15 Apr 2024

Advantage Man City as Arsenal and Liverpool crash to defeats

7:35 am on 15 April 2024
Arsenal striker Gabriel Jesus.

Arsenal striker Gabriel Jesus. Photo: Photosport

Arsenal's Premier League title push was hit by late goals from Aston Villa's Leon Bailey and Ollie Watkins as they suffered a surprise 2-0 home defeat and handed the initiative to leaders and defending champions Manchester City.

Villa substitute Bailey tapped home from close range in the 84th minute before Watkins' sublime finish three minutes later sent Gunners fans streaming for the exits.

Arsenal's loss, their first in 12 league games, leaves them in second place, two points behind City and level on points with third-placed Liverpool with six games left to play.

Following Liverpool's 1-0 defeat at home to Crystal Palace earlier on Monday, the weekend belonged to City who bolstered their chances of an unprecedented fourth straight league title with a 5-1 demolition of visiting Luton Town on Sunday.

Manchester City players celebrate a goal against Luton Town.

Manchester City players celebrate a goal against Luton Town. Photo: photosport

"We knew that this moment could come and now it's about reacting and keep believing and doing what we can," Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said.

"Now is the moment to stand up, as a leader, as a character, to make yourself count. When you win and win and win for four months, it's very, very simple to do it. The moment is now."

Sport statistics company Opta now give City a 70 percent chance of winning the Premier League, with Arsenal on just over 18 percent and Liverpool nearly 12 percent.

The win boosts fourth-placed Villa's chances of qualifying for next season's Champions League and moves them three points above Tottenham Hotspur, albeit having played a game more.

Under pressure

Villa weathered pressure in the first half, with Kai Havertz shooting straight at goalkeeper Emi Martinez before Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka hit the side-netting as an opening goal for the Gunners' felt like an imminent inevitability.

"We had one of the best performances in the first half that we had this season by far ... it should have been three or four or more," Arteta said.

Villa went closest, however, when Watkins' effort bounced off one post and narrowly wide of the other, while Youri Tielemans's rasping effort hit the bar then the post and somehow stayed out as the visitors improved markedly after the break.

Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins.

Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins. Photo: Photosport

Bailey gave Villa the lead when he turned in Lucas Digne's dangerous cross before Watkins broke Arsenal hearts with a beautiful chip over keeper David Raya to settle the contest.

The goal was Watkins' 19th in the league, which with his 10 league assists puts him behind only Bayern Munich's Harry Kane and Paris St Germain's Kylian Mbappe for goal involvements in Europe's top five leagues this season.

"It's massive to come away to Arsenal when they are playing such good football and to play like that just shows where we are going really, it was a perfect away performance," England striker Watkins told Sky Sports.

Villa manager Unai Emery, who has repeatedly played down the prospects of his side qualifying for Europe's elite club competition, accepted they are now contenders for the top four.

"We prepared this match really as a very difficult match, but a great opportunity to try to get three points," he told reporters.

Liverpool beaten

Liverpool's bid to win the Premier League title in manager Juergen Klopp's final season with the club suffered a huge blow at Anfield.

Eberechi Eze scored in the 14th minute in the third consecutive disappointing result for Liverpool.

Tyrick Mitchell found Eze unmarked in the box after a beautiful build-up of 21 passes and Eze slotted home with his first touch to put Palace ahead.

Poor finishing by Liverpool sealed their first league loss at Anfield since October 2022 and the television cameras captured young Liverpool fans wiping away tears in the stands after the final whistle.

Liverpool striker Mo Salah

Liverpool striker Mo Salah Photo: David Blunsden/Photosport

Liverpool, who had 21 shots to Palace's eight, squandered a bagful of chances including Curtis Jones's shot on a breakaway that he fired wide, tugging his shirt over his head in disbelief. Liverpool's talisman Mohamed Salah hammered a close-range strike off a defender in the dying seconds.

"You could stand here on another day and see the same balls go in and we're talking about a 4-1 win but football doesn't work like that," said Klopp, who plans to leave Liverpool at the end of the season after nine years in charge.

Palace keeper Dean Henderson also made some remarkable saves, darting to stop a Darwin Nunez point-blank shot off his knee, among others.

Palace, who are 14th in the table, ended a 10-match winless run on the road with their first away victory since November against Burnley.

Liverpool were coming off a 3-0 loss to Atalanta in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday and a costly 2-2 draw with Manchester United in their previous league game.

- Reuters

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