North London scrap

Both Arsenal and Tottenham realise that the home stretch to claim the final Champions League qualifying berth for next season has begun, writes Brian Lee.

Arsenal have started to find a bit of form in the Barclays English Premier League but even more consistent than their recent displays is the pattern developing in Arsene Wenger's post-match interviews. For the third week running, the Gunners manager was full of praise for his "growing" team and the positivity surrounding everything the Highbury team touches.

Wenger's troops made it three Premier League wins on the bounce with a 3-0 triumph over Charlton and the Frenchman insisted he was never worried about the Addicks.

"The game was never really in doubt," he said. "We got a good start and there was good movement, although we missed a few chances. You never felt Charlton would have a period where they could get back. The team looks to be getting better and better, and is growing with every game, so overall, it was a very positive game."

Tottenham are strong rivals to Arsenal for fourth place and with Bolton and Blackburn also in the running, Wenger knows it is not just a two-team race to secure the final qualifying berth for next season's Champions League.

"We are in a situation now where we cannot drop points, when you look at the pack chasing fourth place. We have hit good form, but you need to keep that form until the end of the season."

Arsenal trailed Tottenham by two points following their north-London rivals' 2-0 win at Birmingham. Spurs striker Robbie Keane, on target against the Blues, believed the win was vital in their quest to join Europe's elite. The Republic of Ireland ace said: "It was important we got something. It was a good professional performance. It is not an easy place to come and we knew it was going to be difficult — especially with them in the position they are in." Manager Martin Jol agreed with Keane, saying: "We did a professional job although it was a bit of a scrappy game."

Chelsea slipped to just their third Premier League defeat of the season when they lost 1-0 to London rivals Fulham but it could have been a different story if Didier Drogba's effort had been allowed to stand. The Ivory Coast striker handled the ball in an attempt to claim an equaliser.

Blues boss Jose Mourinho admitted the outcome of Drogba's handball was correct, but he questioned how the officials came to the decision. "Everyone says to me now it's a handball, so because of that it is correct — but I can promise you the linesman didn't see it. Fulham players put pressure on the referee and linesman.

When Chelsea players do this it's the end of the world, when opposition players do this nothing happens."

Sir Alex Ferguson received no complaints from Ruud van Nistelrooy over his absence from Manchester United's starting line-up.

The Dutchman spent all afternoon on the bench at The Hawthorns as his replacement Louis Saha scored the double, which steered United to a 2-1 win over relegation-threatened West Brom. It took Saha's tally for a season, which only started in November because of injury, to 13 and emphasised why he is currently undroppable. Speculation has been mounting that Van Nistelrooy will quit United in the summer if his exile continues — with Inter Milan confirming they are more than just keen admirers.

But Ferguson backed up the comments of his assistant Carlos Queiroz, who insisted the former PSV star has a long-term future at Old Trafford and confirmed Van Nistelrooy has not been banging on his door demanding to know why he is not playing.

"Ruud has a long-term contract and I am happy about that," said Ferguson. "We all know he is a fantastic player, but at the moment Louis merits his place in the team because of his goals and his performances. Ruud just has to be patient, which he has been. His time will come again."

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