LONDON: Arsene Wenger endured a bitter-sweet 67th birthday on Saturday as his Arsenal side went to the top of the Premier League but missed a golden opportunity by only eking out a goalless draw with struggling Middlesbrough at the Emirates Stadium.
Liverpool were later just 10 minutes away from overhauling Arsenal but a late goal from West Bromwich Albion at Anfield meant that a 2-1 victory for Juergen Klopp’s men still could not stop the Londoners remaining at the summit on goal difference.
Earlier, Tottenham Hotspur spurned the chance to have their own short spell at the top as they were held 0-0 by Bournemouth in the day’s early match while maintaining the season’s only unbeaten Premier League record at Dean Court.
With life increasingly congested in the fight for the title, Liverpool were left the most satisfied as their win puts them on 20 points alongside Arsenal, who have a superior goal difference of one.
Manchester City, who started Saturday as leaders on 19 points, could return to the top on Sunday when they host Southampton. Spurs, in fourth place, also have 19 with just a point separating the top quartet.
Liverpool ensured there was no hangover from Monday’s disappointing draw with Manchester United, Klopp’s vibrant side lighting up Anfield this time with first-half goals from Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho.
Yet just when they were in sight of heading the table on the strength of having scored one goal more than Arsenal, Albion provided some nerves in the final few minutes by scoring through Gareth McAuley.
Arsenal, the league’s form side after a six-match winning run, dominated possession against Boro, who are just above the relegation zone in 17th, yet could easily have lost to the side struggling just above the relegation zone.
The home keeper Petr Cech was forced to make key saves from Gaston Ramirez’s header, twice from Adama Traore and also Alvaro Negredo.
“They had chances but our goalkeeper saved us today. Petr Cech had a good performance in decisive phases,” Wenger conceded.
As for not landing the gift he had hoped for, he smiled in a BBC interview: “At least you can have a drink on your birthday. When you win you deserve it. When you don’t, you need it!”
Spurs found it “tough” in a frantic game at buoyant Bournemouth, according to their manager Mauricio Pochettino, who reckoned this was exactly the kind of game they would have to win if they were to be real title contenders.
As the battle to succeed Leicester City boiled up, the champions themselves finally found some decent domestic form with manager Claudio Ranieri describing their 3-1 win over Crystal Palace as their best performance of the season.
He was relieved that they have now won more Premier League than Champions League points after translating their European form to their faltering domestic campaign.
Ahmed Musa, Leicester’s 16 million-pound ($19.6 million)summer signing, scored his first goal for the club and Shinji Okazaki and Christian Fuchs struck after the break to stretch the Foxes’ unbeaten home run to 20 games.
Everton’s push towards the top of the table, though, was halted rudely at Turf Moor where a 90th-minute winner from Scott Arfield gave Burnley a 2-1 win in a game the Toffees’ boss Ronald Koeman was convinced they should have won.
He was not the only manager bemoaning his luck with Sunderland’s under-pressure David Moyes adamant that his side had lost to a late, late offside goal in a 1-0 defeat at West Ham United.
Winston Reid had struck in the fourth minute of stoppage time to leave Moyes’ men mired on just two points.
Sunderland are three points adrift of Swansea City, who created the best chances but ended up drawing 0-0 with Watford in manager Bob Bradley’s first game in charge at the Liberty Stadium.
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