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Tottenham 3-3 Arsenal

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A flurry of five first-half goals lit up the north London derby as Tottenham and Arsenal played out a wonderfully attacking and thrilling game which provided a glut of goals and fantastic entertainment at White Hart Lane. Goals from Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie for the Gunners and Rafael Van Der Vaart and Tom Huddlestone for Spurs were enough to seal what could be the game of the season in the Premier League.

The draw, in reality, doesn’t help either side in their respective aims as Arsenal fails to make the most of Manchester United drawing on Tuesday with Newcastle and Spurs needed the win to keep the pressure on Manchester City, but those in attendance will have not have thought of this fact as they made their way home after a fantastic display from both sides.

The importance of tonight’s game was paramount for both sides. Tottenham was coming off the back of its exit from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid and Arsenal was keen to expel the Liverpool result from its collective system.

With the need for this purging, Arsenal came out of the traps with purpose and positivity. The game began in a style often expected of local derbies, fast, fluid and bombastic and within five minutes the opening goal had rocked White Hart Lane. Cesc Fabregas, so often a tormentor of Spurs, made the most of a Tom Huddlestone error to feed Theo Walcott with the kind of pass forwards dream of. The through ball delivered by the Spaniard left Michael Dawson in the dust and Walcott did the rest with a burst of speed and a deft right foot finish.

The frantic tempo of the game didn’t subside and within three minutes Spurs had wiped out the Arsenal advantage through a delicious long, looping pass from Vedran Corluka which Rafael Van der Vaart controlled magnificently and hammered beyond Wojciech Szczesny to level things up.

Arsenal didn’t take kindly to this affront from its local neighbors and once again showed the undeniable quality it does possess, but often, frustratingly fail to impose. Samir Nasri was left unchecked and this flaw in the Tottenham defence was punished as the Frenchman made Gomes look ordinary as he beat him low to his right.

Theo Walcott had a chance to increase the lead to two but his low daisy cutting drive took the lightest of deflections of the right hand of Gomes to slide wide of the right hand post.

Walcott’s influence on the game stretched to more than just scoring the goals. With a terrific chipped cross on the byline, Walcott crafted a goal for Robin Van Persie which made the scoreline 3-1 and the stadium couldn’t catch breath with the blistering display playing out in front of them.

Credit to Tottenham for exhibiting the tenacity required to keep this close and once again Harry Redknapp’s side bounced back through a Tom Huddlestone goal which atoned for his earlier error. A header from Peter Crouch was poorly cleared by Fabregas and Huddlestone smashed the ball back into the danger area leaving Szczesny a forest of legs to look through as he tried in vain to deal with the shot.

As the half drew to a close, it could have been all square when Luca Modric’s run was halted by Johan Djourou. Martin Atkinson said no and and it would have been harsh to have given it.

The second half didn’t slow down and there were chances aplenty as both sides continued hell for leather. Van Der Vaart had a chance for a second but it wasn’t until substitute Aaron Lennon speed beat Szczesny and the Polish ‘keeper brought down the winger to give Spurs the chance to level it up once more.

Van Der Vaart stepped up with confidence and hammered the ball in to give Spurs a way back and deal another blow to Arsenal.

Tottenham had more chances to take the lead with Modric forcing a brilliant save from Szczesny and Peter Crouch heading over the bar. Neither side was willing to give an inch as both were fighting to hold supremacy in their patch.

The game will be remembered for many years as the goals, commitment and sheer entertainment were something not likely to be seen anytime soon. But the truth remains that both sides needed to win this encounter and because they failed to do this, both Manchester sides would have been very pleased with the result.

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Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool

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Two penalties in injury time turned a frustrating game into the most shocking finale to a Premier League game in a long time as Robin van Persie gave Arsenal the lead before Dirk Kuyt denied the hosts in the 101st minute as Arsenal and Liverpool drew 1-1 at the Emirates.

The build-up before the game was all about Arsenal’s chances of leap-frogging Manchester United for an unlikely Premier League title. A win was a must. But, as a rather convenient metaphor for the subsequent display from the hosts, it turned out to be all talk and no end product. Before the explosive finale that is.

Arsenal came out of the traps the quickest with Abou Diaby flashing a downward header just past the post after a mere three minutes from a Samir Nasri free-kick.

But true to form in this fixture, it wasn’t just one side intent on attacking as Liverpool caused the home side problems with the link-up play between the towering figure of Andy Carroll up front, the same man who scored the solitary goal in a Newcastle victory at the Emirates earlier in the season, and Luis Suarez.

Minutes later, at first glance, a seemingly innocuous penalty claim for Liverpool after Jay Spearing was felled was quickly waved away by referee Andre Marriner, but replays showed that the away side could perhaps consider themselves unlucky.

The returning Theo Walcott tested Pepe Reina after 12 minutes with a swerving 22-yard effort that the goalkeeper opted to punch rather than gather, with a moment of panic among the Liverpool defence ensuing before they regained their composure and hacked the ball clear.

Again Arsenal came forward though and came within inches of taking the lead when Laurent Koscielny’s header, from a Robin van Persie corner, crashed back off the crossbar as Reina again looked shaky.

Arsenal were definitely the side on top, and soon they had the ball in the back of the net. Cue cheers from the home fans. Unfortunately for them they were shortlived as the goalscorer, Van Persie, was correctly adjudged to be offside when collecting the ball and it was back to square one.

With Arsenal providing all their threat down the flanks, Liverpool’s chances of containing them were handed a blow when Fabio Aurelio was forced off through injury midway through the first half, to be replaced by the second rookie full-back of the game in the form of Jack Robinson.

Reina, obviously not enjoying the continuing trend of the game coming towards his goal, made another error shortly afterwards when he came out to stop Van Persie’s dart towards his goal but inexplicably missed the ball and the man and only the Dutchman’s momentum carried the ball harmlessly out for a goal kick with the goal unmanned.

If rumours of Arsenal making an approach for Reina last summer are true, on this performance the Spaniard is probably not expecting the same call this summer.

Another returning player Johan Djourou was also making an impact, after Walcott’s earlier wicked shot, by helping Arsenal control the midfield and dominate possession, so as both sides walked down the tunnel at the end of the first half only one winner was evident. Unfortunately it was the team playing all the pretty football, but nothing of note when it came to end product.

It was heart-in-mouth time again for Liverpool in the opening stages of the second half, but this time not because of an Arsenal attack. Record signing Andy Carroll collapsed inside the opposition area when he lost his footing stretching for a ball and immediately waved for help from the touchline.

Replays showed a buckling of the knee when his ankle gave way but after a couple of minutes on the sidelines, the striker re-appeared to solider on.

This was quickly followed by more injury woes for the away side when Jamie Carragher clashed heads with John Flanagan when attempting to clear an Arsenal attack, and immediately fell to the floor unconscious.

Unfortunately this time the player did not recover as quickly and Sotirios Kyrgiakos came on in replace of the Liverpool captain.

After the extended pause to the action, Arsenal picked up where they left off as Walcott did well down the right flank to find space for a low driven cross towards Van Persie, only for Reina to intercept with a low save before the Dutchman could pounce.

It may have been all Arsenal, but Liverpool looked like being able to snatch a goal, as Carroll and Suarez again combined for the latter to cut inside from the right and bend a shot in, but Szczesny was never troubled and made a comfortable save.

It wasn’t long before the earlier injury caught up with Carroll though as 10 minutes later he was reluctantly substituted in place of Jonjo Shelvey. A good call though as the striker was not moving freely.

More pretty link-up play from Arsenal, but more groans from their fans as great vision from Fabregas allowed the ball to be slid into the path of Van Persie, but the striker went for a delicate dink rather than a shot and Skrtel was able to clear.

With Wenger desperately looking to keep their title challenge alive and tension building all around the ground, Nicholas Bendtner and Andrey Arshavin were introduced for the last 20 minutes, unfortunately Bendtner’s first touch was to over-hit a first touch out for a goal kick.

As the minutes ticked by, both teams knew only one goal was in this and Liverpool knew it was theirs for the taking as Flanagan and Suarez tried to combine for another hopeful effort but the pass from the former was over-hit. Cue groans from the away support.

Every single misplaced pass, bad first touch, wrong decision was being derided by the ever-increasingly frustrated Arsenal fans as Arshavin fluffed an attempted cross which did not appease them. Cue more groans.

As it turned out, there was one glit-edged chance that Arsenal made to grab a winner. With five minutes remaining, and persisting with tippy-tappy football, a glorious flick by Nasri with his heel set Van Persie scampering into the area one-on-one with Reina, only for the latter to make the vital save and keep Arsenal out.

As the fourth official announced that there would be a massive eight minutes of injury time, most fans surely would have been happy to call it a day. They will be happy they didn’t though as in the seventh minute of injury time Jay Spearing tripped Cesc Fabregas as the latter ran into the box. A blatant penalty. Van Persie duly stepped up to score and relight the title challenge fire for Arsenal. Surely?

No. As in the 100th minute of the game, Eboue bundled over Lucas inside the Arsenal area as the Brazilian was running away from the Arsenal goal to gather a deflected Suarez free-kick. Another nailed on penalty. Dirk Kuyt converted under supreme pressure. The final nail in Arsenal’s title dream? Perhaps.

As the sounds of the referee’s whistle ended the game and flew out of the stadium, it could well have been accompanied by Arsenal’s title hopes for another season.

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Arsenal 0-0 Blackburn Rovers

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Arsenal’s chances of winning the Premier League will now be out of their hands after a goalless draw against 10-men Blackburn Rovers.
It was a dominant display from the hosts in the first 45-minutes with a number of chances that threatened Paul Robinson’s goal. Jack Wilshere had the best chance from just 7-yards out, but couldn’t even get is short-range effort on goal. Despite this, Blackburn weren’t without efforts of their own and goals could have gone in at either side.

The second-half was even more eventful, albeit taking time to warm-up. Arsenal found many more chances and after Steven Nzonzi was sent off for the visitors, believed they could take the game, but to no avail.

Arsenal welcomed back Theo Walcott and Alex Song to the starting line-up, with Cesc Fabregas and Abou Diaby only fit enough to start the game on the bench.

David Dunn managed to recover in time from a hip problem, but was only deemed fit enough to begin the game on amongst the substitutes. Vince Grella meanwhile will have to go the season without any more action after surgery on his Achilles.

Arsenal threatened early after a quick exchange interchange between Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Wilshere. Song was given the opportunity for the shot which was taken, but a perfect block saw the ball go out for a corner.

Minutes later there was almost an own goal from Blackburn’s Ryan Nelson after another Arsenal corner which left both sets of players stood watching the ball dribble over the by-line for another set-piece for the Gunners, from which Robinson was forced to make a great save off of a wicked effort from Walcott.

Blackburn got their first, but slim chance of the game with Martin Olsson being put through down the left channel and with pressure managed to get off a left-footed effort, but the Swede’s optimistic shot skewed left of Manuel Almunia’s goal.

Robinson kept the scoreline goalless for a second time following a short corner from Arsenal that eventually made its way to Andrey Arshavin and the Russian with space was able to get off a bending effort that the former Tottenham ‘keeper saw late, causing him to fumble the save and required the alertness of his defenders to get the ball clear.

Wilshere should have put the Gunners ahead 30 minutes into the game. Robin Van Persie found Samir Nasri down the right-side of the Blackburn area and the Frenchman neatly placed a swift pass into the feet of Wilshere who was all alone and just 7-yards from goal. However, the young Englishman didn’t anticipate the pass as well as he should and it rebounded off the 19-year-old’s shin and out for a ‘keeper-kick.

It was Almunia of the two goalkeepers who was called into action next as Olsson again getting himself in the mix fired a low and long-range effort, clipping the toe of Laurent Koscielny on the way and the flapping arm of the Spanish shot-stopper was enough to shift the ball wide, albeit in a less than convincing manner.

Blackburn might have been able to take the lead just before half-time after a free-kick was lofted into the Arsenal area to which Nzonzi was able to meet despite a rapidly approaching Almunia and his header dropped just inches wide of the post.

An early Arsenal chance in the first couple of minutes of the restart was all that was on offer to the fans at the Emirates, as the second-half struggled to meet expectations after the energetic performances of both sides in the initial 45-minutes.

The Gunners saw another chance come and go as a corner found Sebastian Squillaci all alone in the center of the Blackburn box, but a lack of power made it easy for Robinson to make a casual diving save.

Van Persie had the games next big chance to break the deadlock. Nasri working the ball on the right brought the Dutchman into play down the middle and cutting inside the Blackburn defenders, got a neatly struck shot off towards Robinson, but it was made too easy for the former England international and the ‘keeper was able to smoother the effort.

Blackburn got themselves in the match’s events for the wrong reasons as Nzonzi saw a straight red following a two footed dive on Wilshere with all studs showing, leaving no doubt in Phil Dowd’s mind what sanction to place on the midfielder.

Arsenal then missed a glorious set of chances after upping the tempo. Substitute Maroune Chamakh finds the ball at his feet 12-yards out and in an attempt to side-foot the ball into the back of the net, but an amazing body-wide block from Nelson spared Blackburn from going down in the late stages.

A free header from a rising Nicolas Bendtner could have won the game for Wenger’s men, but Micheal Salgado was in the way to chest the ball clear of danger, to which the Arsenal players scream for a hand-ball and a penalty, but the referee turned the appeals down.

It wasn’t to be for Arsenal and after late pressure, it seems they will have to wait at least another season before they are able to pick up their first Premier League title since 2004.

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West Bromwich Albion 2-2 Arsenal

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Two pieces of appalling defending hampered Arsenal’s Premier League title bid as a late fightback could only salvage a draw against West Bromwich Albion.

Mistakes from goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and reserve centre-back Sebastien Squillaci handed the relegation threatened Baggies a two-goal lead before Andrey Arshavin and Robin van Persie pegged them back. Despite a late surge from the Gunners, Dimitar Berbatov’s goal for Manchester United created more daylight between the sides in the fight for domestic supremacy.

For the Baggies, manager Roy Hodgson made just one change to the side that secured a 3-1 win – his first for the club – against Birmingham City a fortnight ago. Marc Antoine-Fortune was the man to drop out as he made way for topscorer Peter Odemwingie, while skipper Chris Brunt made a late recovery from illness.

Aaron Ramsey made his first start for Arsenal since his horrific leg break more than a year ago as boss Arsene Wenger made three changes to the team that lost 2-0 to United in the FA Cup last weekend. The Welshman, Squillaci and Gael Clichy replaced Abou Diaby, Johan Djourou and the benched Kieran Gibbs.

With the sun on their backs and memories of the result at St Andrew’s coursing through them, West Brom burst out of the traps and deservedly went in front in just the third minute through Steven Reid. In a scene all too reminiscent for long-suffering Arsenal supporters, the Irishman nodded in a Brunt corner unopposed as he exploited the chasm left by the injured Djourou.

Things then almost got immediately worse for the visitors when Odemwingie was just inches away from meeting a low cross from ex-Gunners starlet Jerome Thomas.

With key men, such as Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Alex Song, missing the Gunners appeared rudderless in the opening stages. The trademark easy-on-the-eye short passing was replaced by aimless long balls over the top to lone striker Van Persie that were gobbled up by goalkeeper Scott Carson.

Arsenal were second to every ball in the middle of the park and were saved further embarrassment when Odemwingie was correctly ruled offside in the 17th and 22nd minute when sprung by the dangerous Thomas.

For all the Gunners’ shoddy play, their undoubted attacking quality was present in their first meaningful attack of the game in the 25th minute. Clichy stormed down the left flank and picked out Van Persie, who hit the bar with a looped header from 15 yards that left Carson rooted to the spot.

As the ball rebounded down, the ex-England international then used all his six foot three inch frame as he smothered Ramsey’s shot from point-blank range to keep the Baggies in the lead.

Arsenal finally begin to kick into motion after the half hour mark after James Morrison had been temporarily forced off with a cut. Despite the upturn, it was the Baggies who remained the most threatening outfit before referee Stuart Atwell blew the whistle on a potentially devastating half for Arsenal’s title aspirations.

Eager to erase the mistakes of the first-half, Wenger hooked the error-prone Denilson for Marouane Chamakh as he went in search of goals. Despite the change, it was West Brom who first threatened.

A flowing counter attack of which Arsenal would have been proud in the 54th minute saw Brunt slide into the side-netting when he latched onto substitute Marek Cech’s low cross on the stretch. The Baggies bench thought it was in but they weren’t to be denied for too long.

In another demonstration of Arsenal’s crippling defensive fragility, Almunia and Squillaci combined to allow Odemwingie to poke into an open net in the 58th minute. The comical pair dithered under Youssuf Mulumbu’s punted clearance on the edge of the penalty area and turned the clearance into an open goal for the appreciative Nigerian.

With their title dreams slipping away by the minute, Wenger finally began to see a reaction from his players. The pair of Chamakh and Van Persie were joined by Nicklas Bendtner and the chances started flowing.

After a period of sustained pressure, enigmatic Russian Arshavin gave Arsenal hope with a thunderous goal in the 70th minute. The Russian latched onto a neat pass by Chamakh on the right-hand side of the West Brom box and fired an unstoppable rocket into Carson’s far corner.

Arsenal now smelt blood and an equaliser was attained eight minutes later through Van Persie. This time it was West Brom’s turn for some poor defending.

The move began when the newly-energised Arshavin lofted a deep cross to the back post that was rebounded back into play on the goal-line by Bendtner. The chance seemed to momentarily disappear as the previously solid Abdoulaye Meite collected the ball, but from three yards, the Dutchman tackled the ball into the net as the centre-back dwelt on possession.

Arsenal now threw everything they could at the Baggies. In injury-time, Clichy raced onto a pass and hammered a shot that was expertly tipped round the post by Carson.

From the resultant corner, a scramble saw Brunt up in arms at an apparent dive from Bacary Sagna.

Try as they might, Arsenal couldn’t get the winner their push deserved. They had dropped out of three competitions in the previous fortnight; only another collapse from United could prevent a fourth from slipping from their grasp.

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Manchester United 2 Arsenal 0

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from telegraph
After the surly silence and the raging paranoia, Sir Alex Ferguson was back to business yesterday, getting into the ribs of some old rivals and taking his Manchester United side to an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley along the way.
Kenny Dalglish was chastised in the programme notes before the game and Arsène Wenger was left to gesticulate in frustration during it; Ferguson smacked on his gum with satisfaction, deep in the home dugout. The run-in is war for Ferguson, and the Geneva Convention has been suspended.
While the treble is still on for United, Arsenal have gone out of three competitions in a fortnight. Against what appeared a bizarre United starting XI, Wenger must have gone into this game with optimism.
He left it fighting despondency, muttering, with justice, about the rashness of Paul Scholes’s wild-tackling cameo, which could easily have earned the United man a red card towards the end of the match.
This was a tactical victory for Ferguson. He admitted that the injuries in midfield had forced him to come up with “a plan, an idea” that would creatively use his resources to hurt Arsenal.

In playing John O’Shea and Darron Gibson in front of his back four, he created congestion in midfield; in playing the Da Silva twins as wingers, and Javier Hernández as a lone striker, he deployed pace on the break. It worked.
The key to the unusual system was Wayne Rooney. His touch, his aggression and his movement were evidence of renewed confidence. One touch, as he brought the ball down with the toe of his boot, was emblematic of this rediscovered self-belief. Ferguson had him playing much deeper than usual and he clearly enjoyed himself.
It was his superb pass that created the first. Fabio laid off the ball to Rooney some 35 yards from goal and sprinted off into the box. Rooney then flighted an exquisite angled pass over the Arsenal defence for Hernández, who had peeled away at the far post.
The Mexican headed across Manuel Almunia for the far corner but the Arsenal goalkeeper got a glove to it. Fabio’s run had taken him beyond Laurent Koscielny and he slammed the ball into the net.
The England striker scored the second himself. Just three minutes into the second half, and with Arsenal having gone close at the other end, United charged on the counter.
Rafael sped past Kieran Gibbs on the right side of the box and crossed low to the near post where Johan Djourou blocked Hernández’s effort. The ball popped up to Rooney who placed his header deftly back across the goal and over the line.
Not that Rooney was United’s outstanding player: that honour went to Van der Sar. He may be more than twice the age of Jack Wilshere but he performed like a player in his pomp.
Every time Arsenal thought they had found a way through the Scylla and Charybdis of Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling, the Dutchman (yes, flying) defied them with save after sprightly save.
In the first half he was sharp – getting a glove to Robin van Persie’s shot across goal and alert to Samir Nasri’s effort to deceive him at the near post — but in the second he was magnificent.
The double save from Laurent Koscielny, first with his feet when the ball deflected off Wes Brown, and then flinging himself to his left when the Arsenal defender tried to bend the ball around him, was absolutely crucial.
Had Arsenal levelled then, just into the second half, the momentum would have been with the visitors. Instead, United went down the other end of the field and grabbed their second.
From that point, Van der Sar stood in defiance of Wenger’s men, as they sought to rescue the game. Powerful shots from Nasri and Marouane Chamakh, on as a substitute, had been capably dealt with when he pulled off his best save of the game, diving to his right to push away Chamakh’s downward header. No wonder he was man of the match.
After the game he said there was no chance of his deferring his retirement and Ferguson has said he wants a complete break from football. But his son attends school in Manchester and Van der Sar will continue to live in the area. If he will no longer serve United on the pitch, there could well be a job for him on the training ground.
It is at the training ground in London Colney that Wenger must get to work. The title race is still on and United visit the Emirates on May 1. By then he must restore confidence in his young team or face the disintegration of a season that had looked so rich in promise a mere fortnight ago.
The loss of Djourou will only deepen Wenger’s depression.
The Swiss centre-back has surpassed expectations this season and established himself in the side. With Thomas Vermaelen still out injured Djourou’s loss, for the rest of the season with a dislocated shoulder, will be keenly felt.
Ferguson, by contrast, has players coming back. Jonny Evans could return for Tuesday and Rio Ferdinand is expected back after the international break. With Antonio Valencia returning as a substitute here and Nani a possibility for Bolton on Saturday, the cavalry are arriving in time for a charge at the treble.

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Barcelona – Arsenal update

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Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal (4-3 Agg.)

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A Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League for a second consecutive season as a 3-1 second leg win over the 10-man Gunners wrapped up a 4-3 aggregate victory.

Messi made the most of a Cesc Fabregas mistake in first half stoppages to break the deadlock, but a Segio Busquets own goal put Arsenal back ahead in the tie on aggregate. Robin van Persie was sent off after kicking the ball away when on a yellow card and Barca added further goals through Xavi and Messi’s penalty.
The Blaugrana started as they meant to by dominating the early possession and Laurent Koscielny was booked for bringing down Pedro as he advanced towards goal. From the resulting free-kick, Wojciech Szczesny failed to gather cleanly and appeared to break a finger, and the Pole had to be replaced by Manuel Almunia.

The home domination continued, and the Gunners breathed a sigh of relief when Abou Diaby’s clear foul on Messi just inside the area went unpunished by the referee.

The almost inevitable breakthrough eventually came from a surprise source in the first half injury time. Cesc Fabregas tried to play a backheel close to his own box and saw the ball intercepted by Iniesta, who chipped a pass into the channel for Lionel Messi to lift over the advancing Almunia before volleying into the unguarded net.

Arsenal got a leveller against the run of play early in the second half to send them back ahead on aggregate when a corner from the left by Samir Nasri was missed at the near post, and when three Barcelona players went up together to clear, Sergio Busquets headed the ball into his own net.
But within minutes the Gunners were rocked by a red card for Robin van Persie. Having already been booked for throwing an arm at Dani Alves late in the first half, the Dutchman responded to an offside flag by sending in a right foot shot which referee Massimo Busacca considered a time-wasting act, and Arsenal were down to 10 men.

The weight of the pressure on the away side told when Xavi was allowed to walk straight through the left channel of their defence to beat Almunia, and within two minutes Barcelona were awarded a penalty when Koscielny brought down Pedro. Lionel Messi stepped up to fire in his sixth goal in two home games against the Gunners and put Barca 4-3 up on aggregate.

Though Barca had further chances through Ibrahim Afellay and Dani Alves, Arsenal could have won the tie when Nicklas Bendtner went through the middle, but he failed to get a shot away before Victor Valdes and Busquets foiled the danger.

The win sends Barcelona into the quarter-finals as they continue their assault on a second treble in three years, while Arsenal’s potential quadruple has been reduced to a two-pronged attack on the Premier League and FA Cup.

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Arsenal 0 Sunderland 0

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from telegraph
After the trauma of Wembley, this was the hangover at the Emirates.
And, in the final analysis, two dropped points at home to Sunderland could prove every bit as damaging to Arsenall’s chances of silverware as the Carling Cup final defeat against Birmingham City.
Arsenal have also failed to beat West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at the Emirates this season and, while the deficit to Manchester United has been narrowed to three points, this was another missed chance.
Today’s match was always going to be rather more revealing that an FA Cup replay against Leyton Orient in assessing the psychological impact of the Birmingham match but, in truth, the more serious damage was probably physical.
Yes, Arsenal were unlucky today that Andrei Arshavin had a goal disallowed for offside and a penalty appeal waved away but, in the absence of Robin van Persie, who suffered knee ligament damage against Birmingham, there is a noticeable loss of fluency to their attack.

Arsenal began with Abou Diaby in the central Cesc Fabregas position while Samir Nasri remained on the right. After his hat-trick against Leyton Orient, Nicklas Bendtner was also given a chance in what he regards as his best position as the main central striker.
Nasri’s quick feet produced one chance when he drift in from the right but shot just too close to Simon Mignolet in the Sunderland goal.
The France midfielder also produced the outstanding moment of individual skill during the first-half when he jinked past much of the Sunderland defence but then left himself with an angle that was just too acute to apply the finishing touch.
Bendtner also had two good first-half chances. With his back to goal from a corner, he did well to execute an overhead kick that, somewhat fortuitously for Sunderland, went straight into the arms of Mignolet.
It was then only the brilliance of Mignolet that denied Arsenal when he tipped Bendtner’s powerful shot over following Jack Wilshere’s defence-splitting pass.
Sunderland also carried a sporadic threat, with Stephane Sessegnon particularly lively down the right and forcing one good save from Wojciech Szczesny.
The second-half unfolded into a similar pattern of Arsenal dominating possession but struggling to create clear chances. Marouane Chamakh almost had an immediate impact as a substitute, sprinting beyond the Sunderland defence and squaring for Andrei Arshavin whose shot was far too close to Mignolet.
There were further moments of brilliance from Mignolet, notably when he scrambled across his goal to claw Nasri’s free-kick out of the top corner.
As the tension mounted, Arsenal did finally beat Mignolet in the 75th minute but Chamakh’s header cannoned agonisingly off the cross-bar to safety.
Arshavin also had another chance to apply the finishing touch, but was perhaps penalised for a determination to stay on his feet when tangling with Titus Bramble. Arsenal could feel further aggrieved when Bendtner’s perfectly timed pass put Arshavin clear on goal only for the most marginal of offside decisions to go in Sunderland’s favour.
Replays suggested that Anton Ferdinand had just played Arshavin onside.
Sunderland could also have snatched victory in the closing minutes but Szczesny, whose misunderstanding with Laurent Koscielny had so cost Arsenal in the Carling Cup, produced two outstanding saves to deny Danny Welbeck and then Jordan Henderson.

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Arsenal 5 Leyton Orient 0

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from telegraph

At times this felt an audition between Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner over who would be Arsenal’s leading man in the Nou Camp next week.
If Cesc Fabregas is fit, and Arsene Wenger also fields Samir Nasri and Andrei Arshavin, then the right to replace the injured Robin van Persie at centre-forward in the 4-2-3-1 system is a straight fight between Chamakh and Bendtner.
The Dane, who scored in Barcelona last season, began on the right, where Wenger most uses him, but moved all over. He netted a good hat-trick, including a powerful headed goal that Alan Smith, Frank Stapleton or Malcolm Macdonald would have been proud of.
After Chamakh had opened the scoring, Bendtner’s header brought up Arsenal’s 100th goal of the season in their 45th game. Bendtner’s second was a neat solo strike and he guaranteed ownership of the ball with a second-half penalty.
When Gael Clichy added a fifth in front of the watching Steve Davis and Barry Hearn, Orient needed snookers. For all the noisy exhortations of the 9,000 travelling fans, Russell Slade’s side were simply outgunned. A great Dane was too much for the underdogs.

After helping setting up a quarter-final at Manchester United, Bendtner was removed from the fray by Wenger, protecting him for tougher tests ahead, Sunderland on Saturday and then Barcelona.
Bendtner is a frustrating figure at Arsenal, capable of being almost as good as he thinks he is but also capable of drifting out of games.
He began quietly, almost indifferently, seemingly failing to appreciate the importance of pressing opponents from a lower division.
He even earned some murmurs of disapproval from the home fans before springing into life, ensuring the perfect pick-me-up for Arsenal after their Carling Cup woes.
There was to be no hangover. This was a night of positives for Arsenal; even initial concerns over Tomas Rosicky, who limped off, proved to be only mild concussion. The Emirates enjoyed an assured debut from the tall Irish teenager Conor Henderson, a force down either flank.
Henderson impressed as did Abou Diaby, making rangy runs through the centre and working hard to disrupt Orient moves. Slade’s men stuck to their passing principles, and were superbly supported, but Arsenal had the superior fire-power.
Orient still have their trip to Las Vegas guaranteed, Hearn having made the promise following their performance at Brisbane Road. Arsenal are focusing on another visit to Wembley.
Rosicky was the only survivor from the Carling Cup starting XI and he began to make amends for his Wembley anonymity by creating Chamakh’s goal.
The Czech Republic international darted down the inside-right channel, turning and looking for red shirts in the box. Rosicky calmly picked out Chamakh, who shot low past Jamie Jones. The grateful Morrocan ran across to Rosicky, lifting the No 7 up in the cold north London night air.
After the gut-wrenching distress of the weekend, this was just what the doctor ordered. Arsenal settled, passing the ball around smoothly but Orient briefly showed why they had suffered defeat only once in their previous 22 games.
Ben Chorley, once an Arsenal youth-team starlet, almost embarrassed his former employers with a meaty volley which was flying goalwards until encountering traffic. Still Orient attacked, eliciting a few bouts of “ole” from the away end.
As in the first game, Charlie Daniels was again impressive, raiding forward from his left-back station. Having eluded Sebastien Squillaci, the former Spurs defender drilled the cross to the near-post. Alex Revell connected well enough but his radar was slightly wonky, his shot skimming wide.
Believing it was in, the Orient fans down the far end whooped with brief delight before the sound of Arsenal cackling and the sight of Manuel Almunia lining up a goal-kick soon silenced them.
Orient fans had brought plenty of banners with them, including the “Orient. Kids. Wife. In That Order” flag that looked suspiciously like a doctored version of the one that hangs at Old Trafford. The Red Devils logo in the centre rather gave it away.
There was nothing artificial about the performance of Slade’s team.
Daniels, Stephen Dawson and Jason Crowe all worked over-time. They needed to. Arsenal always carried a threat, soon adding a second A good move down the left, involving Henderson, soon saw the ball nestling at the left foot of Kieran Gibbs. When the full-back hoisted it in the box, the danger seemed minimal but Bendtner timed his jump well, getting good spring to reach the ball and send a looping header past Jones.
If his first capped a good team move, Bendtner’s second was a fine individual effort. Cutting in from the left, Arsenal’s No 52 unleashed a firm drive that beat the diving Jones. Stupidly, Bendtner cocked his ears at the Orient supporters, something he also did to Huddersfield Town fans. Orient supporters responded by chanting “we’re going to win 4-3”.
More goals flowed. The lively Gibbs was brought down by Revell and Bendtner drove the penalty past Jones. When Emmanuel Eboue swept the ball across the box, Clichy thumped it powerfully home. Tougher challenges await.

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Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 2

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from guardian
Obafemi Martins grabs glory as Birmingham beat Arsenal

If Birmingham City held one advantage over Arsenal it lay in the art of endurance. A side striving not to fall out of the Premier League reached a peak in their history by defeating opponents who took far too long to discover impetus in this Carling Cup final. After 89 minutes, the substitute Obafemi Martins thrived on hapless defending to notch the winner. Alex McLeish’s side had brought the club their first trophy since taking this prize in 1963.

Arsenal’s defects warrant prolonged examination, but the real priority is to salute Birmingham. They are inferior in almost every respect to Arsène Wenger’s team, as the 3-0 loss to them at St Andrew’s in January emphasised, yet their powers of endurance were remarkable and not only for the saves that Ben Foster produced when Arsenal seemed bound for the winner.

There was a boldness to Birmingham, who understood that a cup final is not to be wasted by cowering in the hope that luck comes your way. Nikola Zigic may have been the man who most caused disquiet to the opposition. The Serb had scored only seven goals before this occasion, but he exposed the unsatisfactory defending of Arsenal and, in particular, of the centre?half Laurent Koscielny.

The Frenchman made a ruinous nuisance of himself with a minute remaining. Koscielny moved as if to kick a long ball from Foster and distracted his goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. He then let possession spill to the Nigerian Martins, who came to Birmingham last month on loan from the Russian club Rubin Kazan. No matter how brief his stay in the Midlands turns out to be, he has a permanent place in the memory of every Birmingham supporter.

Arsenal, for their part, were co-conspirators in this result. After six years without a trophy, it is impossible to believe they were complacent. It is more likely that we were witnessing nervousness as they rolled the ball around to very limited effect in the first half. There were intimations even then of vulnerability in the ranks.

Zigic regularly highlighted that. He not only scored the opener but should have added to it. After 28 minutes, Sebastian Larsson put a corner towards the fringes of the penalty area and Roger Johnson got the better of Koscielny to nod the ball into the goalmouth, where the Serb diverted the ball into the net with his head.

Arsenal’s apprehension was marked well before that. Although they were behind then, the situation might have been far worse. Szczensy would have been sent off in the second minute for bringing down Lee Bowyer, following a pass from Zigic, had it not been for the mistake by the assistant referee Ron Garfield in raising the flag for offside. McLeish’s side showed a desire to seize the opportunity, while Arsenal lost track of where they were and why.

This may have been the least of the four prizes that Wenger’s side were pursuing, but there will be further misery if they continue to be so brittle. Arsenal might as well have been out to illustrate every defect that is suspected in them. So it was that tension prevented them from showing fluency. Birmingham were close to recording their second goal much earlier in the second half, when a Keith Fahey shot came back off the crossbar.

It was to be expected that McLeish’s men would raise their game. There was nothing to fear when almost everyone had taken it for granted that they would fall to inevitable defeat. The side’s great feat was to believe in themselves for so long. There was nothing that resembled an Arsenal onslaught until well into the second half.

When Arsenal at last achieved impetus, there was a string of saves from Foster, particularly when Samir Nasri and then the substitute Nicklas Bendtner forced him into action. At that stage in the second half, Arsenal might well have achieved total command.

Instead they drifted away from a target that seemed well within reach. That should be at least as disquieting to Wenger as the fact that a prize has eluded him. The side’s focus and standard of play were both prone to being blurred. It would have been better for Wenger if Cesc Fábregas and Theo Walcott had not been absent through injury, and many could have anticipated there would also be a craving for the presence of the defender Thomas Vermaelen, who has been absent for almost all of this season. Birmingham behaved from the outset as if every player had been convinced by McLeish that there was glory to be had if they attacked the Arsenal central defence with confidence.

There might have been a second goal for Zigic, who displayed zest and mobility that had been well disguised on other occasions. Birmingham could have extended the lead 11 minutes from the interval. Jack Wilshere’s challenge on Craig Gardner merely knocked the ball to the Serb, but he did not connect properly and Szczesny blocked without difficulty.

Arsenal may attempt to trick themselves into thinking that nothing of real worth has escaped. There are greater honours to be sought, but this was an outcome to plant new doubts in men who were starting to develop faith in themselves. The immediate priority is to inch back to normality by beating Leyton Orient on Wednesday. The requirement for a replay in that FA Cup came with an 89th?minute leveller for the League One team.

We should appreciate then that this continues to be an Arsenal team in the shadow of their prolonged fallibility. The weeks to come do, of course, include the return with Barcelona in the Champions League. There is much that could go wrong and Arsenal have heightened the apprehension by falling to admirable Birmingham.

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