With five games to play, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal are crunched together at the top of the table with only three points separating first (Chelsea) from third (Arsenal).
This is how they stand after Chelsea edged Man U 2-1 this past weekend on a controversial Didier Drogba goal (he was clearly offside), and Arsenal nipped U.S. keeper Marcus Hahnemann and Wolves 1-0 on a 95th-minute strike by Nicklas Bendtner.
Wolves captain Karl Henry was red-carded, a little harshly, in the 66th minute. Hahnemann kept the Gunners at bay for nearly 30 minutes, making several acrobatic saves before Bendtner’s last-gasp winner kept Arsenal’s title hopes alive and relegation pressure on Wolves.
We know what you’re thinking: What did Mick McCarthy think about all this? Well, he conceded that Arsenal dominated the game, but said it was brutal to lose it in the last moment like that, adding, “What I really feel bitter about is that I’m losing my skipper for three games and I shouldn’t be. But, uh, hey ho.”
Mick McCarthy: the seventh (eighth?) Ramone.
One other note on the Chelsea—Man U tilt before we get to the relegation battle, which involves six teams right now: Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti went with the same lineup that embarrassed Aston Villa and Brad Friedel 7-1 (not a misprint) the previous week. That meant Drogba and Michael Ballack both started on the bench. A bold move for such a pivotal game, but it paid off: Chelsea dominated play, and Drogba, duly ticked off at not getting the start, entered the game midway through the second half and got the winner in the 78th minute.
The bottom of the table is crowded and, unfortunately, also crowded with Americans: Hahnemann’s Wolves, Jozy Altidore’s Hull City, Jonathan Spector’s West Ham, and Stuart Holden’s Bolton all stand near or on the trap door.
Bolton lost at home to Aston Villa 1-0 as the Villans bounced back with a win after their flattening by Chelsea the previous week. (They’ll get a chance for real redemption this coming Saturday as they face the Blues in the FA Cup semis.) But of the six teams in relegation danger (not counting Portsmouth, which is already toast), Bolton and Wolves are in the best position: tied with 32 points, five above the drop zone.
Wolves host mid-table Stoke City on Sunday, and Bolton travels to face Chelsea on the following Tuesday. Holden, by the way, has targeted Bolton’s last two games for his return from a fractured fibula suffered in the U.S.—Netherlands friendly in early March.
Spector and West Ham scrapped their way to a 2-2 tie with Everton at Goodison Park this past weekend, coming from behind twice in the match to pick up a point that kept them one above the relegation zone. Spector started and went the distance.
Hull and Altidore did not fare as well, getting blanked 2-0 by Stoke City and staying third from the bottom, three points, and one game in hand, over Burnley—the team they face this weekend. Altidore came on as a sub in the 64th minute against Stoke.
Americans Friedel (and Brad Guzan) of Aston Villa and Tim Howard of Everton are involved in the race for fourth place and the final Champions League berth, albeit as long shots.
Villa is five points behind fourth-place Manchester City, with six games remaining for both clubs. Everton is nine back with only five games left on its schedule. They’re probably too far back to get it done, but the fact that it’s even a mathematical possibility is due to the Toffees’ Landon Donovan fueled, late-winter run.
Tottenham stands the best chance, at the moment, of overtaking Man City for fourth; they’re just one point behind with the same number of games played. Liverpool is four back and has played one more game than City—and is also still involved in the Europa League, while City can focus solely on the Premiership, and locking down that Champions League berth.
Tomorrow: MLS and U.S. national-team pool updates, along with Yank-centric EPL Week 34 preview.