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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Arsenal beats United to open up title race


LONDON — Arsenal threw open the English title race Sunday with a 1-0 win over Manchester United that left the Premier League leader vulnerable to a late charge by defending champion Chelsea.

News photo
Thrown for a loop: Arsenal's Alex Song upends Manchester United's Patrice Evra on Sunday at Emirates Stadium. The Gunners won 1-0. AP PHOTO

Aaron Ramsey scored in the 56th minute at Emirates Stadium to cap a dominant display by Arsenal and cut United's lead over the Blues to three points with three games remaining.

With third-place Arsenal still six points off the lead, the Gunners' victory may have come too late to re-ignite their title hopes.

But after beating Tottenham 2-1 on Saturday, Chelsea's goal difference is now identical to United's, giving the defending champion the chance to go top if it beats United at Old Trafford next Sunday.

"It gives Chelsea a major chance now," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "But in terms of ability — a game at Old Trafford — the supporters will be ready for it and so will our players."

Also Sunday, Liverpool moved ahead of Spurs on goal difference into fifth place with an untroubled 3-0 win over Newcastle.

Although Spurs have played one game fewer, their chances of reaching the top four to make the Champions League for a second straight season appear to be over.

Manchester City, in the fourth and final Champions League berth, beat last-place West Ham 2-1 to move seven points ahead of Liverpool and Spurs.

Nigel de Jong and Pablo Zabaleta scored in the first half for City, but Liverpool still has a good chance to finish in fifth place — two spots higher than last season.

"We'll just keep going and see what we get," Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish said. "It's a great reward that we've got to where we are."

United is likely to reach the Champions League final on Wednesday and was unbeaten in seven meetings with Arsenal but the closest it came to scoring at Emirates Stadium was when Wayne Rooney curled a 49th-minute free kick toward the top corner. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny saved and Patrice Evra put the rebound into the side netting.

Szczesny also blocked a near-post shot from Nani following a 77th-minute counterattack and Arsenal, which drew its previous three home matches and lost 2-1 at Bolton last weekend, held firm with the youngest team fielded by any club in this season's Premier League.

Ramsey's inclusion in place of captain Cesc Fabregas, who was kicked on the thigh in training Friday, meant that the average age of Arsenal's starting lineup was 23 years, 296 days.

But it crucially meant that, with Jack Wilshere and Alex Song also playing, the Gunners' midfield was more muscular. With United stalwart Ryan Giggs missing because of 'flu, Arsenal dominated possession — taking 80 percent in the first 15 minutes and 57 percent overall.

"I didn't think we started playing until we lost a goal to be honest," Ferguson told United's MUTV channel. "It was a very low-key performance up until then."

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