Manchester City’s dying hopes of seeing their huge expenditure rewarded with the Premier League title have all but been extinguished thanks to a late defeat at Arsenal yesterday.
The game kicked off on the heels of the day’s earlier game which saw Manchester United beat QPR 2-0 at Old Trafford increasing the reigning champions advantage to eight points.
City’s failure to close that deficit means that even with their great local rivals still to come to the Etihad, time is running out for them to make up the ground, with just five other games to be played and United in such winning form.
One can’t help but feel Roberto Mancini is now living on borrowed time as far as his management position is concerned.
It was yet another routine win for United over 17th-placed QPR and made all the more easy by the early sending off of Shaun Derry, which led to the penalty that put United on their way. It’s hard to dismiss the notion that United have had the rub of the green in recent matches, which makes it all the more galling for City fans.
Following on from the obvious penalty that Fulham were denied at Old Trafford two weeks ago, here United not only won a dubious penalty when Ashley Young was fouled by Derry, but Young was offside when the ball was played and it also resulted in them having a man advantage for the 75 minutes that remained.
Wayne Rooney stroked United in front from the spot and Paul Scholes drilled in the clinching second. While they’ve had their good fortune, that can’t disguise the magnificent form United have shown this calendar year. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have taken 34 of the last 36 points available, with only a draw at Stamford Bridge in February, itself a fine recovery from three goals down, denying the 100% record.
QPR manager and erstwhile United great Mark Hughes, whose side are clear of the bottom three only by goal difference, was not in the mood for congratulating the victors, saying: “Everyone can see clearly that the boy’s (Ashley Young) offside, but the referee’s put the whistle to his lips too readily. The boy has gone over under minimal contact to be honest and the referee’s basically given the penalty before the lad’s stopped rolling.
“You need strong officials under those circumstances and unfortunately we didn’t get that today”.
Hughes’ successor as Manchester City boss, Mancini, would’ve felt equally aggrieved at the sending off had he been watching, but his side could at least reduce the gap at the top with a win at Arsenal. However, the fluency of much of their season’s play eluded them at the Emirates, especially once Yaya Toure left the field injured in the first half.
They were second best throughout and three times had the woodwork to thank for keeping them all-square.
An excellent performance from Arsenal looked as though it would only be worth a point until Mikel Arteta’s well-placed strike from 25 yards with three minutes remaining found the corner of Joe Hart’s net.
It was a sickening blow for City, although in truth a point would hardly have been ideal either. It got worse for them when a volatile performance from Mario Balotelli earned its just reward with an injury time sending off with his manager hinting that was probably his last game in a City shirt.
City left the field dejected and apparently resigned to the fact they’ll be ending the season trophy-less. The world will await the new season’s developments at the Etihad with bated breath.
As far as Arsenal are concerned it was a win that makes it eight from the last nine, an incredible sequence that has completely inverted their season from being one of disaster to one of some satisfaction. It put them back in third spot after temporarily ceding the place to Tottenham who could only draw at Sunderland in the early Saturday kick-off.
Arsene Wenger’s men are two points ahead of their old rivals and five ahead of fifth-placed Chelsea, although the west Londoners are still to come to the Emirates.
Tottenham’s failure to win at Sunderland allowed Chelsea to move to within three points of their London rivals following a controversial win over strugglers Wigan. The latter’s boss Roberto Martinez fumed at the final whistle over the fact that both Chelsea’s goals in their 2-1 win were offside, the second coming in the 93rd minute.
It was Branislav Ivanovic who touched in a Raul Meireles cross to put Chelsea in front just past the hour mark. However, the position of the defender looked suspicious even without the aid of a replay and had virtually the whole Wigan team protesting its legitimacy with the referee’s assistant. A replay showed the Serbian, as well as team-mates Didier Drogba and David Luiz, to be in offside positions when the ball was played into the box.
Wigan, who had passed the ball extremely well throughout, got themselves a deserved leveller through a powerful 20 yard strike from Mohamed Diame. Chelsea had squandered chances to kill the game off at 1-0 and Wigan almost stole all three points in injury-time through Gary Caldwell, before Chelsea went up the other end and won courtesy of Juan Mata.
It was another contentious goal with the Spain international in an offside position when Fernando Torres crashed a volley against the post with the ball rebounding for Mata to turn it in for Roberto Di Matteo’s seventh win in nine games as interim manager.
On the positive side for Martinez, Wigan’s luckless defeat didn’t have a catastrophic effect thanks to the fact all four of their relegation rivals lost. Prior to QPR’s Sunday defeat, both Bolton and Blackburn suffered 3-0 reverses to Fulham and West Brom respectively.
Clint Dempsey took his league goal tally to 15 with a double for Fulham, for whom Mahamadou Diarra also scored. A Martin Olsson own goal started things badly for Blackburn, before Marc-Antoine Fortune and Liam Ridgewell goals rubbed salt into the wounds.
Rovers manager Steve Kean is perhaps the manager with the most to fret about considering his team still have to go to Swansea, Tottenham and Chelsea.
The team stuck to the bottom and now unlikely to escape the fate of finishing the season there are of course Wolves. A 2-1 defeat at Stoke, after taking the lead for the third game in a row, keeps them six points from safety with six games to go.
Michael Kightly’s attempted pass deceived Asmir Begovic and ended up in the back of the net midway through the first half, but Robert Huth levelled eleven minutes later and in-form Peter Crouch headed the winner in the second half.
Another team not yet clear of relegation trouble are Aston Villa, who this weekend were the latest side to take points off Liverpool. Luis Suarez’s 82nd minute equaliser denied Aston Villa a victory that would have put them eight points clear of danger and in the process ended Liverpool’s run of defeats, although not in the way they would have wanted.
Newcastle began the Bank Holiday weekend action on Friday afternoon by continuing their remarkable late season form with a 2-0 win at Swansea, with January signing Papiss Cisse making it nine goals in eight as Alan Pardew’s men stay in the hunt for a top four finish.
In the remaining game Norwich and Everton played out a 2-2 draw at Carrow Road. Everton twice led via a goal in each half from Nikola Jelavic, taking his tally to four goals in five starts, but Norwich replied through Jonny Howson and Grant Holt.
Tags: arsenal, Ashley Young, Barclays Premier League, Manchester City, Manchester United, Mario Balotelli, Mikel Arteta, paul scholes, Queens Park Rangers