Easter gift for Arsenal as rivals drop points in third place chase
Tottenham defeat and Chelsea's 1-1 draw give Gunners chance to pull five points clear at Wolves
EASTER MONDAY could hardly have been better for Arsenal. Victors over Manchester City 24 hours earlier, the Gunners then saw their two nearest rivals in the race for the coveted third spot drop priceless points.
First Tottenham suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at home to Norwich City. Then in the evening game Chelsea were held 1-1 away to Fulham. The results mean that Arsenal lie third on 61 points, two more than Spurs in fourth position and four more than Chelsea who are now in sixth.
Sandwiched between Tottenham and the Blues are Newcastle, who beat Bolton 2-0 on Monday to extend their winning league run to five matches. The Magpies are now level on points with Spurs and their trip to Stamford Bridge next month assumes greater significance by the week.
Crucially, however, Arsenal have a game in hand on the three clubs immediately beneath them and should the Gunners win away at bottom-placed Wolves on Wednesday night they'll pull five points clear of Tottenham.
"It's going to be close, it's the team that wants it most," said Spurs boss Harry Redknapp after seeing his side go down to Norwich. "There are still five games to go but I don't think we have to win all five. Chelsea have to play Newcastle — they can't both win."
The problem for Redknapp is that Spurs have won just one of their last eight league games and in the process squandered a 13-point lead over the Gunners. "We'd settle for finishing fourth," he conceded. "It would be lovely to finish above Arsenal but it's still all to play for. Newcastle are playing great, so it's going to be tight."
Anthony Pilkington put the Canaries ahead in the first half at Tottenham before Jermain Defoe levelled for the hosts.
But in a second period dominated by Norwich – and in which referee Michael Oliver waved away two strong claims for penalties – the winning goal would have graced a Champions League final. Picking up the ball in centre field Elliott Bennett surged towards the Tottenham goal and then from the edge of the box unleashed a thunderbolt that Brad Friedel never even saw.
Unlike Norwich, Chelsea's claims for a penalty were heeded at Craven Cottage after Salomon Kalou went down in the Fulham box under a challenge from Danny Murphy. Frank Lampard converted the spot kick just before half-time and 1-0 was how it stayed until Clint Dempsey equalised for the hosts eight minutes from the end.
Afterwards Chelsea's caretaker boss Roberto Di Matteo did his best to put a positive spin on the result, saying: "You look at it and we're closer to that fourth spot than we were… [but] the biggest disappointment is that we conceded an equaliser late on. It's been a pattern this season, conceding late goals."
As for Newcastle, they struggled to break down a determined Bolton side and in the end it needed a special moment from Hatem Ben Arfa to break the stalemate. Receiving the ball ten yards inside his own half, the Frenchman ran 70 yards, skipping through Bolton tackles, before coolly tucking the ball past Adam Bogdan for what might well be the goal of the season.
"There is magic in his feet," said Newcastle boss Alan Pardew. "It is his world when he is on the ball. Not many players in this division can score goals like that."