Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal against Leicester City, Sunday.
SUBSTITUTE HEADS LATE WINNER TO CLOSE GAP
BY DOMINIC PASTEINER
Danny Welbeck came off the bench to head in the winning goal as Arsenal came from behind to defeat Leicester 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium. Later, Cristian Eriksen was the hero for Tottenham Hotspur as they secured a vital 2-1 against Manchester City in a dramatic, and potentially pivotal day in the Premier League, Sunday.
In the early kick-off, Arsenal took on Leicester City knowing that a win would reduce the gap at the top of the standings to two points, while a defeat would leave them eight points adrift and their title hopes hanging by a thread.
However, it was Leicester who made the brighter start. The Foxes showed the relentless energy which has become their trademark this season throughout the early exchanges, with Jamie Vardy forcing Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech into a smart save after 25 minutes. As the clock approached half-time, Vardy won a penalty for his team, luring Arsenal defender Nacho Monreal into a foul after a typically flowing counter attack. Vardy picked himself up and hammered home the penalty, his 19th goal of the season, to give the visitors a deserved half-time lead.
Arsenal began the second half with more purpose, and their hopes of turning the game in their favor were given a significant boost when referee Martin Atkinson awarded Leicester defender Danny Simpson a second yellow card for a needless infringement on Olivier Giroud after 54 minutes. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger responded by making a bold substitution, taking off Francis Coquelin for the more attack-minded Theo Walcott on the hour mark.
The change paid dividends when Giroud cushioned a header into Walcott’s path, which the England striker duly stroked past the advancing Kasper Schmeichel.
The Gunners continued to chance after chance went begging and the match appeared to be heading for a draw. In one last throw of the dice, Wenger threw on Danny Welbeck for his first appearance since injuring his knee in April 2015.
It was a gamble that paid off. In the 94th minute Arsenal were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous area. Mesut Ozil, so often their match winner this season, once again found the perfect delivery and Welbeck leaped highest to glance the ball past the helpless Schmeichel and into the back of the net, sending the Emirates Stadium into delirium. It was the last action of an enthralling Premier League encounter that could have a telling impact on the outcome of the title race.
The result, perhaps a little harsh on a Leicester side which showed impeccable resolve, sent Arsenal into second place ahead of the day’s second battle between title contenders at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.
The visitors, Tottenham Hotspur, had lost their previous five league matches at the Etihad Stadium but emerged victorious after receiving a large slice of luck.
Spurs started well but found it difficult to break down an improved Manchester City side which was clearly benefitting from having captain Vincent Kompany back in the heart of the defense.
Indeed, in a tight opening period it was City who went closest when Raheem Sterling’s crisply-struck volley was expertly blocked by Danny Rose.
After the break, the hots gradually began to assert their dominance on the game. Argentina striker Sergio Agüero fired over from just a few yards out before Yaya Toure forced Hugo Lloris to palm away his thunderous effort on goal.
However, the game changed when the visitors were awarded a soft penalty after 53 minutes. When Rose clipped in a cross from the left hand side, Sterling was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the area, although replays revealed that the ball hit the England winger’s back more than his arm. Harry Kane cooly tucked away the penalty to give Spurs the lead. City seemed to be spurred on by their misfortune, with Toure rattling the crossbar with another long range effort as his team went in search of the equalizer.
Eventually, their efforts were rewarded. Gael Clichy played a neat one-two with David Silva before squaring the ball for teenage striker Kelechi Iheanacho to sweep into the roof of the net from 15 yards.
With 15 minutes to go, City looked odds-on to find the winner but, perhaps inevitably in this most unpredictable of seasons, there was one more twist in the tale. On 83 minutes, Spurs’ substitute Erik Lamela drove at the heart of the City defense before slipping a perfectly weighted ball into Cristian Eriksen. The Dane, celebrating his 24th birthday, made no mistake, calmly beating Joe Hart to claim what could be a decisive win.
The result pushes Tottenham up to second place, above neighbors Arsenal on goal-difference, and with a real chance of claiming their first league title since 1961. For Manchester City, it is a second damaging home defeat on the bounce and the 2014 champions will need to reverse their form quickly if they are to lift the trophy again in May.
Leicester remain top, two points clear of the chasing pack.
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE (TOP 4)
P GD PTS
Leicester City 26 19 53
Tottenham Hotspur 26 27 51
Arsenal 26 18 51
Manchester City 26 20 47