Arsenal win to stay in title race

Arsenal win to stay in title race

first_imgArsenal kept up the pressure on Premier League leaders Manchester United and maintained their title hopes with victory at Blackpool.Arsene Wenger’s side have reduced United’s lead to seven points with a game in hand, despite veteran 41-year-old keeper Jens Lehmann being thrust into his first start for the club in three years, after Manuel Almunia was injured in the warm-up.Lehmann had a relatively untroubled first half as Arsenal established firm control courtesy of two goals in three minutes from Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Eboue.The visitors could have built up an unassailable lead before half-time as Samir Nasri hit a post and was also denied by Blackpool keeper Richard Kingson.Blackpool launched an assault on the Gunners after the break as Gary Taylor-Fletcher pulled a goal back after 52 minutes and then appeared to be denied a clear penalty by referee Lee Mason when he was brought down by Laurent Koscielny.It was not the only incident Tangerines boss Ian Holloway will have regarded as pivotal, with Keith Southern somehow failing to even make contact with a header in front of an open goal as Arsenal suffered a serious wobble and frailties were exposed. Wenger introduced Theo Walcott to give Arsenal extra pace and thrust, and the ploy worked when he raced clear to set up Robin van Persie for the crucial third 14 minutes from time.There was still time for Lehmann – on a short-term deal at Arsenal and only a week shy of being the oldest player ever to play for the club by overtaking 1920s winger Jock Rutherford – to show some of the old instincts by saving with his legs as DJ Campbell looked certain to give Blackpool hope of a late recovery.Wenger’s frustration at Arsenal’s recent collapse was obvious before the game but this victory will lift the spirits of manager, players and supporters as they still retain hope of catching United.For Blackpool, this defeat increased their relegation worries and extended a dismal sequence of losing 11 out of 15 Premier League games since the turn of the year.There was drama even before kick-off when it became clear Almunia was struggling with a knee injury as he warmed up in the goalmouth, forcing a hasty rewrite of Wenger’s teamsheet and the return of former Germany keeper Lehmann to the colours. After that late change, it was inevitable that Blackpool would attempt to apply early pressure on Lehmann – but his only moment of discomfort came when he attempted to take a goal kick with a lace undone.Van Persie gave a sign of the problems to come for Blackpool when he escaped the offside trap to run on to Cesc Fabregas’s pass but his touch was heavy off his chest and Kingson raced from his line to claim.Blackpool’s reprieve was brief as their defensive shortcomings were brutally revealed when Arsenal took the lead. Van Persie was allowed too much time and space on the left flank and his cross was met by the easiest of finishes from Diaby.And three minutes later Arsenal doubled their advantage when Blackpool’s defence was once more nowhere to be seen as Eboue drove into the area before sending a thumping finish past Kingson.Holloway immediately moved towards the touchline to reorganise and attempt to lift his players, whose bright start had been totally undermined by their calamitous lack of composure and organisation at the back. Charlie Adam, predictably, was probing and trying to spark life into Blackpool – but the task was proving even beyond the player who has provided so much inspiration in this eventful season by the seaside.Arsenal threatened to unlock Blackpool’s defence every time they attacked and Nasri almost increased their lead twice in the space of seconds as the interval loomed. He brought a fine block from Kingson before striking the outside of an upright after collecting Fabregas’s clever lofted pass in the area.Lehmann was finally given an anxious moment in the dying seconds of the half when Taylor-Fletcher and Adam combined in the area and it needed desperate defending to keep Blackpool out in a six-yard scramble.Holloway had clearly delivered stern words to his players at half-time. They steamed into Arsenal on the resumption and Luke Varney should have done better than steer Adam’s free-kick wide.It was not long, however, before Blackpool did get the goal their renewed ambition deserved. And great credit must go to referee Mason, who twice played advantage before Taylor-Fletcher scored from close range. Jack Wilshere committed a foul for which he was booked and Lehmann hauled down Campell as he raced into the area but Mason waited – crucially – to see how the play developed, allowing Taylor-Fletcher to ignite the contest.Mason did not draw any credit from Blackpool or Holloway moments later when Taylor-Fletcher was clearly caught by Koscielny’s trailing leg in the area. It looked a certain penalty but to the home supporters’ fury – and Arsenal’s undoubted relief – he waved play on.And, as Arsenal rocked, Southern missed a header with the goal gaping in front of him and Lehmann unprotected.Wenger needed to restore a measure of order to proceedings and introduced Walcott for Andrey Arshavin, who had been very much on the margins of the game.Van Persie almost restored Arsenal’s two-goal lead as Blackpool pressed for the leveller, shooting just wide and then sending a spectacular volley over the angle from Fabregas’s pass. The Netherlands striker made no mistake when handed a third opportunity. It was a goal that owed almost everything to Walcott, who exploited time and space to leave Van Persie to complete a formality of a finish.Blackpool were denied a grandstand finish when Lehmann saved from Campbell – but Arsenal will have travelled back to the capital with their dreams of winning the title still alive.Source: BBClast_img

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