Apr 25, 2011

Bolton crush Arsenal title hopes

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Arsenal's Premier League title challenge is all but over after they lost to a last-minute goal at Bolton.

The Gunners were below par in the first half and trailed at half-time to Daniel Sturridge's header following a corner.

Early in the second half, Wojciech Szczesny saved a Kevin Davies penalty and a minute later Robin van Persie slotted in an equaliser for Arsenal.

The visitors had enough chances to win the match but were left shocked by Tamir Cohen's poignant late header.

The substitute celebrated his match-winning goal by revealing a t-shirt in honour of his late father Avi (a former Liverpool player), who died after a motorbike accident in December.

But while Cohen's sentiment was touching, Arsenal will be left with litttle reason to lift their mood.

Title chances now minimal - Wenger

After wins for league leaders Manchester United and rejuvenated challengers Chelsea on Saturday, the equation was a simple one for Arsenal: win, or essentially wave goodbye to this year's title challenge and their last remaining hopes of silverware.

Three points here would have left the Gunners knowing that victory over United at the Emirates next Sunday would have taken them to within three points of the leaders, but they now trail Sir Alex Ferguson's men by nine points with only 12 to play for.

Having spent much of the season as United's closest challengers for the league, Arsenal now face a battle to secure second place in the table, with Chelsea holding a three-point lead and a superior goal difference over them.

There was a time, not long ago, when Arsenal's performances at the Reebok represented a central tenet of the argument that Arsene Wenger's side were a soft touch.

Three successive victories at the Reebok in a run of eight straight wins in total over Bolton prior to Sunday had helped them to hit back at accusations of their physical fallibility.

But doubts remain about the Gunners' mental strength, which was further fuelled by their sacrificing of a two-goal lead in last Wednesday's 3-3 draw at north London rivals Tottenham, and will now come under the severest scrutiny.

Yet a victory in Lancashire would not have flattered Arsenal. They fashioned enough chances in the second half alone to comfortably win the game. The fact that they did not, when you suspect their title rivals would have, is telling.

Samir Nasri will be wondering how he did not score with two clear opportunities in the second half, firstly when Jussi Jaaskelainen saved his shot after he had been released by Van Persie, and then when the Frenchman failed to connect with a header back across the box to him from substitute Marouane Chamakh.

However, the visitors had only themselves to blame for being in such a frantic second-half state.

They had plenty of possession before the break, but too often let themselves down by over-playing in the final third, and often lacked focus in defence.

This gave encouragement to a Bolton side determined to make amends for their FA Cup semi-final hammering at the hands of Stoke last Sunday.

The clearest goalscoring chances in the first half were fashioned by the home side.

Coyle delighted with turnaround in form

Midway through the half, Sturridge split the Gunners defence with a pinpoint pass to unleash Chung-Yong Lee, but inexplicably the midfielder opted for an elaborate flick pass to Davies and Song was able to intercept and clear.

Minutes later, Johan Djourou's mistake gave Matthew Taylor a clear shooting opportunity, but Szczesny was able to save the 20-yard angled drive low down.

It was no surprise when Wanderers opened the scoring, seven minutes before the break, and it was equally predictable that the in-form Sturridge would get the goal.

Gary Cahill's header from a corner was blocked on the line by Nasri and Sturrdidge was first to react, nodding in his seventh goal in nine games since joining on loan from Chelsea.

In the first minute of the second half the 21-year-old made another major contribution, falling under the challenge of Djourou for a penalty.

However, Szczesny was able to save Davies' poorly taken spot-kick with his legs to keep alive Arsenal's hopes of victory.

These were raised further when, a minute later, Van Persie fed Fabregas in the box and then ran on to the Spaniard's lay off to side-foot in an equaliser.

This prompted a 40-minute siege of the Bolton goal, but a second away goal refused to come.

Instead Arsenal's growing desperation left them increasingly vulnerable at the back, and Bolton capitalised when Lee's corner was headed home by Cohen.



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