February 14, 2016

LONDON (AP) After 10 months out injured, Danny Welbeck took little more than 10 minutes on his return from surgery to score a precious goal for Arsenal.

The striker's header in the fifth minute of stoppage time on Sunday secured a 2-1 victory over 10-man Leicester that opened up the Premier League title race heading into a two-week break.

Leicester remains the surprise front-runner after only its third loss of the season, but Tottenham and Arsenal are only two points behind. Tottenham still has the edge over its north London rival due to its superior goal difference after a 2-1 victory of its own on Sunday at fourth-place Manchester City.

That result made Arsenal's comeback earlier in the day even more important as Arsene Wenger seeks to end a 12-year league title drought.

''It will strengthen our belief that we are in the fight because we had a bit of a dodgy spell,'' the Arsenal manager said.

Arsenal had conceded on the stroke of halftime when Jamie Vardy scored a penalty. But Leicester defender Danny Simpson received two yellow cards in the opening nine minutes of the second half to give Arsenal a man advantage.

Arsenal's substitutes then provided the goals.

Theo Walcott equalized with 20 minutes to go with Arsenal's first shot on target and Welbeck, who replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 83rd minute, headed in Mesut Ozil's free kick on his return from left knee surgery.

''It has been a bit of a roller coaster for me, missing a lot of football ... it was difficult,'' Welbeck said. ''To get that winning goal is a beautiful feeling.''

It made Arsenal the first team to complete the double this season over Leicester, which has gatecrashed the elite after narrowly surviving relegation last year.

This loss punctures the cautious optimism building at Leicester that it could win the top prize in English football for the first time in its 132-year history.

But Leicester has still collected six points from a possible nine in the last two weeks, having beaten Liverpool and Manchester City.

And while top-four rivals Arsenal, Tottenham and City have European and FA Cup games over the next seven days, Leicester has two clear weeks until the league resumes.

Ranieri is giving his players a week off from the club to escape the freezing conditions and mounting expectation at home.

''I said to (the players), `Don't worry. It's OK. You are top of the league with two points more,''' Ranieri said.

While Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have won plaudits for their lethal attacking contribution, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has been integral to Leicester's title charge.

Schmeichel could, however, have looked reckless when he raced out his penalty area to halt Aaron Ramsey's advance. But the daring move succeeded and, in a rapid response, Marc Albrighton crossed to Vardy whose first effort of the game was a header saved by Petr Cech.

This unexpected title challenge has been forged on making the most of counterattacks, with Leicester having the third-worst possession statistics in the league.

N'Golo Kante was also wreaking havoc, unsettling Arsenal's defense. His curling shot five minutes before halftime was only kept out of the net by Cech's one-handed save.

The opener came just before half time with Kante down on the field. Play was allowed to continue, with Vardy cutting in from the right toward goal before Monreal stuck a boot out to block him. Vardy sent Cech wrong way from the spot to make it 19 goals in 26 games for the league's top scorer.

The good fortune before the break was reversed after it. Simpson was booked for bringing down Alexis Sanchez in the 49th and shown a second yellow card five minutes later for hauling down Giroud.

Ranieri's response was to sacrifice Mahrez, who was replaced by defender Marcin Wasilewski.

''It was a mental test for us,'' Wenger said. ''We took all the risks to win it.''

Walcott replaced Francis Coquelin and restored parity in the 70th. Hector Bellerin's cross from right was deftly headed down by Giroud into the path of the unmarked Walcott, who steered the ball into the net.

Giroud came close to snatching the winner himself several times before Welbeck found the net.

''In the last two training sessions he was very strong,'' Wenger said. ''Everyone is extremely happy for (Welbeck) because he has been out for 10 months which is an eternity for a player.''

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