London :Wayne Rooney was widely believed to have shattered Arsenal's Premier League title hopes when he orchestrated Manchester United's 3-1 win over the Gunners at the Emirates last weekend.
So tamely did Arsene Wenger's men surrender that it was hard to resist the conclusion that the title race had just been downgraded from a three to a two-club contest.
Wenger, understandably, begged to differ and Chelsea's unexpectedly lacklustre display in a 1-1 draw at Hull on Tuesday suggested the Arsenal manager was right to predict a few more twists in the plot before the denouement of what has been an intriguing season.
Chelsea's midweek slip means Arsenal can move back to within three points of their London rivals if they can repeat last season's win at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
The way in which Arsenal were bullied into submission by Didier Drogba when the two clubs met at the Emirates in November will not give Gunners fans any great cause for optimism, but Wenger is confident of engineering a reaction from his players to last weekend's humiliation.
"Against United, we were naive," the Frenchman admitted. "We were completely not at our level and now we need to deliver something special to stay in the race."
Chelsea's recent tendency to concede goals from set pieces - described as their Achilles heel by Hull boss Phil Brown - could prompt Wenger to start Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner, who is fit again after three months out following groin surgery.
"Nicklas gives us a physical presence up there," Wenger acknowledged. "He is not totally ready yet, but at the moment we are short in that position, so we are happy to have him back."
Abou Diaby is also back from injury and could be brought in to stiffen a midfield that was overrun in the defeat by United, who could return to the top of the table by beating crisis club Portsmouth at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Avram Grant's side have lost 16 of their 23 league matches so far this season and, although performances of late have been spirited, do not look capable of producing the goals they need if they are to escape relegation.
With United scheduled to take on Aston Villa on Wednesday, manager Sir Alex Ferguson may take the opportunity to give Rooney a rest, which could mean a rare start for Michael Owen, who is rapidly running out of time in which to persuade Fabio Capello that he deserves an England recall.
Elsewhere, Liverpool entertain Everton in the 213th Merseyside derby with both clubs having found some form of late.
Victory in the lunchtime fixture on Saturday would lift Liverpool back into the top four for a few hours at least and manager Rafael Benitez believes a six-match unbeaten run shows his side are on the mend.
"I think we can find the form of last season if we can fix two or three things," the Spaniard said. "We have a lot of players coming back from injury and we are moving in the right direction."
Manchester City, arguably the club best-equpped to deny Liverpool the final Champions League spot, travel to Hull with Wayne Bridge set to play for the first time since revelations of England team-mate John Terry's affair with his former girlfriend.
Manager Roberto Mancini believes the left-back is in the right state of mind to feature in a match which could also see Patrick Vieira make his injury-delayed debut for the club.
"The private side is not important," said Mancini. "He has been working very well on the pitch. That is what is important."
The other two contenders for Champions League football next season, Tottenham and Aston Villa, meet at White Hart Lane on Saturday evening.
"Villa are there or thereabouts, right near us in the league and if we've got any aspirations of finishing fourth we need to go there, certainly at White Hart Lane, and win games like that," said Spurs striker Peter Crouch.
"Three points for us and none for them gives us a bit of a gap so that's what we're looking to do."
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)
Saturday: Bolton v Fulham, Burnley v West Ham, Hull City v Manchester City, Liverpool v Everton (1245GMT), Manchester Utd v Portsmouth, Stoke v Blackburn, Sunderland v Wigan, Tottenham v Aston Villa (1730GMT)
Sunday: Birmingham v Wolves (1330GMT), Chelsea v Arsenal (1600GMT)