Chelsea will have to keep the champagne on ice for at least a week after their seemingly inevitable progress towards the Premier League title was checked by a goalless draw away to Arsenal on Sunday.
Had they beaten their London rivals at the Emirates Stadium, Jose Mourinho’s men would have travelled to Leicester City on Wednesday knowing that victory over the resurgent Foxes would have been enough to secure Chelsea’s first English title since 2010.
However, a win on Wednesday will set Chelsea up to take the Premier League trophy in front of their own fans should they also beat Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge next weekend.
Sunday’s fiery clash ended with Arsenal going level on points with second-placed Manchester City, with both clubs 10 points adrift of Chelsea, who like the Gunners have five league matches left to play this season.
The way in which Chelsea captain John Terry celebrated the result suggested the Blues — whose side featured former Arsenal star Cesc Fabregas — had gained far more than a point.
“It’s a big step to where we want to go,” Blues skipper Terry told Sky Sports.
“It’s not done mathematically, but it’s a big step and the big thing today was not to let Arsenal gain points,” added the veteran centre-back, who on Sunday was named in the English Professional Footballers’ Association Premier League team of the year.
– Oscar blow –
One concern for Chelsea was that midfielder Oscar had to be taken to hospital after colliding with Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina.
Oscar tried to play on but came off at half-time, with Didier Drogba taking his place and Chelsea yet to discover the extent of any damage to the Brazilian.
Chelsea manager Mourinho was more certain about the worth of Sunday’s result, saying: “It’s a point; we are in the countdown to the champions.”
The draw meant Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was still waiting for his first win over Mourinho, the Frenchman now having failed to record a victory in 13 meetings with his Portuguese counterpart.
“I think we had a performance we wanted, in the first half we had the right intensity but in the dangerous areas we lacked the right decisions,” said Wenger after a match where four penalty appeals — three from Chelsea and one from Arsenal — were all rejected by referee Michael Oliver.
Earlier, Everton beat Manchester United 3-0 to dent the visitors’ hopes of direct entry into the Champions League.
Had United won on Merseyside, they would have climbed into second place.
But this defeat, their third in as many league visits to Goodison Park, left Louis van Gaal’s side fourth in the table as goals from James McCarthy, John Stones and Kevin Mirallas saw Everton rise into 10th place.
Only the top three teams in the Premier League at the end of the season go straight into the first round of the Champions League, with the side finishing fourth facing the prospect of a play-off in August.
United manager van Gaal said his side, who’ve now lost seven league matches this season, had been out-fought by Everton.
“We have always had more fighting spirit on the pitch and I think that this is the first match that the other team have shown more of that than us,” the Dutchman said.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez was in no doubt his side deserved victory, saying: “I thought we were well worth a three-goal lead and that speaks volumes.”
It took Everton, who kicked-off 24 points behind United, just five minutes to open the scoring in front of their own fans through McCarthy.
Everton doubled their lead 10 minutes before half-time when Stones powered in a header from a corner.
The second half saw a 74th-minute goal from Mirallas secure Everton’s victory, the Belgian ignoring United’s appeals for offside against team-mate Romelu Lukaku to race onto Ross Barkley’s ball forward and beat David de Gea.