LONDON, Dec 31: The turn of the year can be both an inspiring and a daunting time for English Premier League clubs as they reach the end of a congested holiday fixture programme and contemplate the challenges that lie ahead in the second-half of the season.

Someone who opts for the positive outlook is Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager.

Rather than share any shred of self-doubt, Ferguson, 66 on Monday, prefers to play mind games with United’s title rivals.

The reigning champions’ surprise 2-1 defeat away to West Ham, combined with Arsenal’s 4-1 victory at Everton, means it is the Gunners, not Ferguson’s men, who start 2008 with a two-point lead at the top of the table.

And Ferguson did his best to up the pressure on the Londoners by saying: “I always feel if you reach New Year on top you have a massive chance.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose team are at home to West Ham United on New Year’s Day on Tuesday, sees no reason why their ‘beautiful game’ cannot be a winning game as well.“We want to win and play the football we love,” the Frenchman said. “I am convinced that is the best way for us.”

But one of the enduring attractions of the Premier League is that although the ‘Big Four’ of Arsenal, United, Chelsea and Liverpool have a strong grip on the top spots, any side can beat any other on a given day, as West Ham proved last weekend.

United are at home to Birmingham City, one of several Premier League clubs managed by a former Ferguson player, only Alex McLeish got to know his fellow Scot not at Old Trafford but at Pittodrie where they were both forging their reputations with Aberdeen in the 1980s.

Fixtures (1500GMT unless stated):

Tuesday:

Arsenal v West Ham

Aston Villa v Tottenham

Fulham v Chelsea (1245)

Manchester United v Birmingham

Middlesbrough v Everton

Reading v Portsmouth

Wednesday:

Blackburn v Sunderland (2000)

Bolton v Derby (2000)

Liverpool v Wigan (2000)

Newcastle v Manchester City (1945).—AFP

Opinion

Editorial

Population calamity
Updated 22 Jul, 2024

Population calamity

Pakistan can also control its growth rate by following the examples of its peers and implementing functional family planning programmes and campaigns.
Blow to occupation
22 Jul, 2024

Blow to occupation

THE International Court of Justice has delivered a legal blow to the decades-old Israeli occupation of Palestinian...
Seeking Priya Kumari
22 Jul, 2024

Seeking Priya Kumari

PRIYA Kumari — the minor girl who vanished on Ashura in 2021 while serving water at a sabeel in Sukkur district ...
Olympics contingent
21 Jul, 2024

Olympics contingent

FROM 10 in Tokyo the last time, it is now down to seven in Paris, and split across just three disciplines. When...
Grave concerns
21 Jul, 2024

Grave concerns

PUNJAB Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz’s open assault on the Supreme Court for ruling in favour of the PTI in the...
Civil unrest
Updated 21 Jul, 2024

Civil unrest

The government must start putting out fires instead of fanning more flames.