EPL Gameweek 31, Saturday report: Riyad Mahrez stretches Leicester lead, Arsenal hit back

Second-place Tottenham Hotspur can trim Leicester`s lead back to five points if they beat Bournemouth on Sunday.

AFP| Last Updated: Mar 20, 2016, 00:39 AM IST
EPL Gameweek 31, Saturday report: Riyad Mahrez stretches Leicester lead, Arsenal hit back

London: Riyad Mahrez`s 17th goal of the season sent Leicester City eight points clear at the Premier League summit as Claudio Ranieri`s men won 1-0 at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

The Algerian winger tucked away a cross from Jamie Vardy in the 34th minute to earn Leicester a third successive 1-0 victory and bring a staggering title triumph a step closer.

Second-place Tottenham Hotspur can trim Leicester`s lead back to five points if they beat Bournemouth on Sunday, while third-place Arsenal remain 11 points off the pace despite winning 2-0 at Everton.

"It sounds good (being eight points clear). Our fans are singing a very good song about that," said Leicester manager Ranieri, whose side were serenaded with chants of "We`re gonna win the league!" by their fans.

"But we have to stay calm because the Premier League is the same as every match. You don`t know what will happen.

"We have to continue to push a lot because the Champions League is very close to us. Maybe in the next two matches I can say something more."

Elsewhere, Cesc Fabregas scored two equalisers, the second an 89th-minute penalty, as West Ham United were prevented from climbing to fourth place in a 2-2 draw at outgoing champions Chelsea.

The result left Slaven Bilic`s side in fifth place, a point below Manchester City, who entertain sixth-place Manchester United in Sunday`s derby.

After losing out to Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey in an earlier one-on-one at Selhurst Park, Mahrez put Leicester ahead by steering in Vardy`s drilled cross from the left.

Palace had threatened to ignore the script prior to that, Wilfried Zaha volleying wide from Yannick Bolasie`s cross, and it took a smart save from Kasper Schmeichel to prevent Bolasie equalising with a deflected shot.

Leicester nonetheless looked the more threatening team, with Hennessey parrying Marc Albrighton`s low drive and Shinji Okazaki twice going close either side of half-time.

But the introduction of Bakary Sako enlivened Palace and Alan Pardew`s men came within a whisker of equalising in the second minute of stoppage time, only for Damien Delaney`s volley to hit the bar.

Pardew admitted that he was "frustrated" by the result, but said that Leicester would make "worthy champions".Knocked out of the FA Cup by Watford and the Champions League by Barcelona earlier this week, Arsenal bounced back with a one-sided victory over Everton at Goodison Park.

Danny Welbeck put Arsenal ahead early on, rounding Joel Robles to score after a neat build-up, and 19-year-old Alex Iwobi scored his first goal for the club in the 42nd minute after racing onto Hector Bellerin`s pass.

Victory tightened Arsenal`s grip on third place, moving them to within three points of Tottenham, and manager Arsene Wenger hailed his players for putting their recent disappointments behind them.

"It was a very significant win for us and a mental test," he said.

"We continued the level of performance against Barcelona. I like this group, I like the mental attitude. It has been questioned and it hurts me. When you work every day with them, you see how much effort they put in.

"We are still in (the title race) in our minds and mathematically, yes, and we want everyone to be behind the team to give us a chance. We are ready for a battle."

Chelsea narrowly avoided joining Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City on the list of major scalps that Bilic`s West Ham have claimed on the road this season.

Manuel Lanzini curled in a glorious shot from outside the box to put West Ham ahead in the 17th minute, only for Fabregas to equalise with an equally picturesque free-kick in first-half injury time.

Substitute Andy Carroll restored the visitors` lead from Dimitri Payet`s perfectly weighted through-ball, but Fabregas had the final say from 12 yards after Michail Antonio was deemed to have fouled Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Bilic fumed: "To concede that late is gutting, but to concede it from a penalty that is not a penalty is unacceptable."

Robbie Brady scored as Norwich City climbed out of the bottom three with a 1-0 win at West Bromwich Albion, meaning Newcastle United and Sunderland will both be in the relegation zone at kick-off in Sunday`s derby.

Swansea City will look to allay their own relegation fears when they host bottom club Aston Villa later on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Jon Walters scored one goal and created another for Joselu as Stoke City won 2-1 at Watford, who replied through captain Troy Deeney`s late header.