Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey blew the Premier League title race wide open as his second-half goal clinched a 1-0 win over leaders Manchester United on Sunday.
A victory at the Emirates Stadium would have put United within touching distance of a record 19th league title, but Sir Alex Ferguson’s side gave a strangely subdued display and Chelsea can now climb above them into first place if they win next Sunday’s crunch clash at Old Trafford.
Second-placed Chelsea trail United by just three points and a win in Manchester would leave them favorites to retain the title with only two games to play after next weekend.
United, who have now failed to win at any of their top-six rivals this season, paid the price for their lethargy when Ramsey struck in the 56th minute.
After starting the weekend firmly in control of the title race, United are in severe danger of surrendering the initiative to a resurgent Chelsea, who have won eight of their last nine league games.
“Obviously, it gives Chelsea a major chance now and that’s what happens when you get these decisions,” Ferguson said, referring to a rejected United penalty appeal. “ It’s too big a game not to get the decisions right, but in terms of ability, in a game at Old Trafford [against Chelsea], the supporters will be ready for it and so will our players.”
With Cesc Fabregas sidelined with a thigh injury suffered in training on Saturday, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger brought Ramsey into the youngest starting 11 of any Premier League club this season.
Wenger’s side should have had a penalty midway through the first half when Nemanja Vidic clearly used his hand to deflect Theo Walcott’s cross away from Robin van Persie as the Dutchman prepared to head toward goal.
However, neither referee Chris Foy nor his linesman Andy Garratt spotted the Serbia defender’s blatant offense.
Arsenal took the lead when Ramsey scored his first Gunners goal since January last year.
Van Persie twisted and turned in the penalty area, before cutting back to Ramsey, who side-footed a first-time shot past Edwin van der Sar.
United’s Michael Owen could have won a penalty when he was tackled by Gael Clichy, but Arsenal deservedly held on for their first victory over United since November 2008, a result which keeps alive their own slender title hopes.
Van Persie felt Arsenal should have had a penalty for the Vidic incident and he told Sky Sports: “It was a clear penalty and in my opinion a straight red.”
“If United should have had a penalty then it’s 1-1 on that one, but in the end I think we played better today,” he said. “We wanted it more. They played just on the counterattack, so in the end I think a fair result.”
Manchester City took control of the battle for fourth place as Roberto Mancini’s side beat West Ham United 2-1 at Eastlands.
City are now seven points clear of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur as they try to secure the final Champions League qualifying position.
Nigel de Jong gave City the lead with his first goal for the club in the 10th minute, before Pablo Zabaleta’s shot was turned into his own net by Lars Jacobsen five minutes later.
Demba Ba reduced the deficit in the 33rd minute, but West Ham remain bottom of the table and three points from safety.