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Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Gunners' title hopes shattered by Bolton
BOLTON, England — Arsenal's slim hopes of winning the Premier League were virtually extinguished on Sunday, conceding a last-minute goal by Bolton substitute Tamir Cohen to lose 2-1 at the Reebok Stadium.
The Israel midfielder, who came on in the 85th minute, glanced in a near-post header from a corner to leave third-place Arsenal nine points adrift of league-leader Manchester United with four matches remaining.
"Of course the chances are very minimal now," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said of his team's hopes of beating United or second-place Chelsea in the title race.
Netherlands striker Robin van Persie, who scored in a seventh straight away game in the Premier League, had brought the Gunners back into the match in the 47th minute after Bolton's prolific forward Daniel Sturridge broke the deadlock from close range seven minutes before halftime.
Bolton captain Kevin Davies had a penalty saved by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny barely a minute before Van Persie equalized.
Arsenal — without a trophy in six years — is now struggling to finish second with in-form Chelsea three points clear. It was the Gunners' first defeat in 17 league games.
"It's hard to lose a game like that. It's hard to swallow but we gave everything," Wenger said. "We had the chances to win it."
United plays Arsenal away on May 1 and then hosts reigning champion Chelsea on May 8 in title-defining matches.
Cohen was brought to tears after scoring his winner, with the player celebrating by lifting his jersey over his head to show a picture of his late father Avi on a T-shirt. The former Liverpool player died in hospital in December after being involved in a motorbike accident.
"I was so happy to score this goal — it was a very emotional moment for me," said Cohen.
The victory came a week after Bolton was thrashed 5-0 by Stoke in an F.A. Cup semifinal at Wembley.
"After last week's result, we wanted to come out and show we had passion and prove that was just a one-off," said Sturridge, who scored his seventh goal since joining Bolton on loan from Chelsea on Jan. 31.
The home side's direct and physical approach unbalanced Arsenal in the first half, with the opener by Sturridge not entirely unexpected when it arrived.
Lee Chung Yong had already had a point-blank shot saved by Szczesny and then squandered a two-on-one chance before providing the corner that led to the goal.
Gary Cahill met it with a firm header that was cleared off the line by France playmaker Samir Nasri but the ball rebounded out to Sturridge, who headed in from two meters.
Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas struck the post with a fierce 25-meter shot in the 43rd but his team was lucky not to fall further behind a minute into the second half.
Center back Johan Djourou was adjudged to have fouled Sturridge, although TV replays suggested the Bolton forward fell theatrically. A slight sense of justice prevailed when Davies, who had scored his five previous penalties this season, saw his weak attempt saved by Szczesny.