For 16 consecutive seasons, the Premier League had just three different champions. From the 1995-96 through the 2010-11 campaigns, only Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea won the English championship. United won 10 and the other clubs won three apiece.
But by Monday’s Chelsea-Arsenal game, none of those three clubs were even contemplating another title campaign. United was lucky to have only lost to champions-in-waiting Liverpool 2-0 on Sunday, while the Blues and Gunners both very badly needed a win when they faced off at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. Through 23 matchdays, Chelsea sat in fourth place; United in fifth; and Arsenal in 10th, spared from the 12th spot only by goal difference.
Yet United, Chelsea and Arsenal all remain in the top 10 in Deloitte’s newly released global rankings of soccer clubs by earnings, collecting a combined revenue of $1.77 billion. As three of the five richest teams in England, they push back against the notion that only money matters in soccer and that it’s grown entirely predictable.
Because none of these clubs are anywhere near what they were even a few years ago. And so it was kind of fitting that Chelsea and Arsenal should stumble to a 2-2 tie in a game mostly marked by mistakes before a madcap ending.
Before the half-hour mark, Jorginho put Chelsea ahead from the penalty spot after Shkodran Mustafi’s horrid backpass provoked David Luiz to bring Tammy Abraham down and get himself sent off. Gabriel Martinelli evened things up in the second half when N’Golo Kante slipped and allowed the 18-year-old a free path for his 10th goal of the season. And in the 84th minute, Granit Xhaka inexplicably drifted back behind his own defense to keep Cesar Azpilicueta onside as he redirected the low ball into the back of the net.
But three minutes later, Hector Bellerin lashed a late equalizer through the defense.
The Blues squandered more than an hour played with a man up and failed to win for an eighth time in just a dozen league matches. Arsenal, meanwhile, has still only won once in seven league games since Mikel Arteta’s much-discussed appointment – against United, as it happens – and sit just seven points above the relegation zone.
While the Gunners had shown some flashes of promise under Arteta, they spent the first half outplayed by a Chelsea outfit that has hardly set the league alight lately. Frank Lampard’s transitional team, limited by a transfer ban last summer, has been running ragged thanks to its youth and lack of depth. But it didn’t surrender a single shot in the opening period, even though the Gunners had the edge in possession.
The hosts did create opportunity themselves, and went ahead when Mustafi’s old-fashioned hospital ball back to Leno was intercepted by Abraham, who was manhandled to the ground by David Luiz.
Jorginho converted the spot kick with a well-placed roller.
But Chelsea never capitalized on its numerical advantage, allowing Arsenal to rampage forward on speedy counter-attacks. Sure enough, the Gunners scored on their very first shot of the game in the 63rd minute, when Martinelli scampered off and was waved through by the grounded Kante. The Brazilian beat Kepa with a simple finish.
Leno kept Arsenal in the game when he was equal to Willian’s shot and Ross Barkley’s devious backward header. But then in the 84th minute, Azpilicueta stabbed the low ball simply into the net on the defensive breakdown.
Yet the spirited Gunners found an unlikely hero in Bellerin (who still hasn’t been spotted at the same place and at same time with Adam Driver). The Spaniard shook off two defenders stepped inside and curled a bouncing shot past Kepa, splitting the points at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea should probably have won the game regardless, but Michy Batshuayi got his finish all wrong on a low cross, not nearly hitting the target. It was bad fortune, after all, that Arsenal scored on both of its shots.
But just as neither team deserved to lose, these sides didn’t deserve three points either. Chelsea’s slump continues, while Arsenal, if improved in moments, can only aspire to a slump threatening its Champions League place.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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