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Monday, Dec. 6, 2010

Nasri lifts Arsenal into first

LONDON (AP) Arsenal climbed above Manchester United to the top of the Premier League on Saturday thanks to Samir Nasri's spectacular double in a 2-1 win over Fulham.

With United's match at Blackpool postponed because of a frozen pitch, previous leader Chelsea and Arsenal — who were both two points adrift in joint second — knew wins could send them provisionally into first place.

Chelsea wasted its chance by only drawing 1-1 at home to Everton, the Blues' fourth match without a victory, and Arsenal took advantage at Emirates Stadium.

Nasri opened the scoring in the 14th minute and the in-form France midfielder then grabbed the winner with 15 minutes remaining for his 11th goal of the season in all competitions.

"It was a combination of touch, intelligence, special talent and calmness as well," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said of Nasri's two finishes.

Arsenal is one point above United, which is a point clear of stuttering Chelsea. The defending champions have only won once in the league since the end of October and were booed off by their fans after Jermaine Beckford equalized in the 86th for Everton.

Carlos Tevez scored the winner as Manchester City beat Bolton 1-0 to stay fourth, and three points off the pace. Fifth-place Tottenham drew 1-1 at Birmingham and is three points behind City.

Nasri has been given added responsibility this season with fellow playmaker Cesc Fabregas struggling with fitness problems but the France international is responding with his best run of form for the London club.

"Many people questioned me when I took him here but he is showing that he is an exceptional talent and I think there is more to come from him," Wenger said.

Nasri had a cutting edge against Fulham that his teammates lacked, putting the hosts ahead by running onto Andrey Arshavin's pass, dummying past two defenders and rifling a shot into the roof of the net.

Senegal striker Diomansy Kamara equalized for Fulham in the 30th, taking advantage of a clash of heads between Arsenal center backs Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny that forced the latter out of the game with a concussion, but Nasri's eighth of the campaign won it for the Gunners.

Substitute Robin van Persie squared the ball to Nasri, who showed sublime skills to go around goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, spin and shoot home from a tight angle.

The win left Wenger again answering questions about whether Arsenal finally has the maturity to win the title.

"We are good enough to go on, that is for sure," he said. "We have the spirit, we have the quality but we face tough opponents. And it will be down, as I have said already many times here, to consistency."

Chelsea welcomed back captain John Terry and midfielder Michael Essien but still looked vulnerable. The Blues have taken just five points from a possible 18 in their last six matches and could easily have lost to Everton, which dominated the final stages.

Didier Drogba gave Chelsea the lead with a penalty in the 42nd minute, the striker's seventh goal of the season, after Nicolas Anelka had been sent tumbling by visiting goalkeeper Tim Howard.

After Jack Rodwell hit the post for Everton, Beckford secured a point with his 86th-minute header and Chelsea walked off the pitch to boos from the home crowd.

"I am disappointed and angry," Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti said. "Not just because of the result. We played good football in the first half and the second half was totally different. We played the long ball. We were a little bit scared. I didn't like this.

"I am worried yes, because we haven't won a lot of games. The second half was totally wrong."

The top four are separated by just three points thanks to 10-man City's narrow win over local rival Bolton, courtesy of Tevez's 10th goal of the season.

The Argentina striker was set free by Yaya Toure through the middle and drilled a shot into the corner for City's first home goal since October.

Blackburn bounced back from its 7-1 defeat to Manchester United last weekend by beating Wolverhampton 3-0 thanks to goals by David Dunn, Brett Emerton and Ryan Nelsen. Wolves went bottom because of the loss.

In the day's other game, Wigan twice came from behind to draw with Stoke 2-2.

Barca gets job done

MADRID (AP) A hastily arranged four-hour trip on a train and bus failed to slow down Lionel Messi and Barcelona.

After a sickout by Spain's air traffic controllers grounded Barcelona's flight, the team used ground transport to reach Pamplona. In a match that started 45 minutes late, Messi assisted on the first goal and then scored twice to raise his season total to 25 goals and give league-leading Barcelona a 3-0 win over Zaragoza on Saturday night.

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