Arsenal beat Leicester 2-1 in an action-packed game played out on Sunday at the Emirates Stadium to go a point clear at the summit of the table and breathe life into what has been in recent weeks a faltering title challenge.
On a dismal, sunless afternoon in North London, both teams played their part in a thrilling game, one of many bookmarking what has been a truly astonishing season.
Leicester City, perched atop the league table ahead of the likes of Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester City were actually the favorites going into this clash due to their rude away record, typified perfectly by their peerless and impudent 3-1 defeat of Manchester City at the Etihad a fortnight previously.
The plucky Foxes having exceeded expectations this season came into this game with nothing to lose, a dangerous-to-the-opponent kind of attitude that Arsenal had to be wary of.
Arsenal, on the other hand, was under a lot of pressure to close the gap between them and the league leaders.
From the blast of the referee’s whistle Arsenal took the game to the Foxes, going all over their visitors and trying to force either errors or an early goal.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain squandered a chance in the opening minute, choosing to square for Olivier Giroud instead going for a goal that he was capable of scoring had he been more daring.
Having managed to weather the storm of attacks hurled at them by Arsenal, the Foxes began to settle into the game, managing to string together a sequence of passing and period of sustained pressure.
Credit must be given to the water-carrying capacities of N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater. The pair especially the former, a relentless, roving ball of energy broke up Arsenal’s attacks frequently, thereby stultifying their momentum.
Despite these, Arsenal continued to probe, with Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud both seeing their chances saved.
Petr Cech was called to action twice, keeping out Jamie Vardy’s header in the 16th minute as well as tipping N’Golo Kante’s curling strike in the 40th.
Five minutes later, Leicester took the lead against the run of play. Having robbed Arsenal of the ball at around the half-way line, the Foxes launched a fleet-footed counter-attack and within seconds, the ball was shifted into the path of Jamie Vardy.
The recently-capped England international lured Nacho Monreal into trying to poke the ball away and he took a tumble over his marker’s outstretched right leg, crumbling on to the turf.
Referee Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot despite the protestations from the home side and Vardy dusted himself to stroke the ball past Petr Cech in goal.
Tempers threatening to boil over due to Arsenal’s perceived injustice of Vardy’s goal did little to diminish the sheer intensity and frenzy with which the game was been played out.
The home fans were in fine fettle, probably the most animated they have been this season and sensing what a win here would mean for their team in its quest to win a 14th Premier League title, urged their team on.
Danny Simpson contrived to get himself sent off in a 5-minute splash of red-mist; earning a yellow for a foul of Alexis Sanchez and then pulling Olivier Giroud back for a second with 39 minutes to go.
Having a player like Mesut Ozil as opponent while you try to defend a goal is a tremulous prospect as he possesses the capability to unlock your defence or any other defence with a lazy but laser-guided flick of his boot.
The brave Foxes stood their ground despite their numerical disadvantage, repelling wave after wave of red-shirted attacks.
An equalizer was inevitable and it duly arrived on 73’ as Theo Walcott volleyed home in the 6-yard box after an unselfish Olivier Giroud knockdown.
Having breached what had up till then been a water-tight defence, the Gunners smelt blood, pulling out all the stops in search of a winner.
Kasper Scmeichel pulled a number of top-drawer saves, the one from an Olivier Giroud effort a particular highlight.
Per Mertesacker planted a header wide from 6 yards out, fuelling the feeling that this may just be one of those days that Arsenal come unstuck when it mattered most.
With the game in its last dregs, the roof of the Emirates was almost brought down when Danny Welbeck, a late and last roll of the dice by a clearly desperate Arsene Wenger headed home an exquisite Mesut Ozil free-kick in the 5th minute of stoppage time.
With a little over ten matches left, this surely represents a prime opportunity for Arsenal to win the league for the first time since 2004.
The scoring return of Danny Welbeck to the side after a 10-month injury lay-off would offer the team a timely boost as the season enters the home stretch.
Arsenal’s problems seem duo-fold; physiological and psychological yet it is the latter that deserves more medication. Far too often, the Gunners have been unable to maintain a title charge, wilting under the white heat of expectation.
The manner of the win, peppered with grit and determination offers hope that Arsenal has the mental resilience to win the title.
The onus therefore is on Arsene Wenger to motivate his charges to maintain the focus and concentration required to win the title in this most improbable of seasons.