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When Arsenal and Manchester City let Premier League title leads slip

It’s the issue that’s dividing analysts and social media: did Arsenal ‘bottle it,’ or is Manchester City simply too strong?

With a 4-1 home win over Leeds United in early April, Arsenal regained an eight-point advantage over rivals Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.

Table of the Premier League on April 1, 2023
Table of the Premier League on April 1, 2023
Fast forward to May, and Arsenal’s chances of winning the Premier League for the first time since the unbeaten ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003-04 appear to be lost, following a second-half defeat at home to Brighton on Sunday.

City is one win away from a third consecutive Premier League title after winning 11 straight league games and surrendering only two points from 42.

Table of the Premier League on May 15, 2023
Table of the Premier League on May 15, 2023
Experts in data According to Nielsen’s Gracenote, Arsenal did not ‘bottle’ the title, as their current total of 81 points perfectly matches their expectations.

Manchester City, on the other hand, is lifting the bar even higher, with its calculations suggesting that the club has “outperformed expectations by seven points since mid-January.”

BBC Sport examines the other Premier League title contests in which significant leads were reversed.

When will Manchester City win the Premier League?
‘It feels like there is no hope,’ says an Arsenal fan.
‘Agueroooooo!’ – Manchester City and Manchester United, 2011-12 (eight-point lead)
Premier League standings as of April 8, 2012.
Position Team Played Won Dawn Lost For Against Points
1. Manchester United 32 25 4 3 78 27 79
2. Manchester City 32 22 5 5 75 26 71
Manchester City and Manchester United battled for the Premier League title in 2011-12, switching places at the top of the league throughout the season. After falling to Arsenal 1-0 at Emirates Stadium on April 8, City found themselves eight points behind United with six games remaining.

Will Sir Alex Ferguson return to Old Trafford with a 13th Premier League title? Or could Roberto Mancini lead City to their first Premier League title in 44 years?


City won all six of their remaining Premier League matches, including a 1-0 victory over Manchester United, to win the league on goal difference. While Mancini’s side gathered three points after three points, Ferguson’s side lost 1-0 to Wigan and dropped two points in a 4-4 draw with Everton after leading 4-2 with seven minutes remaining.

City’s Edin Dzeko scored a 92nd-minute equalizer in their penultimate match of the season, losing 2-1 at home to QPR and United beating Sunderland, before Sergio Aguero’s legendary goal in the fourth minute of additional time turned Manchester sky blue.

Title hopes fade – Liverpool and Manchester City, 2013-14 (nine-point lead)
Steven Gerrard is dejected after Chelsea scored as a result of his slip.
Steven Gerrard admitted to former Liverpool teammate Jamie Carragher on The Greatest Game podcast in 2020 that he “most days” worries about his fall against Chelsea.
Table of the Premier League on the 20th of April, 2014.
Position Team Played Won Drawn Lost For Against Points
1. Liverpool 35 25 5 5 96 44 80 2. Chelsea 34 23 6 5 66 24 75
3. Manchester City 33 22 5 6 88 34 71
Liverpool and winning league titles used to go hand in hand, but the Merseyside club had been without a top-flight trophy since 1990.

Brendan Rodgers was now in charge, and as the season neared its end, the Reds went on a tear, winning 11 consecutive games – including a home win over Manchester City – to lead the Premier League title race in April 2014 by five points over second-placed Chelsea and nine points over Manuel Pellegrini’s City in third.

Liverpool had played more games than their two closest competitors, but Rodgers and his team knew they couldn’t afford any slip-ups in their final three games.

The title battle, though, was blown wide open when Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea visited Anfield on April 27. After Reds captain Steven Gerrard’s blunder, Demba Ba gave the Blues the lead towards the conclusion of the first half, before Willian capped a 2-0 win with a breakaway goal in stoppage time.

Liverpool’s trophy hopes were dashed again a week later when a three-goal lead was squandered in the final 11 minutes of a 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace.

During the Reds’ title drought, City won their last five games and won their second Premier League title in three years by two points.

Arsenal & Manchester United, 1997-98 (11-point lead)
Arsenal captain Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira, and Steve Bould pose with the Premier League trophy.
This was Arsenal’s first Premier League triumph and their 11th overall in English sport.
Premier League standings as of March 2, 1998
Position Team Played Won Drawn Lost For Against Points
1. Manchester United 28 18 5 5 57 19 59
2. Arsenal 26 13 9 4 45 26 48
3. Blackburn 27 13 9 5 49 33 48
Arsene Wenger was in his first full season as Arsenal manager when he secured the Gunners’ first league title in seven years as well as the FA Cup.

Manchester United, who took control of the table in October 1997 with a 7-0 thrashing of Barnsley, stayed on course for a third consecutive Premier League title until April, and had an 11-point lead over Arsenal and Blackburn by the start of March – despite the fact that the sides below them had games in hand.

Wenger’s transformation at Highbury accelerated in the final stages of the season, and a run of 10 wins in a row saw them win the title with two games remaining, while Ferguson’s side failed with defeats by Sheffield United and the Gunners, as well as draws against West Ham, Liverpool, and Newcastle.

‘I’d love it if we defeat them,’ Newcastle & Manchester United, 1995-96 (12-point lead)
After Newcastle’s 4-3 defeat at Anfield in 1996, the Liverpool bench and fans rejoice as Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan slumps in the dugout.
When Liverpool striker Stan Collymore scored the injury-time winner against Newcastle at Anfield in April 1996, Kevin Keegan (right) slumped in the dugout.
Premier League standings as of January 20, 1996
Position Team Played Won Drawn Lost For Against Points
1. Newcastle 23 17 3 3 45 19 54
2. Liverpool 23 12 6 5 46 21 42
3. Manchester United 23 12 6 5 41 27 42
Before Kevin Keegan’s famous “I will love it” post-match comment, Newcastle United had began the season in title-winning form and established a 12-point lead over Manchester United by January 1996.

The remaining 15 games, however, did not go as planned for Newcastle manager Keegan, as the Magpies lost five of their next eight matches and were upset by Ferguson’s team at St James’ Park in March, cutting the lead at the top to one point.

More away problems followed, with defeats to Arsenal, Blackburn, and Liverpool in a 4-3 thriller at Anfield, allowing Manchester United to draw level on 64 points before overtaking the Magpies with a 1-0 triumph against the Gunners at Old Trafford.

The mind games began when Ferguson questioned whether some clubs were as committed to beating Newcastle as his own team.

After a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Leeds United, Keegan rants to the Sky Sports cameras, saying, “He [Ferguson] has got to go to Middlesbrough and get something,” before concluding with the legendary statement. “I’ll tell you honestly, I’d love it if we beat them – I really would.”

Unfortunately for Keegan and Newcastle, Manchester United’s 3-0 victory at Boro made it easy for them to take anything from the last game. Newcastle’s wait to be named English champions for the first time since 1927 was extended with 1-1 draws against Nottingham Forest and Tottenham in their final two games.

Bottled it? – the fan’s take on Yves: “Arsenal had to field essentially the same team throughout the season.” Man City can field three different squads and yet win the Premier League. Seriously, what did everyone anticipate to happen?”

“Arsenal blew it,” Tim says. It’s all well and well to claim they finished second, but they had an eight-point lead in a season in which City started slowly, Liverpool and Chelsea were terrible, and Spurs crumbled. This was their opportunity.”

“Arsenal hasn’t bottled anything,” Dobbo says. The best team winning the league is always the proper outcome, and Man City is, sadly, the best team.”

“Where exactly are these people denying that Arsenal threw away the league?” James asks. They have, but coming second after being fifth last year and expecting to finish outside the top four again is still a terrific season. Clearly, more depth and strength are required, but it is not to diminish the efforts of the players this season.”

“I wonder if all the Arsenal fans remember the abuse they heaped on Tottenham about being ‘bottle jobs’ after Leicester deservedly won the league.” “How many points ahead were the Spurs in February?”


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