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Chelsea have been narrowly focused on the FA Cup and Champions League for quite some time. It was obvious when they fielded their second team against Arsenal, it was obvious when they lost to Newcastle and it was obvious when that paid off in a win over Liverpool in the FA Cup final. Still, there's something a bit shocking about the way they played on Tuesday. Three days after the final, they looked completely disinterested in a 4-1 loss at Anfield.
John Terry was the goat of the evening, making a seemingly infinite number of errors in the first half. Chelsea could have conceded many times over in the opening 20 minutes, but it took Liverpool that long to score. Michael Essien netted for the Reds, putting a ... shot? pass? kicked ball thing? ... yeah, kicked ball thing by Luis Suarez into the back of the net.
The comedy of errors continued five minutes later when Terry fell on his face, allowing Jordan Henderson to run straight at goalkeeper Ross Turnbull with the ball. He scored, making it 2-0 to Liverpool. Three minutes later, Daniel Agger scored a header on a set piece to make it 3-0.
Liverpool should have made it 4-0 before the break. Andy Carroll drew a penalty on Branislav Ivanovic in stoppage time with a world-class dive. Stewart Downing -- the expensive signing who is yet to score in the league -- stepped up to the spot and hit the post. It's been a bad year.
Ramires gave Chelsea a bit of hope in the 50th minute, scoring with his midsection and/or groin, assisted by Florent Malouda. Unfortunately for supporters of the Blues, they were not hopeful for long. Jonjo Shelvey sealed the game for Liverpool in the 61st minute with a long-range effort, assisted by Turnbull. It was just that kind of game.
Blackburn Rovers went down not with a bang, but with a chicken-filled whimper. Needing a win to avoid relegation, the hosts came out flat-footed against Wigan Athletic and more or less condemned themselves to the drop. Although the final score was only 1-0, Wigan were dominant for much of the match and the hosts were booed off the park at halftime.
The only positive of the first half, as far as the home fans were concerned, was the release of a caped chicken onto the field in protest of Blackburn owners Venky's. The chicken was eventually caught thanks to the efforts of Ali Al-Habsi and Yakubu. That was pretty exciting. The match was not; the best chance of the half went to the visitors, when Gary Caldwell (a Wigan centre back) thwarted Victor Moses (a Wigan forward) from a corner kick.
Then again, even if Caldwell hadn't blocked Moses off he probably wouldn't have scored -- the 21-year-old made a habit of hilarious misses throughout the match, even hitting a shot out for a throw-in at one point. Blackburn came pretty close to making their guests pay after the break, and Junior Hoillet almost certainly should have had a penalty after being felled by Emmerson Boyce, but it was a false dawn as far as Steve Kean's men were concerned and Wigan managed to get the goal their play warranted through Antolin Alcaraz in the 87th minute.
Blackburn are now six points clear of safety with one game to go -- an obviously impossible margin to overcome -- and you could easily see them stuck in the Championship for some time. Wigan, meanwhile, will be sticking around for another year. It's yet another incredible comeback for Roberto Martinez and crew.
The names may not stir your emotions, but this meeting between two relegation threatened clubs should be an exciting match.
Manchester United played in one of those rarest of matches - a game that only mattered in terms of goal differential. Thanks to a 1-0 loss at the Etihad Stadium last Monday and Manchester City's 2-0 win against Newcastle United earlier on Sunday the defending champions found themselves three points off the pace and needing to make up ten goals as well.
Against an off-form Swansea City, three points was hardly a tough ask, and a Paul Scholes tip-in in the 28th minute more or less wrapped those up. But United needed a flood of goals, and even though Ashley Young brought them to within eight via a neat curling strike just before half time, said flood was clearly not about to materialise. It's not as though they didn't create chances - Javier Hernandez could easily have had a hattrick (or more), and there were several more close calls for Michel Vorm on top of Chicharito's mistakes - but United weren't playing as though they realised that the title might come down to goal differential next weekend.
It took until the 79th minute for Sir Alex Ferguson to introduce Dimitar Berbatov, and even then it was for a striker in Wayne Rooney. There was minimal urgency about United, who eventually ran out as 2-0 winners, and as a result they're going to have to hope for City to drop points against Queens Park Rangers next Sunday. Otherwise, the title is going to the noisy neighbours, because they're not beating Sunderland by ten or more at the Stadium of Light.
Try telling Fulham fans that this match didn't matter. The Cottages have confirmed a top ten finish in the Premier League thanks to a 2-1 win against Sunderland. Clint Dempsey - who else? - got the hosts underway with an excellent twelfth minute goal, the USA international crashing home a 25-yard free kick, shooting into the top corner after Lee Cattermole had brought down Mahamadou Diarra.
Sunderland briefly brought the game back to level pegging when Phil Bardsley finished off a move in style, slamming a long-range shot past Mark Schwarzer in the 34th minute. Any hope Sunderland had of holding on was dispatched with style by Moussa Dembele, who less than a minute later added a long-range strike of his own to a game already featuring some excellent goals.
Although the visitors pushed hard for an equaliser in the second half, which led to an entertaining, open affair, both goalkeepers were in no mood to concede further and the match eventually ended at 2-1, with Schwarzer denying Frazier Campbell at the death. With the win, Fulham move into eighth place, and a win at White Hart Lane next weekend would see them break their own record for points in the Premier League.
The final Premier League match for Wolves at the Molineux (at least for now) was a dire affair. Neither side found the net, despite plenty of chances for Everton, as the two sides played to a scoreless draw.
Wolves did manage to avoid a dubious place in the record books by avoiding their 14th home loss of the season, a mark held by Sunderland. They also damaged the Toffees chances of a seventh place finish.
Everton had the better chances throughout the match and actually twice put the ball past Dorus De Vries, but in both cases the offside flag denied them. Wolves best chance came in the 26th minute when Christophe Berra headed a Stephen Hunt free-kick just over the bar.
The point is the first for Wolves at home since December.
The day began with such promise for Bolton Wanderers. Needing a win and for Queens Park Rangers to drop points in order to feel secure in their hopes to remain in the Premier League next season, the hosts raced out to a 1-0 lead against West Bromwich Albion thanks to a Martin Petrov penalty, and things got even better in the second half when Liam Ridgewell's clearance struck Billy Jones and bounced over the line.
With the score at 2-0 with twenty minutes left and QPR being held to a draw by Stoke City, things were looking rosey for the Trotters. Sadly, it all fell apart in short order. Chris Brunt hammered past Adam Bogdan in the 74th minute, and while Bolton drew everyone back to repel the pressure from the Baggies, their defending wasn't quite good enough to prevent Brunt from floating an 89th minute cross to substitute James Morrison, who fired home to break Bolton hearts. Meanwhile, Stoke conceded a very late winner at Loftus Road, meaning that Bolton are two points within the relegation zone with only a game to play. Yikes.
Djibril Cisse scored in the 89th minute to give Queens Park Rangers the victory over Stoke City. The massive three points pulls QPR out of the relegation zone to 16th place, and two points clear of 18th place Bolton Wanderers. The home supporters swarmed the pitch after the match knowing that they may have just seen the three points that keeps their side in the Premier League for next season.
It didn't look like QPR were going to find the goal they needed as the clock continued to tick. They earned a corner when Shaun Wright-Phillips saw his shot deflected. With minutes left, Loftus Road erupted when Cisse finished Anton Ferdinand's flick-on from Adel Taarabt's corner. Cisse snuck in at the back post and had the simplest of finishes. Peter Crouch nearly equalized for Stoke in stoppage time, but his shot was just wide to the left.
A point next week against Manchester City will be enough to guarantee QPR's survival for next season. Otherwise, they'll be safe as long as Bolton does not beat Stoke.
Aston Villa managed to hold Tottenham Hotspur to a 1-1 draw to shake up the race for third place yet again. The visitors had a chance to go back into the top three thanks to Arsenal's hiccup at the Emirates, but they looked like they were set to blow it completely after a long-range effort from Ciaran Clark deflected off William Gallas' head an in with 35 minutes played. To say it was a goal against the run of play would be an understatement - the hosts had four shots all match to Spurs' 22.
Danny Rose then made matters worse by earning himself a straight red card for a flying two-footed tackle on Villa fullback Alan Hutton, bringing his side down to ten men. Fortunately for Tottenham, Villa's lack of ability to kill the game off - or even defend a lead with a numerical advantage - meant that they were able to force their way back into the match and levelled via the penalty spot when Richard Dunne felled Sandro with an hour gone.
Spurs were still asking most of the questions at 1-1, but they didn't have quite enough to beat Shay Given again. All of the remaining candidates for the top four appear to be falling over themselves not to reach it, but Spurs can still secure a Champions League berth (assuming Chelsea lose this year's final) with a home win against Fulham next Sunday.
Roberto Mancini is now within three points of claiming the Premier League crown with Manchester City scoring twice in the late stages to settle a tricky away tie at Newcastle United. The win brings Manchester City three points clear of United with a far superior goal differential, meaning that a win for the leaders against QPR next weekend will surely see them wrap up the title.
The hosts were very much in the ascendancy in the early going, dominating possession although never really looking like they were going to get many chances out of it, but then the game opened up significantly after that with both Tim Krul and Joe Hart (not to mention their defenders) called into significant action. It was a match that could have gone either way until the intervention of Yaya Toure in the 70th minute. The Ivorian picked up a pass from Sergio Aguero 20 yards out and blasted into the bottom corner to make it 1-0, and although City were forced to endure a nervous spell thanks to a series of bad misses, Toure wrapped it up from close range in the final minutes.
Over to Manchester United, although in all likelihood their match against Swansea won't even matter.
Manchester City faces a tough Newcastle side in a match that could decide their title hopes.
Bacary Sagna has suffered a broken leg and is out for Euro 2012, as well as Arsenal's season finale.
Arsenal and Norwich City had to settle for a draw after a truly sensational second half at the Emirates today. A double from Robin Van Persie had the Gunners believing they'd turned a corner and clawed their way to three points, but substitute Steve Morison grabbed a late equalizer for The Canaries.
Both teams continued the second half at a frenetic pace with chances at both ends but it was the vsitors who squandered the best one as Simeon Jackson beat Laurent Koscielny far too easily, but when one-on-one with Wojciech Szczesney the striker could only power straight at the Pole.
Yossi Benayoun, who opened the scoring in the first half, wasted a great chance on 56 minutes when a freekick was floated into the area, but the Israeli's free header went straight into the arms of John Ruddy.
Right back up to the other end, a minute later, the visitors wasted yet more chances. First Kyle Naughton smashed across goal when if the ball was just a bit more controlled Jackson would surely have got his outstretched foot on the end of it. Seconds later, Wes Hoolahan was through on the end of Grant Holt's chip but could only guide the ball a yard wide of the post.
Arsenal's turn to show their profligacy on 60 minutes when Benayoun danced through the challenges in the area, found Robin Van Persie who finished weakly into the feet of Ruddy. With the ball not clear, Alex Song crossed into the area, and Aaron Ramsey just couldn't get his foot on the ball to tap into an open net.
Despite the lack of goals, this was a second half you just couldn't take your eyes off for a moment.
Robin Van Persie fired a shot wide on his unfavored right foot on 64 minutes, and in the same minute Tomas Rosicky shot wide from the edge of the area as things heated up and the home side became even more desperate for a breakthrough.
Eventually, after some unrelenting pressure, Robin Van Persie drew his side level at 2-2 after 71 minutes. After a scramble in the area, Alex Song chipped over the defence to Van Persie, who had delayed his run into the box for an easy finish beyond Ruddy.
Unbelievably, Arsenal took the lead on 79 minutes when Robin Van Persie, so often the hero for Arsenal, was once again with his 30th goal of the season. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain's cross was initially over hit to the Dutchman, however it was eventually recovered by the hosts, and after a very lucky deflection into his path, Van Persie's shot was just far too powerful for Ruddy to stop, sending Gunners fans into raptures.
Their joy wouldn't last though, and with five minutes remaining, substitute Steve Morison equalized for Norwich with his first goal in 14 games. January signing Jonny Howson played a delicious ball over the top to Morison, who in acres of space lashed the ball across Szczesney.
As said earlier, this second half was one not to take your eyes off with all the chances, goals and tasty tackles. With just minutes remaining there was nearly another twist in the tale as Van Persie, onside and unmarked, could only fire straight at Ruddy from 10-yards out.
Referee Anthony Taylor had a reluctance to give a penalty in the first half, and he continued that in the second as Arsenal were denied a spot kick in the 88th minute. The cross came in from Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho was a second too slow to get to it at the front post, and with the goal begging, Van Persie appeared to be tripped by Naughton at the far post, denying a certain goal, and perhaps winner for Arsenal, although the way this game was going anything was possible.
Even Alex Song tried an audacious back heel from six-yards out in the dying moments of the game, Marouane Chamakh nearly scored during a goalmouth scramble, Kieran Gibbs found himself only able to head straight at Ruddy in injury time, but nothing would come as the referee blew for full time after an incredible game.
Arsenal fail to win for the fourth game in a row, and now a third place finish in the Premier League is out of their hands. As for Norwich, a heck of a lot of credit to them for fighting right the way to the final minute, and they can chalk this up as another great day in their return to the Premier League.
For more match reaction head to our Arsenal blog, The Short Fuse.
Nowrich City lead Arsenal 2-1 at halftime in today's only Premier League game thanks to goals from Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt, with The Canaries firmly in charge at the Emirates.
Arsenal have had their wobbles at home this season, notably the recent defeat to Wigan Athletic, but as the side look to move closer to securing Champions League football for next season they were handed the perfect start when Israeli international Yossi Benayoun opened the scoring after just two minutes.
It was a lovely strike by Benayoun, cutting in from the left hand side of midfield, onto his right foot and curling the ball beyond John Ruddy into the top corner with just a minute and six second on the clock.
That didn't deter Norwich though, and almost hit back after five minutes when Simeon Jackson charged down the left, cut the ball back to top scorer Grant Holt unmarked in the Arsenal area, but his shot was blocked well by Kieran Gibbs.
Norwich continued to press following Benayoun's opener, and looked the better side. The Canaries got their reward when Wes Hoolahan equalized in the eleventh minute. A nice passing move involving Jonny Howson and Elliott Bennett opened up space for on-loan defender Kyle Naughton to cross for Hoolahan to finish, with a little help however from Wojciech Szczesny.
The Polish international will be very disappointed with his part in the goal as the ball managed to wriggle under him, when it wasn't travelling at any great speed. Very poor indeed.
Norwich continued to press as Arsenal pressed the self-destruct button, and on 26 minutes, Norwich, deservedly, had the lead through Grant Holt.
Arsenal in pressing to retake the lead left themselves horribly exposed at the back, with only two defenders against Norwich's counter attack. Hoolahan fed Holt, who after adjusting his footwork found the back of the net, via the boot of Gibbs which gave the ball a crucial deflection up and over Szczesney.
Arsenal's agony became even worse when Bacary Sagna was forced off on a stretcher in bizarre circumstances on 30 minutes. Stretch for a ball under no pressure, the defender must have suffered a muscular injury as after a hefty stoppage, he was replaced by Francis Coquelin, himself only recently back from a hamstring injury.
Arsenal had a few chances to level though. Robin Van Persie, having a very quiet game was a whisker away from connecting with a cross where he'd have surely leveled, while Gibbs also scuffed wide after good work from Gervinho inside the area.
Arsenal could count themselves lucky on several occasions as the half drew to a close. First of all that they still had eleven men on the pitch when Benayoun kicked out at Bradley Johnson, then later two penalty appeals which were turned down by Anthony Taylor.
The first occurred when Francis Coquelin seemed to get the wrong side of Hoolahan, bringing him to the ground with a sliding challenge. You've seen them given, but for me the Arsenal defender just got enough on the ball to ensure the right call was made.
The second however the referee got horribly wrong. A Naughton cross into the area should have been met by Russell Martin at the front post, if it wasn't for Laurent Koscielny pulling his shirt all over, and very blatantly. It was as they say a stonewaller. Not given.
After the break, Arsenal have to come out much, much better. They seem sluggish, and out of ideas where as Norwich are very good value for their lead.
For more from an Arsenal point of view, check out our Arsenal site, The Short Fuse.
In a weekend which all but perhaps one game taking place has massive implications, Newcastle-Man City and Blackburn-Wigan are the biggest.
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