Wenger’s men would have gone back to the top of the league table with a victory but lost yet again to their London rivals on Sunday, going down 1-0 to Diego Costa’s winner after Per Mertesacker was sent off after just 20 minutes. The defeat meant that title rivals Leicester City who secured a comfortable 3-0 victory over Stoke to break a 19-year cycle in the Premier League and Manchester City who thrashed Crystal Palace 4-0 will remain in first and second place respectively ahead of the Gunners until February.
Not only did the Leicester regain top spot but they also became the first team other than Manchester United, City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal to lead the top-flight after 23 games since 1995-96. The last time was Newcastle who were eventually pipped to the title by Manchester United. The trump card that supports the Foxes title quest is the recurring decimal this season where the heavyweight sides are cannibalizing themselves to earn points. The Thai backed side tutored by Claudio Ranieri have mathematical chance of lifting the EPL trophy if they can brave the odds till Easter, then they are home and dry.
Arsenal have now not won a league game against Chelsea in their last nine attempts and the underlining facts in my opinion is that there is always a big expectation when Arsenal play Chelsea especially on this occasion following the Blues’ inconsistent run since the beginning of the season.
There is no doubt that Arsenal’s defeat to Chelsea could be psychologically damaging to their attempts to win the Premier League title and end a 15 year wait – a situation the Foxes will hope to exploit but that can still be avoided if Arsene Wenger and his troop can replicate their last season’s second half showing.
The return of Alexis Sanchez will definitely bring a breath of fresh air into the team even as they await look forward to Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky returning to beef up a depleted squad that has managed to keep pace with Claudio Ranieri’s men.
Ranieri’s high-flying Foxes have every reason to be optimistic and can take inspiration from Blackburn Rovers’ exploits over two decades ago when they were the only other team outside of the top five to lead at this stage on their way to winning the Premier League title in 1994-95 season and history shows that the teams who lead the league after match day 23 tend to go on to lift the title. Since 1992, only five teams have failed to secure silverware after leading their rivals at this stage.
The, first to throw away top spot was Newcastle, who somehow blew a 12-point lead to hand Sir Alex Ferguson his third league title as Manchester United manager.
United bounced back again the following season by finishing above the St James’ Park outfit once more although Liverpool led the way after 23 matches. A campaign later and it was United’s turn to surrender the lead as Arsene Wenger secured his first Premier League title as Arsenal manager.
The same pattern occurred during the 2001-02 season when the Red Devils occupied top spot before their rivals pipped them to the league. However, Ferguson got his revenge the following season when United secured league glory ‒ the last time a team failed to win the league after leading the race at this stage of the season.
Leicester City who were considered relegation contenders at the start of the campaign, have every reason to be optimistic going into the final 15 matches of the season but the Foxes face a tricky February where they host Liverpool before visiting title rivals Manchester City and Arsenal. Positive results in the City and Arsenal ties will speak volume of the Foxes’ ambition this season.