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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gunners stay in hunt with win over Blackpool

LONDON (AP) Arsenal gave its Premier League title hopes a much-needed boost on Sunday by beating Blackpool 3-1 to keep pace with leader Manchester United.

News photo
Jack of all trades: Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere controls the ball during Sunday's 3-1 win over Blackpool. AP PHOTO

While the Gunners trail United by seven points, that gap would be reduced to a point by beating the 18-time champions and also winning their game in hand.

In the win at Blackpool, Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Eboue gave Arsenal a two-goal lead at half time and Robin van Persie added another after Gary Taylor-Fletcher pulled one back for the home side.

"Today was only three points and it could help us to keep a chance," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "We have promised ourselves to give everything until the end of the season. There are still seven games. It is a long time — there are many games."

In Sunday's other match, Aston Villa's relegation worries were eased by a 1-0 victory over Newcastle that put the team five points above the drop zone.

In the Monday night match, Manchester City was set to try to keep its faint title hopes alive with a victory at Liverpool, but even then, the big-spending team would be 10 points behind rival United.

Arsenal remains the biggest threat to United's bid for a record-breaking 19th league title.

And Wenger's side is even more determined after seeing its quest for glory in the F.A. Cup, League Cup and Champions League end since February.

"You go through a period of grief and of denial first and then you have to stand up and show you have the mental strengths to respond," Wenger said. "The team has done that remarkably well."

Arsenal's victory on Sunday came despite Wenger being forced to start 41-year-old goalkeeper Jens Lehmann after Manuel Almunia injured his knee in the warmup.

It was an unexpected 200th appearance in an Arsenal jersey for the German, who was coaxed out of retirement to provide emergency cover in the title run-in having left the club in 2008.

The German was lucky to stay on the Blackpool pitch, though, at the start of the second half when he appeared to foul striker D.J. Campbell. The ball still found its way through to Taylor-Fletcher, who made it 2-1 as Blackpool staged a brief fightback.

"He didn't try to deliberately foul — he tried to intercept the ball," Wenger said of Lehmann. "We missed some chances in the first half and at 2-1 we had a little nervy period but at 3-1 we killed the game."

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