LONDON – Eidur Gudjohnsen’s equalizer 31 seconds into the second half gave league-leading Chelsea a 2-2 draw on Sunday at Arsenal, neutralizing two surprise goals by Gunners’ striker Thierry Henry.
Defending champion Arsenal stayed five points behind Chelsea, but dropped into third place as Everton defeated Liverpool on Saturday 1-0.
Chelsea leads with 40 points with Everton (36) and Arsenal (35) chasing. Fourth-place Man United plays Monday at Fulham.
With the match tied 2-2 at Highbury, Henry was left wide open in front of the net in the 77th minute, but his left-footed shot from 8-meters (yard) sailed over the crossbar with Arsenal fans behind the goal preparing to celebrate a victory – and his hat trick.
‘This was a game – not just for England, but for the world,’ Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said. ‘Everybody who loves football was looking at this game.’
Asked if the best two teams in England had just met, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger replied: ‘At the moment yes, but this is December. There is a long way to go. Everton and Man United aren’t far behind.’
‘I’m frustrated because when you are leading twice, it’s difficult to take,’ Wenger added. ‘We suffered only on set pieces, but we suffered a lot.’
Arsenal got a spectacular start in a match that lived up to expectations.
After only 73 seconds, Henry took a headed ball on the bounce from fellow striker Jose Antonio Reyes, and left-footed home a twisting shot from 16 meters (yards) that went in high to the left of Chelsea ‘keeper Petr Cech.
Chelsea replied in the 17th, equalizing on a header from John Terry. Terry scored seconds after Arsenal ‘keeper Manuel Almunia made a point-blank save on Frank Lampard. But Arsenal failed to defend a set piece with Terry scoring off a corner. Henry put Arsenal ahead in the 29th – again catching Chelsea by surprise. The Frenchman took a free kick as soon as referee Graham Poll began to back away, with the ball curling into the far corner and catching Cech flat-footed. The 25-meter (yard) goal was controversial, but Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho refused to criticize Poll’s decision. But he made his opinion clear.
‘I don’t want to speak about it,’ Mourinho said. ‘If I speak about it, maybe I’ll have to go to the FA for a visit, maybe I’ll have to stay in the stands for a few weeks, maybe I’ll have to spend money instead of spending money on Christmas gifts.’
‘I have a lot of respect for Mr. Poll. He’s a top referee. He’s one of the best in the world.
Chelsea started quickly in the second half, equalizing 31 seconds after halftime when Eidur Gudjohnsen put a close-in header behind Almunia. Despite the goal, the second half was scrappy with loose passes and few chances.
In the 69th, Chelsea’s Dutch striker Arjen Robben broke down the left side and stepped cleverly around several defenders before striking a short shot into the side of the net. In the 84th, Arsenal’s Robin van Persie had an open chance in front of the net but directed his shot just wide.
In Sunday’s other game, Birmingham City defeated Aston Villa 2-1 to claim the second city derby, taking the match on first-half goals from Clinton Morrison and David Dunn. Gareth Barry scored late for Villa. The victory at Villa Park moved City temporarily out of relegation danger, improving to 17 points. West Brom (10) holds down last place topped by Southampton (13), Blackburn and Crystal Palace (14). Villa remained in sixth place with 25 points.
Morrison gave Birmingham City a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute on a goalkeeper blunder by Villa’s Thomas Sorensen. Morrison’s shot from just inside the 18-yard (meter) line bounced in front of Sorensen, and slipped through his hands into the goal.