Newcastle stand between Arsenal and their ambition.
Arsenal play Newcastle on Monday, a match the Gunners must win to retain advantage in the race for fourth place on the Premier League table.
The task for The Potters to frustrate Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and earn a point got steeper after Ricardo Fuller was dismissed in the 25th minute for a stamp on Branislav Ivanovic, the Chelsea right back, who first fouled the Stoke City man.
Opinions are unanimous that it was a justified send-off for an inexcusable reaction. Ricardo Fuller, of course, only made the job much easier for Chelsea, who played the rest of the match's 65 minutes with a man advantage.
The breakthrough for them did not come, however, until the 68th minute, when Didier Drogba fired the home side ahead.
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Didier Drogba celebrates after giving Chelsea their coveted goal against rugged Stoke City. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.
Chelsea, thereafter, saw the match through with relative comfort, since the visitors, known for their defensive organization and aerial balls, rarely threatened in the match.
The win for Chelsea enabled them to tie Arsenal on points, although their inferior goal difference means they remain in fifth place for another week.
This will not change, even if Arsenal lose at home to Newcastle on Monday.
But losing to Newcastle is not what Arsenal will be looking to do.
The North London club—the site of crisis for many, three weeks ago—are now within four points of Tottenham Hotspurs, their fancied neighbors, the darling of the English media.
Three back-to-back losses in the Premier league means Spurs have relinquished their stranglehold on the third spot on the table.
A win for Arsenal on Monday will bring them to within a point of Spurs, and within a real chance of overhauling their neighbors and claiming the third place spot.
The only surprise is that Spurs' slump has not been greeted with the same frenzy from the media, like it was in the case of Arsenal, when everyone from Piers Morgan to the President of Rwanda asked that Arsene Wenger be sacked.
But it doesn't mean the media should make the same calls for Harry Redknapp. Such frenzies are detestable. But is there a double standard here?
In any case, this is double pressure for Arsenal, who will go into the Newcastle match knowing that a victory will feel like triumph over their North London rivals.
It is an opportunity they will not want to slip by them, hence the pressure.
Gareth Bale could not help Spurs avoid a third back-to-back defeat in English Premier League. Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images.
On the other hand, with Chelsea breathing down their necks, they know there's no margin for error.
A loss for Arsenal will be an opportunity lost to catch Spurs, with enough matches left to play to make an overhauling for third place on the table possible.
A draw will reduce the gap to three points and give Arsenal a point advantage over Chelsea. This will be better than a loss, but it will not be good enough.
The first leg against Newcastle ended goalless. Then, a certain Andrei Arshavin was still at Arsenal. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images.
A loss will not be disastrous, but Arsenal must avoid it at all costs.
It will be a missed opportunity to increase the gap between the Gunners and their rivals for the current fourth spot on the table, a spot three teams—Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle—have a realistic chance of clinching.
Victory, again, will give Arsenal a three-point advantage over Chelsea, will reduce the gap for third place to a single point, will increase the gap between Arsenal and Newcastle to eight points and between Liverpool—at least for a day—to 13 points.
Barring an extraordinary turn of events, Liverpool are out of the race for top-four finish, thanks to another loss, this time again Sunderland. Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Image.
There's a lot, then, to play for on Monday. Good luck, Gunners.