SPORT

It's battle royale

LONDON APRIL 15. As Arsenal bids for an unprecedented back-to-back double, Manchester United seems to be peaking at the right time.

The two giants meet on Wednesday at Highbury in what is widely billed as the match of the English season. The two most dominant teams over the past five years are neck-and-neck to win the Premier League.

United has 70 points from 33 games and Arsenal 67 from 32. The Gunners' goal differential has been cut to one.

While Arsenal tuned up with a lacklustre 1-0 win over first division Sheffield United to reach the FA Cup final on Sunday, Manchester United beat Newcastle 6-2 at St. James' Park the day before.

United midfielder Paul Scholes, who scored a hat-trick, said Saturday's performance was the club's best all season.

``You'd like to think the momentum is building just at the right time,'' Scholes said. ``We've had two great wins and now hopefully we can carry it on at Highbury. It's a great boost going to Highbury three points ahead.''

Bookmaker William Hill has Arsenal at 13-10 to beat United, with the Reds at 7-4. For the title, Arsenal is 8-11 favourite, with United even.

``We are just concentrating on Wednesday's game and if we can win that, then the rest of the season,'' Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg said.

Arsenal is bidding to become the first club to successfully defend the league championship and the FA Cup. It plays the Cup final against Southampton on May 17 at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

``We have a chance of a double,'' Arsenal striker Thierry Henry said. ``Nobody has done that in English football. Now we can start to talk about it because we can do it. But the last step will be the hardest to take.''

Arsenal's season finishes with home games against Leeds and Southampton and away matches at Middlesbrough, Bolton and relegated Sunderland.

United faces four clubs in the top 10, hosting Blackburn and Charlton and visiting Tottenham and Everton. United manager Alex Ferguson has baited Wenger all season. In his latest taunt, he said of Wenger: ``To predict winning the title, however many games are left, is a bit foolish.'' Wenger shrugged off Ferguson's comments. ``Do you really expect me to say that I don't want to win it?'' he said. ``In England, every time I say that we can win the league, it seems that it's shocking. What do you want me to say? That I want to lose the league? That would be even more shocking.''

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