It was one of those occasions when ‘Super Sunday’ isn’t a marketing gimmick but an apt description of what’s on fare — the Premier League top four going at each other’s throats.
Arsenal vs Leicester City and Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur. There was a feeling that these two games would decide the title. But after a night of two penalties that shouldn’t have been and two games that ended 2-1, it’s still hard to pick the clear frontrunner.
Danny Welbeck, back from a lengthy injury, came on as a substitute and slashed Leicester’s lead at the top to just two points with his injury-time header off an Ozil free-kick. Arsenal’s two goals to Leicester’s one puts the Gunners right back into the thick of things.
Life is tough in the Premier League. Tougher than prison. One can get used to prison with time. But the top tier of English football doesn’t let you do that. You can’t get used to it. You could go from being the king to being the bi**h in six months flat.
The Leicester fairytale, however, is nothing short of a Shawshank Redemption story — everyone loves it. But movies are kinder than football. Shawshank lost the Oscar to Forrest Gump but it’s loved, remembered and widely watched even today. But if Leicester fail to win the top prize, they’ll be lost in the annals of football. People will forget how good they were and how close it was. From Leicester ‘the only club to end London and Manchester’s hegemony over EPL since Blackburn Rovers’ they may become Leicester ‘Oh, they came close, didn’t they?’ Life is unfair.
And you could see it on the faces of the Foxes after the loss; something you haven’t seen in them all season — fear. They knew they had missed a crucial note, one that could ruin the entire song.
Arsenal, on the other hand, got the most crucial win of the season. Wins like these propel a club to greatness. This might light a fire on their rear-end and rocket them to the league.
Timing is everything in football. They have been waiting 11 long years for the title and they can’t come closer than this. How things transpire from here would not only decide the league, but also shape years of Premiership to come.
If Arsenal win it, they’ll get the monkey off their back and turn a page they’ve been stuck at in their EPL story. If Leicester clinch it, they will storm the Bastille. The EPL hierarchy would be ripped apart and the Foxes will write a new manifesto.
The work’s not all done for Arsenal though. Leicester are still on top and there are 13 more games to go. And they showed the grit of a Premier League-winning side last night. A man down, Leicester defended deep as if their lives depended on it — stuff that Chelsea would be proud of. They played hard, dirty at times. They were physical, they were even clever to manufacture a penalty and go up; you can see the intent now. You can’t really win the league with a conscience.
Perhaps crucially, they’ll enjoy a much needed two-week long break now as their rivals for the title plunge into European competitions and FA Cup.
Speaking of title rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, for anyone’s wager, could be more in it than Arsenal.
Their 2-1 victory over Manchester City kept them in the second spot, two behind Leicester and nine goals ahead of Arsenal. Remember, Premier League has been decided on goal difference before. Spurs have been the most consistent team this season, even Arsenal fans would concede that.
Harry Kane has proved he’s not a fluke, instead he’s went on to show he’s England’s future. Mauricio Pochettino has cultivated a brilliant and self-sufficient bunch of players, six of whom on the pitch last night were home-grown. It’s been 54 years since they won the league, and now people are talking about it.
City, on the other hand, are losing the chatter around them. They’ll feel referee Mark Clattenburg did them in. The penalty over Raheem Sterling’s “handball” was not just harsh, it dealt them a mental blow. City did equalise with Kelechi Iheanacho, but the fight was noticeably missing. Christian Erikson celebrated his 24th birthday and an 83rd minute winner, handing Spurs a 2-1 victory.
With back-to-back home defeats against Leicester and Spurs, Manuel Pellegrini’s men have made things a bit too difficult for themselves. Six points behind Leicester and with fingers in all kinds of pies, City look favourites to come fourth this season. They started as favourites to be champions. What a season, eh?
Premier League, we are hooked. Put a leash on us and drag us along. In the words of The Stooges, “now I wanna be your dog”.
First Published On : Feb 16, 2016 09:00 IST