And Then There Were Three

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Chelsea Knock Arsenal Out of Title Race with 6-0 Rout: Liverpool, City Keep Pace

 
By Greg Hudson
 
When Arsenal traveled to Stamford Bridge for Saturday’s match, they came in knowing that a win against Chelsea would put them only one point behind their bitter London rivals in the Premier League title hunt. 
 
But on the day that marked Arsene Wenger’s 1000th match in charge of the Gunners, it was Chelsea’s game from first whistle to last, in a match that saw 6 shots find their way into the Arsenal net but will be forever remembered as the day the wrong man was given a red card.
 
Referee Andre Marriner’s error came 15 minutes into the 6-0 thrashing, with Chelsea 2-0 up, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain punched the ball off the Arsenal goal line. Marriner assessed the situation and made the correct judgement in issuing the red card, but instead of sending off Oxlade-Chamberlain, he showed the red to Kieran Gibbs, the Arsenal left back who was 20 yards from the incident.
 
But in the end, regardless of the misplaced red card, there was no denying Chelsea. Eden Hazard converted the resulting penalty kick to make the score 3-0 inside of 20 minutes, and Arsene Wenger’s big day ended in a nightmare 6-0 rout that all but ends Arsenal’s title ambitions.
 
The win put Chelsea seven points clear of Liverpool and nine points clear of Manchester City, who went into their games that evening knowing they must likewise win in order to keep up the pressure on the Blues, despite both clubs having at least one extra game to play.
 
City faced a seemingly easy task at home against basement club Fulham. City have lost just once at home all season, and dominated proceedings from whistle to whistle in a match which also saw a penalty and a sending off for Fulham defender Amorebieta. Yaya Toure converted that penalty en route to a hat trick and a 5-0 City win.
 
Liverpool, meanwhile, faced a slightly tougher obstacle in Wales against a resurgent Cardiff City side fresh off a 3-1 win against Fulham and eager to prove they deserve their Premier League status despite being mired in the relegation zone. But Liverpool came into the fixture on the back of a five-game winning streak and an unbeaten record in 2014, and few expected anything less than a Reds victory.
 
But Liverpool would not have it all their own way. Cardiff opened the brighter and took advantage of a Liverpool error on eight minutes: Joe Allen’s misplaced pass was cut out by Frazier Campbell who squared up for youngster Jordan Mutch, who fired past Simon Mignolet to give Cardiff a shock lead.
 
Liverpool awakened from their slumber almost immediately and leveled the scores on 15 minutes when Jordan Henderson’s perfectly-weighted pass sent Glen Johnson into the penalty area and the England rightback found prolific striker Luis Suarez, who made no mistake from six yards and wrested the momentum in Liverpool’s favor.
 
But it was Cardiff who scored next, when Campbell latched onto a loose ball at the edge of the Liverpool area and hit a shot through the crowd and past the unsighted Mignolet. It seemed the scoreline might hold until the half time interval, but Liverpool clawed their way back into the game from a corner kick. Cardiff’s clearance only found Phillipe Coutinho, who sent the ball back in for Martin Skrtel to deflect into the net to send the teams into the break with honors even.
 
But Liverpool weren’t finished yet. A strong start to the second period seemed to go stale, but it was Skrtel who again provided a moment of magic – again from a corner kick – sending a perfectly-weighted header into David Marshall’s net to give the Reds a 3-2 lead.
 
Liverpool then made it 4-2 minutes later with a goal-of-the-season candidate. Another low cross from Johnson picked out Daniel Sturridge, who deftly back-heeled the ball into the path of Suarez who netted his second of the game.
 
Suarez then turned provider for Sturridge on 75 minutes after a classic Liverpool counter. Suarez drew the keeper Marshall off his line before crossing to Sturridge who had the easiest of tap-ins into an empty net to make it 5-2.
 
A late goal for Mutch gave the home fans something to cheer, but Liverpool and Suarez had the last say when the Uruguayan ran through on Marshall deep into stoppage time. Suarez made no mistake and completed his third hat trick of the campaign.
 
The win keeps Liverpool very much in the title race, but only Manchester City have fate entirely in their own hands. However, both City and Chelsea must visit Liverpool in their remaining games, where the Reds have not lost in 12 games. And with City facing another road challenge against Arsenal, the road to the title may well go through Anfield.
 
The Table:
 
1. Chelsea, 69 points, 31 games
2. Liverpool, 65 points, 30 games
3. Manchester City, 63 points, 28 games
4. Arsenal, 62 points, 30 games.
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