancelotti played down the prospect of a late title surge, but surely he has looked at the fixture list and realised there is still a chance for the reigning champions, even if it does rely on a couple of big ifs - Arsenal and Chelsea both beating United in the next fortnight.

If those ifs turn into reality, it is possible that by the evening of May 8 the three title contenders could all be on 73 points with two games to play. What's needed for that scenario is for United to lose away to Arsenal on May 1 and at home to Chelsea a week later, with all three teams winning their other games between now and then.

That's not unthinkable - with United having to fit in their Champions League semi-final against Schalke, with the second leg falling between the showdowns with Arsenal and Chelsea - and it's why the top three cannot afford to let any more points slip away.

United should be more comfortable back at Old Trafford, where they have dropped only two points this season, and once again the United win-win on the HaFu looks the best bet tonight. Everton are usually tough to beat and since the turn of the year they have been closer to the top-six form of recent seasons, which suggests United might struggle to beat the handicap.

Chelsea's midweek win over Birmingham was further proof they have rediscovered their goalscoring form and they look likely to cover the handicap against West Ham. Having been on an upward curve since the 10-match mark, the Hammers seemed set to escape the drop, but they have stagnated in recent weeks and three straight defeats have left them two points from safety with five games to play.

A visit to Stamford Bridge is bad timing for former Chelsea manager Avram Grant, who can expect no mercy from his old team. West Ham have kept only one clean sheet in 16 away games and should be opened up with ease by Chelsea.

Arsenal have never really recovered from their League Cup final defeat by Birmingham two months ago and need a dramatic revival to stay in the title race much longer, even if they are able to beat United at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners still haven't lost too many games - five in the league, halfway between United's three and Chelsea's seven - but their win rate has slumped dramatically and they might have to settle for another draw at Bolton, who have lost only twice in 16 home league games.

What cannot be factored into the Bolton-Arsenal match is the possibility of a hangover for the hosts after their shattering 5-0 defeat by Stoke in the FA Cup semi-final.

Victory is no less imperative at the bottom of the table, yet it is difficult to make a case for any of the strugglers. The key clash is Sunderland v Wigan, which pits 14th against 17th, but Sunderland have been falling fast, with only one point since the start of February, and Wigan aren't a reliable enough bet to reproduce the form of last week's 3-1 win at Blackpool.

The best bets in the games featuring the relegation strugglers is Fulham to win at Wolves and over 2.5 goals in Blackpool v Newcastle. Fulham are the draw specialists of the Premier League, but they look a better win prospect now main striker Bobby Zamora is back.

Goals guaranteed

Blank for Everton in their last 13 league games: 1

Mere formality

Straight wins for Arsenal against Bolton: 8

Shortlist: Fulham, Hull, Millwall, Bilbao, Nurnberg


1 Fulham away win

Can strike another blow at Wolves' soft underbelly

2 Hull home win

Eight wins from their last nine against teams outside the top 10

3 Millwall home win

Solid at home to teams below them in the table

4 Bilbao home win

San Mames fortress will be hard to breach in Basque derby

5 Nurnberg home win

High win rate at home and in good form again