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Arsenal can lay down a marker

Arsenal
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By ESPN Staff

Ferguson predicts three-horse-race next season

Sir Alex Ferguson has warned Chelsea they will face increased competition from both Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premiership next season.

While Blues boss Jose Mourinho has continued to delve deep into Roman Abramovich's wallet to fund his pursuit of glory, Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have attempted to mould developing youngsters into an emerging side.

United and Arsenal have lost one-time key men Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira, yet they are also starting to look stronger as a result.

Although United would have loved to accompany Arsenal into the last four of the Champions League, they do already have the Carling Cup deposited safely in the Old Trafford trophy room and retain an outside chance of pipping Chelsea to this season's championship.

With only six games remaining, Ferguson acknowledges the Stamford Bridge outfit remain favourites to retain their crown.

Yet he confidently predicts that United and Arsenal, who do battle at Old Trafford tomorrow, will prove far more determined foes next term.

'Next season could be really exciting as far as the league is concerned,' said Ferguson.

'You can see promise in both ourselves and Arsenal. We cannot have the same expenditure as Chelsea, so we have to do things in a different way.

'At Christmas it was difficult to know who was getting the most flak, Arsenal or ourselves.

'But both Arsene Wenger and myself are too experienced to let it get to us. We trusted our young players and now that confidence is being repaid.'

United extended their winning Premiership sequence to eight matches against Bolton last weekend and another triumph tomorrow would represent their longest sequence of victories in a single season since the 1999-2000 title-winning campaign.

Of far more consequence to Ferguson, it would also get the hardest game United have to face until they tackle Chelsea at the end of the month out of the way, and put them in with a real chance of catching last season's champions.

'This is a major opportunity for us,' said Ferguson.

'Chelsea have dropped points and when your form starts to go in April, it is not easy to get it back. It is not liking turning the gas on and off.

'Chelsea are still in the driving seat but the situation is not quite so settled as it once seemed. If we can beat Arsenal, I think we will be difficult to live with.'