LONDON // Sir Alex Ferguson is concerned that, after a weekend of controversial refereeing decisions in the Premier League, it is the match officials who could now play a decisive role in the destination of the title.
Chelsea can overtake Manchester United - on goal difference - with a win at Old Trafford next Sunday and Ferguson is worried that a continuation of the recent refereeing errors could prove crucial. He said United should have been given a late spot-kick in their 1-0 defeat at Arsenal yesterday when Gael Clichy appeared to foul Michael Owen.
At least Ferguson conceded that Arsenal should have had a penalty in the first half when Nemanja Vidic handled a cross destined for Robin van Persie's head.
"It's too big a game not to get the decisions right," he said. "It balanced out in that respect but I think it was difficult to see that one [Vidic's handball]. But the one at the end - Clichy knew, he put his hands up in horror."
Ferguson, ever one to heap pressure on referees before big matches, also pointed to last season, when Chelsea won 2-1 at Old Trafford through a hotly disputed 79th-minute winner from Didier Drogba, who seemed clearly offside. Chelsea overtook United, forged two points clear at the top and went on to take the crown.
"Obviously, it [United's defeat at Emirates Stadium] gives Chelsea a major chance now," Ferguson said. "That's what happens when you get these decisions. They got one at Old Trafford last season so that's the worry now. But a game at Old Trafford, the supporters will be ready for it - and so will our players.
"To be honest, I didn't think we started playing [yesterday] until we lost the goal. It was a very low-key performance up until then."
Second-placed Chelsea benefited from two refereeing errors in their 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday night.
Although Arsenal, in third, did reduce their deficit behind United to six points, courtesy of Aaron Ramsey's cleverly guided 56th-minute strike, Arsene Wenger had all but given up re-entering the title chase.
"But believe me," the Arsenal manager said, "there is still a lot of pressure not being in the championship race. I so wanted to win it. I suppose the best chance of winning is with United, then Chelsea because they play United. If we want to have a small chance of still winning it, then it is in our interest that Chelsea win at Old Trafford and we win all our remaining games."
Ramsay's strike decided a game of few clear-cut chances, but plenty of open play with both sides leaving gaps at the back as they ventured forward. It was one such situation that brought the goal. Arsenal broke in the 56th minute and Ramsey fed Van Persie, who charged down the right wing.
The Dutch striker got into the area before cutting the ball back to the penalty spot, where Ramsay - who suffered a double leg break in February 2010 - arrived on cue to dispatch a cool finish low into the far corner.
Wenger acknowledged his side have come up short in the title race, adding: "We have gone through a difficult period but if you look at some of the best games this season, in the Premier League and Champions League, you will see Arsenal involved."