Arsenal's Premier League hopes aren't in tatters after Sunday, but the Gunners aren't making things easy for themselves following a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium.
With the result, Leicester City own a three-point edge over Arsenal and Manchester City, which drew 2-2 with West Ham United on Saturday:
|Premier League Table—Matchday 23|
|6||West Ham United||23||9||9||5||8||36|
|Source: ESPN FC|
The Blues' 1-0 victory was the biggest result of the weekend. Gooners have been down this road before in previous seasons: Arsenal look to be title challengers until a string of poor results in the middle of the season knock them back in the table and seemingly dash any hopes of winning the league.
Those skeptics must be wondering whether that is happening now. Arsenal have drawn with Liverpool and Stoke City and lost to Chelsea in their last three league fixtures.
Only 18 minutes into Sunday's match, Arsenal were playing a man down after center back Per Mertesacker was sent off. He didn't make much contact with Chelsea striker Diego Costa, but the red card was more than deserved since he was the last defender between Costa and the goal.
As Bleacher Report UK observed, Gooners had to be holding their breaths at the sight of Mertesacker attempting to chase down Costa:
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
Per Mertesacker tracking back on defence. https://t.co/7kn6H1pOXK1/24/2016, 4:22:19 PM
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was matter of fact about the incident when speaking after the match.
"Costa got Mertesacker sent off," Wenger said, per Arseblog's Andrew Mangan. "I do not accuse him of anything. It's just what happened."
On cue, Costa put the Blues ahead in the 23rd minute, finishing off a cross from right back Branislav Ivanovic. NBC Sports Soccer provided a highlight of the goal:
NBC Sports Soccer @NBCSportsSoccer
WATCH: Diego Costa at the center of it all today for Chelsea, including scoring the opening goal https://t.co/fhHyTDLqD61/24/2016, 4:32:12 PM
Squawka Football noted how the Spanish attacker has found his form following the interim appointment of Guus Hiddink:
Squawka Football @Squawka
Diego Costa's five Premier League games under Guus Hiddink: 5 goals 2 assists 33.3% chance conversion rate https://t.co/5wfl0yHRge1/24/2016, 5:29:39 PM
Beyond a brief flurry of hurried chances in the 63rd minute, Arsenal rarely looked like they'd be able to find an equalizer.
Some supporters will likely question Wenger after he subbed off striker Olivier Giroud immediately following Mertesacker's dismissal. Arsenal needed an additional defender on the pitch after losing one of their two center backs, but Giroud's absence left the club without a key attacking threat up top. Alexis Sanchez came on in the 57th minute, but he was unable to make a major difference.
It's far too early for Gooners to panic too much, as neither Manchester City nor Leicester City look convincing as title challengers. The Premier League is more than attainable for Arsenal at this stage of the season.
Whereas the outlook for Arsenal remains positive, the same can't be said for Everton, which ran their league winless streak to five matches after a 2-1 defeat to Swansea City.
Swansea midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson scored from the penalty spot in the 17th minute, and winger Andre Ayew secured the win with a goal in the 34th minute. The Swans were far more potent in front of the goal. They only had seven total shots, but five of those seven shots were on target, compared to two in 20 for Everton, per ESPN FC.
Barring a complete capitulation, the Toffees shouldn't find themselves in a relegation fight. They're eight points ahead of 18th-place Newcastle United. However, Everton as a whole have stagnated since finishing fifth in the 2013-14 season.
Replacing manager Roberto Martinez in the middle of the season would unlikely result in a dramatic shift in fortunes. He could be looking at the sack at the end of the campaign, though. As BBC Sport's Phil McNulty argued, Everton are far too good to be playing so poorly:
Phil McNulty @philmcnulty
Of course I have done Roberto Martinez a kindness...it is six wins from 23 Premier League games. So poor with such a talented squad.1/24/2016, 3:49:24 PM
Of course, after Swansea changed managers, Francesco Guidolin delivered a win in his first full game.
"I am very happy because this is my first match," Guidolin said after the match, per Swansea's official site. "It's been my dream to work in the Premier League, but I didn't dream we would win my first match like this."
Swansea sat in 17th place entering Sunday, and they moved up to 15th, four points clear of Newcastle, after collecting three points against Everton. The club isn't out of the relegation fight for good. A few more positive results could make that the case.
In general, Sunday's matches were lacking in drama, and they were certainly a step down from the entertainment on show Saturday. Liverpool, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur all won following goals in the 84th minute or later, while Manchester City secured a draw with Sergio Aguero's equalizer in the 81st minute.
Liverpool may have set the standard for drama this year in their 5-4 win over Norwich City. Midfielder James Milner looked to have put the Reds free and clear after pouncing on a mistake and scoring in the 75th minute to make it 4-3. Then, defender Sebastien Bassong scored just the sixth goal of his Premier League career, tying the match for the Canaries in the 92nd minute.
In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Adam Lallana tallied the biggest goal of his Liverpool career. The English midfielder drilled his left-footed shot into the ground, and it bounced past a helpless Declan Rudd. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp ran frantically down the touchline to celebrate with his team. NBC Sports Soccer shared a brief clip of the euphoric celebrations:
NBC Sports Soccer @NBCSportsSoccer
That feeling when you grab all three points in stoppage time and don't care that your glasses broke... #NORLIV https://t.co/RPUXLdQnhG1/23/2016, 3:03:59 PM
While Liverpool supporters are growing more confident of the club's direction under Klopp, Manchester United supporters are becoming more and more frustrated with Louis van Gaal's stewardship of the legendary club.
The Red Devils fell to Southampton on the strength of Charlie Austin's winner in the 87th minute. The match serves as a microcosm of the club under van Gaal, as it registered a single shot on goal—an unacceptable total in any home match for United.
If Manchester United's results don't turn around, the club might be forced to call upon Ryan Giggs or another interim manager to replace van Gaal through the end of the season, at which point a more permanent option can be found.
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