Chelsea Goes Fourth with Win as Arsenal Collapses
Late goals provided a fresh twist to the tussle for fourth place in the Premier League on Monday, as Chelsea surged to victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers and 10-man Arsenal slumped to defeat at Fulham.
After the title itself, fourth place is the most hotly contested prize in English football — bringing with it the prospect of qualifying for the lucrative television deals and kudos of the Champions League group stage.
For Chelsea to be occupying that place at Arsenal's expense as they prepare for the second half of the season, can only be good news for Blues coach Andre Villas-Boas. That said, his sights are set even higher.
Chelsea appeared set to drop points when Stephen Ward canceled out Ramires' goal in the 84th minute, but Frank Lampard produced a late goal to secure a 2-1 win at Wolves and end a four-match run without a win.
Arsenal showed no such powers of recovery, though, losing by the same scoreline at Fulham after Steve Sidwell canceled out Laurent Koscielny's first-half header in the 85th minute.
Already down to 10 men following Johan Djourou's sending off in the 78th, Arsenal's defense was breached again in stoppage time when Bobby Zamora produced the winner.
Chelsea now has a one-point advantage over fifth-place Arsenal, but is eight points behind the pacesetters: Manchester rivals City and United.
"If we go on a winning streak of five or six games, which we are capable of, we can be fighting for this league," Villas-Boas said.
The focus turns back to the title race on Tuesday night, with City — leaders on goal difference — taking on Liverpool and third-place Tottenham hosting West Bromwich Albion.
For Arsenal just capturing one of the four Champions League places is the priority for a club that used to be a regular Premier League title contender.
Despite an injury crisis in defense, the Gunners had looked like building on its victory over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday when Koscielny headed in his first goal in almost a year at Craven Cottage.
Fulham had squandered several chances to equalize when the game turned in the hosts' favor with Djourou's second yellow card. Having already been booked for catching Sidwell in the 63rd, he went for pulling back Zamora on the edge of the penalty area.
"The first yellow (for Djourou), I felt the referee got all wrong," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.
Compounding Wenger's misery was two former Arsenal players combining to produce the equalizer.
Wojciech Szczesny pushed a corner out to Philippe Senderos, who nodded the ball forward to Sidwell to head home.
And in the second minute of stoppage time, Zamora buried the ball in the bottom corner of the net after Sebastien Squillaci failed to fully clear Stephen Kelly's cross.
On a frustrating day for Wenger, the pressure eased on his Chelsea counterpart Villas-Boas — thanks to Lampard's late winner.
But the midfielder was fortunate not to have been sent off for a sliding challenge on Wolves winger Adam Hammill midway through the first half.
"My heart was in my mouth over that challenge. I have to admit that," he said. "There was no malice, and I honestly mean that, but I was late and I might have been a bit lucky to stay on the pitch."
Ramires put Chelsea in front in the 54th minute, holding off Stephen Ward's challenge before firing the ball into the roof of the net.
Chelsea's players made a point of celebrating with Villas-Boas, who has endured a mixed first season in charge.
"It's just part of them showing the unity of the team," said Villas-Boas, whose side lost to Aston Villa on Saturday. "This team is focused on getting the consistency in terms of getting the results. If we go on a winning streak of five or six games, which we are capable of, we can be fighting for this league."
In beating Manchester United on Saturday, Blackburn emulated Villa for shock value, but they were brought down to earth by home defeats on Monday.
Blackburn's goal was breached twice in the first half by Peter Crouch as Stoke won 2-1 at Ewood Park. Substitute David Goodwillie pulled one back in the second half, but couldn't prevent Blackburn's third successive home defeat.