MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Arsenal and Tottenham grabbed late winning goals against title rivals on Sunday to move two points off the lead as the race to win the English Premier League crown tightened up.
Leicester started the weekend with an unlikely five-point lead but conceded in the fifth minute of stoppage time to lose 2-1 at Arsenal, with Danny Welbeck scoring the winner in his first match back after 10 months out injured.
“This strengthens our belief that we are in the fight,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “It would have been massive for us to lose.”
It was only Leicester’s third loss of the season — two of which were inflicted by Arsenal.
Christian Eriksen didn’t leave it quite so late for Spurs against Manchester City, slotting home in the 83rd minute to seal a 2-1 win at Etihad Stadium. It will be regarded as a landmark win for a young Tottenham team that is going for the club’s first league title since 1961.
“It is true our supporters can dream,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said.
Second-place Tottenham leads Arsenal on goal difference, while City’s second straight home loss kept the team six points behind Leicester.
In the other match, last-place Aston Villa slipped to its worst home loss in 81 years, losing 6-0 to Liverpool. The visitors had six different scorers, including Daniel Sturridge in the injury-prone striker’s first league start for more than four months.
Relegation candidates all of last season, Leicester is dealing with a different kind of pressure this time around but a failure to handle rising expectations wasn’t the reason behind the defeat at Emirates Stadium.
The biggest factor was probably the sending-off of right back Danny Simpson after two yellow cards in the opening nine minutes of the second half. Leicester was leading 1-0 at the time, thanks to Jamie Vardy’s penalty on the stroke of halftime — his league-high 19th goal of the season.
Arsenal’s substitutes took over from there.
Theo Walcott equalized with 20 minutes to go with Arsenal’s first shot on target and fellow sub Welbeck, who came on in the 83rd minute, headed in Mesut Ozil’s free kick.
“Everybody is extremely happy for him, because he has been out for 10 months — that is an eternity for a player,” Wenger said.
Spurs capped a successful day for the north London clubs by completing a league double over City, another sign that they are ready to finally challenge for the championship under Pochettino after years of underachievement.
Harry Kane put Tottenham in front in the 53rd from a penalty that was controversially awarded for a handball against Raheem Sterling, who turned his back to a cross from Danny Rose. The ball appeared to strike a combination of his elbow and back, with his arm not outstretched.
Substitute Kelechi Iheanacho equalized in the 74th, only for Eriksen to race onto Erik Lamela’s through-ball and slip a low finish past goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Barcelona routs Celta
Lionel Messi put on another show at the Nou Camp on Sunday, scoring a remarkable goal from a free kick and then helping to set up a hat trick for Luis Suarez — including a daring assist from a penalty kick — as Barcelona thrashed Celta Vigo 6-1.
Ivan Rakitic and Neymar also scored as Barcelona opened up a three-point lead in the Spanish League over Atletico Madrid, which edged Getafe 1-0. Real Madrid, which beat Athletic Bilbao 4-2 on Saturday with two goals by Cristiano Ronaldo, is four points behind Barcelona in third place. Barcelona has a game in hand.
It was an impressive victory by the Catalan club, and the performances by Messi, Suarez and Neymar in the second half neared perfection.
“We were spectacular and effective,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “I’m used to seeing these players, when they train, they are even better.”
Messi started the show by curling a left-foot shot over the wall in the 28th minute, and then mesmerized the Nou Camp crowd as he helped Suarez to score in the 59th, 75th and 81st minutes.
Suarez’s third goal was extra special, with the Uruguay striker and Messi fooling everybody, after Messi was tripped in the area following a nifty dribble past a defender. Messi was set to take the spot-kick himself, but he just rolled the ball to the side for the inrushing Suarez to drive it home.
“Barcelona players, in addition to winning titles, also want to have fun and entertain the members in a fair and spectacular way,” Enrique said. “It didn’t surprise me.”
The play became famous after Johan Cruyff — a Barcelona idol — executed it while playing for Ajax in 1982.
“It’s a legal play, some will like it, some won’t,” Luis Enrique said. “It will generate a lot of debate.”