Sunday, February 14, 2016

It Happened in England: Top Four-mageddon clutters title race

Arsenal 2-1 Leicester City
Number one versus number three got this fantastic day of Premier League action bright and early. So early, in fact, that the travelling Leicester City support missed the opening five minutes in protest of Sky Sports persuading the league to move this match to Sunday morning on short notice. No comment on the whininess of those fans.

As for the match itself, those late arrivals nearly missed Arsenal going in front right away. They had a strong attack down the right flank that ended in a typical Olivier Giroud failed finish. The rest of the first half was an entertaining back and forth of possession between the two sides. It wasn't until the final couple minutes of the half that we had any real action. After playing advantage, the referee awarded Jamie Vardy a penalty when he was tripped by Nacho Monreal. It's debatable that Vardy drew the penalty by clattering into the Arsenal left back, but in real time it looked the correct decision. Vardy, of course, scored from the spot to ggie the delirious Foxes a 1-0 halftime advantage.

The second half was all Arsenal, and they got just the break they needed in the 54th minute. Danny Simpson hauled down Giroud for his second yellow card in five minutes to be sent off. Leicester had to defend the dangerous Arsenal attack with only ten players, and Arsenal smelled blood right from the get go after the sending off. Theo Walcott snagged a much needed goal to level the score in the 70th minute. That gave Arsenal, and their home crowd all the motivation they needed to go forward. It still looked like a 1-1 draw was in the cards deep into stoppage time until a silly foul and yellow card on Marcin Wasilewski set up a Mesut Ozil free kick in the fifth minute of stoppage time. Ozil's attempt found the head of Danny Welbeck, seeing his first action since offseason knee surgery, for the late, late winner.

Aston Villa 0-6 Liverpool
If you decided to nap through this one (or watch the Arsenal-Leicester match on the DVR after sleeping an extra couple hours, like I did), you didn't really miss much. Liverpool was at it early and often in this one, starting with Daniel Sturridge in the 16th minute. The only other goal before halftime was from James Milner in the 25th, but the second half was twice as busy. First it was Emre Can in the 58th. Then Divock Origi in the 63rd. Nathaniel Clyne kept it going in the 68th before James Milner finished the carnage in the 71st. It was an emphatic win for the Red against a lackluster opponent that is relegation bound. Nothing really to see here in the grand scheme of things.

Manchester City 1-2 Tottenham
The first half was pretty boring in comparison to the second. Tottenham got the better end of a highly questionable decision from Martin Atkinson once the second half got going. Harry Kane was gifted a penalty when Manchester CIty "handled" the ball in  the box. It looked more like the back of the armpit playing the ball, however. Kane confidently nailed the attempt to give Spurs the first lead of the match. Manchester City would not go down quietly. Consistent pressure on the Spurs goal led to a defiant finish from Kelechi Iheanacho in the 73rd minute. City snagged a few more half chances before Tottenham was able to strike back. Christen Eriksen took a perfect feed in the penalty area for a simple finish to make it 2-1 to the visitors in the 84th. It was then up to the Citizens to recover and salvage a draw in the final few minutes. They had the opportunities, too. A mad scramble in the box right at the death of the match was the best one. Nicholas Otamendi thought he had a wide open header to level the score, but was beaten to the ball by Hugo Lloris. David Silva had a decent follow up, but his sliding effort sailed high of the bar. After the goal kick, the final whistle went and Spurs were back in second.

So, after the top four showdown, the title race is... far less clear. Leicester are in first, but they are only two points ahead of North London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal. Manchester City is six points off the pace in third. In short, the title race is far less clear than it was just 24 hours ago. As for the remainder of the season, Leicester are finished with their top four opponents, but we still get two more big games. Arsenal faces Tottenham at White Hart Lane on March 5. Finally, in the penultimate weekend of the season, Arsenal heads to Etihad Stadium for a road clash with Manchester City on May 7.

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