Thursday, February 22, 2024

Arsenal dent Chelsea’s Champions League push

Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta (left) vies with Arsenal's Emile Smith Rowe on May 12, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON, May 13: Chelsea slipped up in their push for a Champions League spot when they lost 1-0 at home to Arsenal in the Premier League on Wednesday with Emile Smith Rowe’s first-half goal settling the London derby after a defensive mix-up by the hosts.

The visitors capitalised on a wayward back pass by Chelsea’s Jorginho to goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga who scrambled back to palm it off the line. The ball fell to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who cut it back for Smith Rowe to score in the 16th minute.
Five minutes earlier, Kai Havertz had spurned a glorious chance to put Chelsea ahead when the German dispossessed Arsenal defender Pablo Mari, ran through on goal but fired over when he looked certain to score.
Chelsea, who play Leicester City in the FA Cup final on Saturday and Manchester City in the Champions League final on May 29, dominated the ball but failed break down Arsenal’s organised defensive lines.
The Blues almost drew level in the 90th minute when Kurt Zouma’s header was tipped onto the crossbar by Bernd Leno and former Gunner Olivier Giroud, on as a sub, volleyed against the bar.
The rare defeat under coach Thomas Tuchel left Chelsea in the last of the Premier League’s four Champions League qualifying spots with two games to play. They are six points clear of West Ham United who have three matches left and seven ahead of Liverpool who have four games to play.
Arsenal edged up to eighth spot but have played more matches than Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, their main rivals in the hunt for a Europa League spot.
Liverpool, West Ham still battling for top-four spots
With Manchester City already crowned Premier League champions and the three relegation places also decided, all eyes are now focused on the battle for the Champions League spots as the season enters the home stretch.
Second-placed Manchester United have already secured a top- four finish but Leicester City, Chelsea, West Ham United and Liverpool are still in the mix.
As Leicester and Chelsea, third and fourth respectively, shift their focus to Saturday’s FA Cup final, they will keep one eye on the league fixtures with West Ham and Liverpool breathing down their necks with games in hand.
Liverpool are seven points behind Chelsea with two games in hand, including Thursday’s trip to Old Trafford, but Juergen Klopp knows his 2019 European champions’ continued participation in Europe’s elite club competition is no longer in their hands.
“We don’t blame anyone but ourselves,” the Liverpool manager said. “Now we need help from other teams (to qualify for the Champions League), but it’s the best we could get and we will deal with that.”
On Sunday, Liverpool are up against a side with nothing to play for in relegated West Bromwich Albion, a team Klopp has drawn against five times in eight matches. The German has beaten West Brom boss Sam Allardyce only once in the league.
West Ham have been the dark horses this season under David Moyes and can get within three points of Thomas Tuchel’s resurgent Chelsea, who face Manchester City in this season’s Champions League final, if they win at Brighton & Hove Albion.
Moyes, who took over a club hovering above the relegation zone last season, is aiming to guide the London side to the Champions League for the first time in their history.
Seventh-placed Tottenham Hotspur, eight points behind Chelsea, still have a mathematical chance of finishing in the top four but their odds are slim as they welcome Wolverhampton Wanderers who have beaten them on their last two visits.

Ninth-placed Everton also have an outside chance of making the top four with four games left and they welcome bottom side Sheffield United, who have won only one away game all season. (Reuters)