Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Arsenal has league title nearly in hand

EUROPEAN FOOTBALL The Gunners defeated Chelsea for the second time in a week, putting them seven points ahead of Manchester United and nine ahead of the Blues

AP , LONDON, GLASGOW, MADRID, MILAN, BERLIN, AMSTERDAM, PARIS

Bolton's Simon Charlton pulls way from Manchester City's Robbie Fowler at the Reebok Stadium, Bolton, England, Saturday.

PHOTO: AP

This may have been the weekend that Arsenal cinched the Premier League title.

The Gunners defeated Chelsea Saturday for the second time in a week by a 2-1 score. The win at Stamford Bridge, coupled with Manchester United's 1-1 surprise draw at Old Trafford against relegation-bound Leeds, pushed the Gunners seven points ahead of Manchester United and nine ahead of third-place Chelsea.

The Gunners, with first-half goals from Patrick Vieira and Edu, are undefeated in 26 league games with 12 to play. United, with Paul Scholes scoring, has lost five and has won only two of his last five league games.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose side blew a five-point lead at this point a year ago, declined to call it a two-team race.

"No, not at all," he said. "It's still a really long way. You never know what's going to happen from now until the end of the season."

The title may be settled on March 28 when Manchester United faces Arsenal at Highbury in the biggest match of the season.

Arsenal has 64 points with Man United on 57 and Chelsea with 55. The lone point still left Leeds in the bottom three.

Just as it did last weekend in a 2-1 loss to Arsenal in the FA Cup, Chelsea took a 1-0 lead and couldn't hold it.

Chelsea went ahead after only 27 seconds. Vieira gave the ball away at midfield to Geremi, who crossed the ball across the face of the goal. Adrian Mutu headed it on to Eidur Gudjohnsen who scored from close range.

Arsenal answered with two goals in six minutes.

Vieira made up for his mistake in the 15th. The Frenchman passed to Dennis Bergkamp at midfield and then made a run. Bergkamp found him with a perfect pass and Vieira scored from 12m.

Edu scored in the 21st on a close-in goal, taking advantage when goalkeeper Neil Sullivan came out but failed to control a cross.

Arsenal played with a one-man advantage after Gudjohnsen was sent off in the 60th on his second yellow card.

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson tried to stay upbeat.

"Seven points is a lot but it is not insurmountable," he said. "We will have to perform far better than we did today if we are going to catch them because we have put ourselves in a really difficult position."

The three English leaders have away matches this week in the Champions League. On Tuesday, Arsenal plays at Spain's Celta Vigo. On Wednesday, Man United goes to Porto and Chelsea travels to Stuttgart.

SCOTTISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Rangers cut Celtic's league lead in Scotland to 10 points on Saturday, defeating Hibernian 3-0.

Celtic can return the margin to 13 today in a match at Partick.

Shota Arveladze gave Rangers a 1-0 lead on a 9th-minute penalty, and Michael Molls made it 2-0 in the 66th. Steven Thompson got the final goal on a penalty in the 83rd.

Celtic has 70 points followed by Rangers (60) and Hearts (43).

Paul Hartley gave Hearts a 1-0 lead at half over Dundee United, but Jim McIntyre equalized early in the second half. Mark Wilson made it 2-1 on an own-goal and Kevin McKenna scored the clinching goal.

SPANISH LEAGUE

Real Madrid stretched its lead at the top of the Spanish league to five points Saturday with a comfortable 4-2 victory over struggling Espanyol.

The league's leading scorer Ronaldo netted twice to take his tally to 21 goals for the season. Defenders Roberto Carlos and Raul Bravo also score3d as Madrid boosted its chances of repeating its title success of last season.

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