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Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009

Gunners muscle past struggling Liverpool

LONDON (AP) Arsenal scored twice in the second half Sunday to win 2-1 at Liverpool and keep the pressure on Chelsea and Manchester United at the top of the Premier League.

The Gunners trailed to a 41st-minute goal by Dirk Kuyt but Liverpool defender Glen Johnson leveled the scores five minutes into the second half with an own goal and Andrei Arshavin hit the winner eight minutes later with a shot from the edge of the area that left goalkeeper Pepe Reina stranded.

Victory lifted Arsenal to 31 points, three fewer than defending champion United and six fewer than leader Chelsea. But the top two sides have played one game more.

Liverpool, last season's runnerup, remained stranded in seventh place with 24 points and six losses in 16 matches.

But Liverpool could easily have led by more than a single goal after dominating the first half, with Fernando Torres shooting weakly at goalkeeper Manuel Almunia when he was unmarked in front of goal.

Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas said coach Arsene Wenger had been appalled at his team's first-half performance.

"The boss screamed at us like never before," Fabregas said. "He said we did not deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt if we played like that."

Defender Thomas Vermaelen said Wenger's tirade had roused the team from its stupor.

"I've never seen him before like that and we just reacted very well," Vermaelen said. "We put some pressure on them and you see the result.

"It was important for us because we closed the gap a little bit now and we're back in the race again."

It was a mistake by Almunia that led to Kuyt's first goal at Anfield in three months.

Almunia punched weakly at a long-range free kick by Fabio Aurelio and the ball fell straight to Kuyt in the area. The Netherlands forward had time to control the ball with his chest and prod it into the net.

But Arsenal started playing more narrowly in the second period and pressured the home midfield, resulting in possession being split more evenly.

The equalizer arrived after Fabregas played a pass to Samir Nasri out on the right. Jamie Carragher failed to clear the Frenchman's cross and the ball took a slight deflection off him before hitting Johnson and rolling into the back of the net.

Arshavin, who scored four goals at Anfield last season to earn his team a 4-4 draw, then collected the ball on the edge of the area.

A defender shielded him closely and seemingly blocked his way to goal, but the Russia international took one touch, turned and hit a shot between his opponent's legs.

Arsenal's win was especially valuable after second-place Manchester United lost 1-0 at home to Aston Villa on Saturday, when leader Chelsea was held to a 3-3 draw by Everton.

The Gunners have a real chance of winning the title for the first time since 2004, although Arshavin limped off in injury time and may join fellow forwards Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendnter injured on the sidelines.

Also Sunday, Cardiff boosted its chances of returning to the topflight for the first time since 1929 with a 1-0 win at League Championship promotion rival Middlesbrough.

Chris Burke's 61st-minute goal pushed Cardiff up to third place, 10 points behind leader Newcastle. Newcastle drew 2-2 at Barnsley on Saturday.

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