Arsenal's premier league title bid was given a significant boost without Arsene Wenger's men kicking a ball on Saturday as second-placed Chelsea were held to a 0-0 home draw by mid-table Middlesbrough.
Chelsea, seven points behind Arsenal after the north Londoners' 4-2 win over Liverpool on Friday, could only close that gap by one point after well organised Middlesbrough comfortably contained them in a disappointing game.
Manager Claudio Ranieri conceded that his team could now not deprive the unbeaten Gunners of their second title in three seasons.
"I said only Arsenal could lose the title and after the Liverpool match I say 'well done' to them. They are the champions," Ranieri told reporters.
The Blues, who ousted Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-finals in the week, have only six games left but Wenger's side can go further clear if they beat Newcastle United on Sunday at St James' Park.
Arsenal need 13 points from their remaining seven games to reclaim the title they last won two years ago. It would be Wenger's third since taking over from Bruce Rioch at Highbury in 1996.
Chelsea found Boro's defence far harder to open than Arsenal's on Tuesday when they won 2-1 and only a John Terry first half header, an earlier Joe Cole drive and a late Frank Lampard miscue seriously threatened Mark Schwarzer's goal.
Their day was not brightened when French midfielder Claude Makelele was carried off on a stretcher midway through the second half after clashing with Gaizka Mendieta.
Champions Manchester United, in third, looked in even more trouble at Birmingham City after going behind to a first-half goal whenkeeper Roy Carroll fumbled Martin Grainger's free kick into the net.
ButUnited levelled on the hour when Birmingham's offside claims against Louis Saha were brushed aside by referee Dermot Gallagher and substitute Cristiano Ronaldo headed perfectly inside the post.
They then clinched all three points with another header from Saha after 78 minutes to move 12points behind Arsenal.
Elsewhere, bottom club Wolverhampton Wanderers squandered a second-half penalty by Colin Cameron but drew 3-3 in a thriller at fellow strugglers Manchester City after going two-upin the first half.
Shaun Wright-Phillipsscored deep into injury time to snatch a point for City.
Leeds won 2-1 at Blackburn Rovers thanks to a second-minute Stephen Caldwell goal and a late Mark Viduka strike to move level on 31points with their opponents.
They remain third from bottom, however, behind Blackburn and Portsmouth, also on 31 points, ongoal difference.
Portsmouth pinned back Charlton at the Valley in a 1-1 draw after Yakubu Aiyegbeni replied to Shaun Bartlett's first goal of the year with a low 18-yarddrive.
Leeds did, however, leapfrog Leicester City who lost 2-0at home to Fulham with substitute Collins John scoring twice.
Aston Villa, meanwhile, who are chasing a UEFA Cup spot, twice went ahead at Bolton Wanderers only to draw 2-2.
Peter Crouch dwarfed the home defence to head in the first after 18minutes only for a rejuvenated Bolton to hit back three minutes after the break through Henrik Pedersen.
Lee Hendrie latched on to Gareth Barry's pass to put Villa back on top before Kevin Davies volleyed in an 86thminute leveller.