United, Chelsea maintain pace as Arsenal stumbleBy DPA, IANS
Sunday, March 28, 2010
LONDON - Thumping victories for both Manchester United and Chelsea maintained the pair’s close battle for the English Premier League title as Arsenal lost ground.
United responded to Chelsea’s earlier extraordinary 7-1 win over Aston Villa with a clinical 4-0 win against Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium, while Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw at Birmingham City Saturday.
The results maintain the champions’ one point lead at the top of the Premier League, with Chelsea just behind on 71 points and Arsenal a further three points back.
On paper, the trip to the Reebok appeared not to be easy for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and the task was made more difficult by the absence of in-form striker Wayne Rooney, who missed the game with a knee injury.
But with seven minutes of the first half remaining, the away side were helped by an own goal from defender Jlloyd Samuel, who inexplicably fired Ryan Giggs’ cross into his own net after the ball had narrowly evaded Darren Fletcher’s reach.
The result was confirmed midway through the second half when Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen could only parry Fletcher’s shot into the path of striker Dimitar Berbatov, who finished from ten metres.
And the Bulgarian claimed his second goal nine minutes later to put the result firmly beyond the home side with a classy finish after excellent work by Nani on the left wing.
The Portuguese midfielder was again at the heart of the action just minutes later when he pulled the ball back for substitute Darren Gibson to make it 4-0 as the home side collapsed under the weight of United’s pressure.
With the crucial game between the two main contenders taking place at Old Trafford next week, Chelsea’s 7-1 win over Aston Villa signalled their belief that they can win the title this year.
Despite resting top scorer Didier Drogba, Carlo Ancelotti’s men thrashed Champions League-chasing Villa through four goals from Frank Lampard, two for Florent Malouda and one from Salomon Kalou.
Lampard opened the scoring after 15 minutes before the home side’s defences were breached as Ashley Young’s cross found John Carew at the far post to equalise for Villa.
But another goal for Lampard from the penalty spot on the stroke of half time restored the home side’s lead before Malouda made the points safe 12 minutes into the second half with an excellent finish after good work from Yuri Zhirkov.
Another penalty from Lampard five minutes later started to pile on the misery for Villa, and the situation got even worse for Martin O’Neil’s men when Malouda claimed his second on 68 minutes.
Substitute Salomon Kalou made it 6-1 with an excellent finish after unselfish work from Nicolas Anelka, before Lampard crashed in his fourth goal of the game in the closing minutes to make it 7-1.
Chelsea Assistant Manager, Ray Wilkins, was impressed by his side’s performance, but played down the significance of the scoreline.
“We have to keep winning. It’s just another three points, although it was good to boost the goal difference. I tried to keep them going and even at the end we were pressing for eight”, he said.
Wilkins admitted though that the result was ideal preparation before next week’s potentially title-deciding encounter with United.
“It was the perfect tonic before we go to Old Trafford next weekend. We fear nobody and we’ll go there and play and hopefully we’ll get the right result.”
Arsenal’s title hopes suffered a severe blow at St Andrews when Kevin Philips struck deep into injury time to claim a point for Birmingham City in a 1-1 draw.
The third-placed team had been on course to claim a vital victory in their pursuit of the top two sides after Samir Nasri had put them ahead on 83 minutes with a superb drive from just outside the penalty area.
But a costly error by goalkeeper Manuel Almunia allowed Philips to score and damage Arsenal’s title hopes.
In the race for fourth place, Tottenham moved five points clear of fifth placed Manchester City with a comfortable 2-0 home win over Portsmouth with goals from the away side’s former players, Peter Crouch and Niko Krancjar.
At the bottom of the table, a crucial 2-0 win for Hull City over Fulham pulled them level with struggling West Ham United, who were defeated 1-0 at home by Stoke City through a Ricardo Fuller goal while elsewhere, Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers played out a goalless draw at Molineux.