Yesterday Chelsea accomplished what many predicted they would before the first ball of the season was even kicked – winning the league (with three games to spare) by beating Crystal Palace 1-0 at the Bridge. Today Arsenal essentially clinched their Top 4 place with a 3-1 win over Hull, as they are now nine points clear of Liverpool with a game in hand, only three games left for Liverpool and a goal difference advantage of 22. Liverpool did beat QPR 2-1, after losses to Aston Villa and Hull sandwiching a draw at West Brom that many thought had sealed their fate. And Manchester United gave them a glimmer of hope, losing their third game on the bounce, to West Brom at Old Trafford, after the 1-0 loss to Chelsea (does that score sound familiar of late?) and 3-0 loss to Everton. They now stand only four points above the Meyerside club with three games to play. The good news for United is that Liverpool must win all three of their remaining fixtures (against Chelsea (A), Crystal Palace and Stoke (A)) and they simply need to win two of their three games to make the matter moot. If they do draw against Crystal or Hull and lose to Arsenal, however, Liverpool could draw even, but the 13-goal gap in GD seems to be another stumbling block for the stumbling Reds.
On the other end of the table, it looks clear that QPR and Burnley are now going down (barring a miracle), as I have predicted for weeks, but the third spot is still open for the taking. Sunderland is currently camping there, but they have the advantage of a game in hand. On the other hand, their four remaining fixtures are against an improving Everton, a suddenly hot Leicester and then Arsenal and Chelsea (with three of the four on the road). They actually look the most likely to drop at present, unless they beat Leicester at home and hope someone else loses out. One team that certainly could accomplish that rather dubious feat is Newcastle, who might feel comfortable on 35 points, but should note it is only two above the drop zone and that they have lost eight straight, dropping from a comfortable 13th under Pardew. There is no guarantee they can win the three points they probably need from games against West Brom, QPR and West Ham, even as the latter two might have little to play for. Leicester and Hull are still far from safety as well, even after decent form in recent weeks. It should be exciting at the bottom, even as the top four is all but solidified.
As to the game this evening, Arsenal came out attacking from the start though the game was back and forth in the early going with Hull having a strong chance to go ahead with a header from in close that was scuffed right into the feet of an Arsenal defender. On 27 minutes, Ozil jumped in front of Huddlestone, stole the ball and then pushed it forward to Sanchez, who was fouled by Livermore a few yards outside the box. He lined up his free kick and had the fortune of it hitting Dawson on its way in (is it just me, or is this starting to sound like a North London derby from a few years back?), sending the Hull GK Steve Harper the wrong way and Arsenal to a 1-0 lead. Five minutes later it was 2-0 as Aaron Ramsey continued his comeback with a nice touch, turn and shot from a lovely 40-yard lofted pass from Cazorla, with the shot again benefitted from a deflection by a Hull defender. Just before halftime, after Hull missed a couple of decent chances to pull one back, Ramsey sent a perfect through ball to Sanchez, who rounded the keeper and scored his second of the half.
Arsenal were cruising 3-0 as the second half began to take shape, when Hull suddenly scored on a powerful header by Steven Quinn from a perfect lofted cross from Ahmed Elmohamady, though there were real questions of whether Koscielny was fouled before the goal. From here, Arsenal started to control the game and really should have scored a couple more goals, though they settled for a relatively comfortable 3-1 win. Ozil played a wonderful game, Sanchez scored a brace, Ramsey added a goal and an assist, Cazorla was strong on both sides of the pitch and the defense was decent, except for the goal. Jack Wilshere came on for the first time in months, replacing Ramsey in the 68th minute, and went on a decent run two minutes later that end up with a free kick just outside the box, after a lovely pass was negated by the whistle. He then cut in on the right and earned a corner and generally played at a high level throughout his 20 plus minutes on the pitch, almost scoring on 85 minutes but for what appeared to be a hand ball by Hull in the box. Walcott also came on in the 86th minute, but one wonders if he will be wearing the red and white next year.
In the end it was another three points for an Arsenal team that is making that a habit, having not lost since February 25 (the 3-1 defeat to Monaco). They have now won 10 of their last 11 (with only the draw against Chelsea last week marring their perfect form), are all but guaranteed to stay in the Top 4 and play Champions League football again next year and head into the offseason knowing they should be in the title race next year. However, with a chance to win out and secure second place AND an FA Cup Final to contest, the season is far from over. Their final five fixtures of the year are as follows: Swansea (H), United (A), Sunderland (H), West Brom (H) and Aston Villa in the Cup final on May 30. It could be the best finish to a season since 2004, even though the title won’t be part of the package.