Manchester City took another giant stride towards retaining the Premier League title with a controversial 2-1 win at 10-man Arsenal, as West Ham and Tottenham took advantage to close the gap to the top four.
City are now 11 points clear of Chelsea and 12 ahead of Liverpool, who face off on Sunday with precious little more room for error if they are to mount a title challenge despite having games in hand.
Liverpool will have to cope without manager Jurgen Klopp at Stamford Bridge after he returned a suspected positive test for coronavirus.
The Reds have also suffered three other positive cases among Klopp’s backroom staff and will be missing three unnamed players due to the virus.
A total of 18 top-flight games in England have been called off in recent weeks due to the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases, but only two of the 10 Premier League games scheduled for this weekend have been postponed.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta was also absent from the dugout after testing positive for Covid-19 for the second time earlier this week.
But that had little impact on his side’s performance as the Gunners’ continued their impressive form by pinning the champions back for the first 45 minutes.
Arsenal took the lead when Bukayo Saka swept home Kieran Tierney’s pass, but felt they should have had more of a half-time advantage as Martin Odegaard was denied a penalty for a trip by Ederson.
The home side’s frustration at the officials boiled over after half-time as City were awarded a penalty after a VAR review for Granit Xhaka’s pull on Bernardo Silva, which Riyad Mahrez converted.
Gabriel Martinelli then missed an open goal with the chance to restore Arsenal’s lead and seconds later Gabriel Magalhaes was sent-off for two rapid yellow cards.
The 10 men nearly held out for a precious point, but City grabbed an 11th consecutive league win deep into stoppage time when Rodri poked home from close range.
“We saw our champions personality to go again,” said Rodri.
“You have to push always no matter what happens. We didn’t do a great game, but we push, we never drop and we always thought it was possible.”
Arsenal’s lead over the chasing pack for a place in next season’s Champions League is down to one point as West Ham’s return to form continued with a 3-2 win at Crystal Palace.
The Hammers had failed to win in five games prior to their 4-1 win at Watford on Tuesday.
David Moyes’ men were seemingly cruising by half-time. Michail Antonio’s effort squirmed beyond Vicente Guaita to open the scoring before Manuel Lanzini fired home a spectacular second.
Lanzini then grabbed his second of the game from the penalty spot after Luka Milivojevic was punished for handball.
Odsonne Edouard and Michael Olise pulled late goals back for Palace, but the Eagles were left to rue missing a host of earlier chances to get back into the game.
Spurs are just one point further back on Arsenal with two games in hand thanks to Davinson Sanchez’s 96th minute winner at Watford.
The Hornets have now lost their last six games stretching back to November, but looked like holding out for a first clean sheet in the league this season till the Colombian flicked in Son Heung-min’s free-kick in the 96th minute.
“I think at the end it was good to find a way to get three points,” said a relieved Tottenham manager Antonio Conte.
“I think that during the game when you create these chances to score you have to try to destroy these chances, especially in this type of game and against this type of opponent.”