RIP Dr. Socrates

The football world and Brazil lost one of it’s most memorable citizens today when former captain Socrates died. Sócrates was admitted to intensive care in a Sao Paulo hospital on 19 August 2011 with gastrointestinal bleeding secondary to portal hypertension and was put on life-support, suffering from septic shock as a result from the intestinal infection before today’s announcement of his death. He was 57.

Sócrates was a technical playmaker, known for great through passes and his vision on the field, as well as his physical strength and a prolific goal scorer. His ability to read the game was highly valued, and his signature move was the blind heel pass. He was considered to be one of the greatest midfielders ever to play the game. He played for Botafogo-SP, before joining giants Corinthians in 1978. He spent six years with the club, scoring 172 goals in 297 league games. He then moved to Italy to play for Fiorentina, before retuning to Brazil to end his career with Flamengo and Santos.

He is best remembered outside of his homeland for the sixty caps he won playing internationally for Brazil; he captained his country at the 1982 FIFA World Cup, and also appeared at the1986 World Cup, the 1979 Copa América, and the 1983 Copa América – appearing in the defeat to Uruguay in the 1983 finals. He was named South American Footballer of the Year in 1983, and was named on Pelé’s FIFA 100 list in 2004.

Dr. Scorates was a doctor of medicine, a rare achievement for a professional footballer. Even rarer is the fact that he earned the degree while concurrently playing professional football. After retiring as a player he practised medicine at Ribeirao Preto. He and his wife had six children.

Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, MD (19 February 1954 – 4 December 2011)

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RIP Gary Speed

Gary Speed, former Welsh international footballer and captain and recently manager of their national side, was found dead yesterday at his home in Huntington, Cheshire. It’s being ruled a suicide by hanging. He was only 42 years old. No apparent reason for his decision has come out yet. Friends & relatives of Speed are shocked at him having hung himself and are asking themselves what could have led him to take his own life when he had “everything to live for”.

Speed played professionally for Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United. Rarely troubled by injury or suspension, he held the record for the most appearances in the FA Premier League at 535, until it was surpassed by David James. Over the years I’ve seen him play and remember him mostly as a Newcastle player. Born in Mancot, Wales he was an Everton supporter growing up but it was with Leeds United that he signed on as a youth trainee and made his professional debut at the age of 19 in 1988.

He would sign with Everton in 1996 and played for them for two years but left under controversial circumstances that were never publicly revealed. He moved to Newcastle in 1998 for a fee of 5.5 million pounds.  Speed featured in the club’s FA Cup Final defeats by Arsenal in 1998 and by Manchester United in 1999. He also played in the UEFA Champions League with Newcastle in the 2002–03 season.

He then played for Bolton from 2004-08 and it was with them that he became  the first player to make 500 Premier League appearances when he played in Bolton’s 4–0 victory over West Ham United in December 2006. The final year and a half of his career was spent at Sheffield United and in 2010 be agreed to become their manager but left is post to take over the reigns of the Welsh national side. Speed had appeared as a guest on BBC One’s Football Focus only a number of hours before his death. The tributes to the likeable Welshman kept pouring in as the evening went on.

Speed married wife Louise in 1996, the couple having two children, Tommy and Eddie. Speed was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours.

Rest in peace Gary Andrew Speed, MBE (8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011).

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Ar5enal 5 Chels3a 3

What will we do if he gets injured?

Robin van Persie’s hat-trick inspired Arsenal to an incredible victory against Chelsea as their recovery gathered momentum in a Stamford Bridge thriller. The Gunners captain demonstrated his importance to the team by taking his tally to an outstanding 28 goals in 27 Premier League games as Chelsea slumped again after their shock defeat at QPR last week. And it was a miserable afternoon for Chelsea and England captain John Terry at the end of a week in which has he faced allegations of racial abuse against QPR’s Anton Ferdinand – claims he vehemently denies.

Santos & Theo Walcott had the other goals for Arsenal. Arsenal have been piecing their season back together after a poor start and the manner of this win will provide added reserves of confidence and self-belief. It still doesn’t look like we will get any silverware but the side is looking a lot more harder to beat and if we get a few big game players in key positions in January, hey who knows? I’d like to see an FA cup win atleast this year. Come on Gunners!

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Arsenal 3 Stoke City 1

Arsenal have had a terrible start to the new season. After 9 games played we stand at the 7th spot on the table with 13 points and a -3 goal difference. How did this happen? Well, I’ve rambled on about it a couple of times already so not gonna get too much into it. The form has picked up in the recent weeks but I am still skeptical about where we will end up on the table at the end of the season and you know what? 6th or 7th place is not an unrealistic position! Yeah, sacrilege indeed. But that’s the way our squad has been dealt and I’m looking at Arsene Wenger to start changing things around come the mid-season transfer window.

But how did we climb to 7th place? We did it RVP style and that worries me. First the result and I’ll tell you why that worried me later. Robin van Persie came off the bench to inspire Arsenal to a fourth straight Premier League win at home as the Gunners beat Stoke City 3-1 today. Gervinho had seen his clinical first-half strike from Aaron Ramsey’s pass cancelled out by a close-range goal from former Spurs striker Peter Crouch. But Van Persie swooped just six minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute to convert Gervinho’s cross. The Dutchman added a third goal when he diverted a shot past Asmir Begovic after another Gervinho pass.

Now here is the troubling part – without RVP we are an average side!!! And he has had a history of injuries! RVP is doing his part whenever he is fit and on the field but we need more international class players like him to challenge for silverware. Did Wenger really think he was going to win the league or in Europe with the squad he has currently? No way. Good job turning things around boys but we need more. Mid season. Transfer. Window. Spend!

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Arsenal : Tragedy & Despair 2011

Arsenal just seem to be going from bad to worse. In mid-week the Gunners drew 1-1 against German club Borussia Dortmund, after leading till the last minutes of the match. On Saturday Blackburn Rovers came from behind to beat Arsenal 4-3 at Ewood Park. It was an end-to-end encounter in which defending appeared to be a lost art for long periods. Arsenal were twice in front but two own goals and a determined Blackburn comeback sealed victory for the home side.

After 5 games played the London club has 4 points and a -8 goal difference, a truly pathetic performance at the start of the 2011-12 season that puts us in 15th place in the league. When was Arsenal last seen at 15th place after 5 games? Losing 3 times already Arsene Wenger looks like a desperate general sending his soldiers to certain defeat week after week. We need a change and we need it badly. Say good-bye to this season and maybe sell a few players and get some talent in. Fans are asking Wenger to resign and for the club to get former defender & Arsenal captain Tony Adams to take hold of the reins of the squad.

Whatever happens, I’m glad that I’m unable to get the sports channels that show the EPL matches from my cable company at present. It would have been too depressing to watch.

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Arsenal’s New Player Signings

Looks like Arsene Wenger’s stubbornness has dwindled down a bit and the man has loosened the purse strings to purchase a few players and strengthen his squad. This comes in the wake of last weekend’s humiliation at the hands of Manchester United and that 8-2 drubbing the club received. If that wasn’t a wakeup call then nothing is!

So let’s look at what we purchased; the big name is Mikel Arteta, the Spanish midfielder from Everton. Good signing as he will provide offense & chances for the strikers. Along with Youssi Benayoun, Arteta will serve to bridge some of that huge gap in creativity that the team has with the exit of Samir Nasri & Cesc Fabregas. But in terms of quality do not think for a second that the newcomers are of the same calibre as those who left. Benayoun joins us on loan from Chelsea. Meanwhile disgruntled striker Niklas Bendtner joins Sunderland on loan.

German defender Per Mertersacker who joins us from Werder Bremen is certainly a handful in the air at 6ft 6in tall and he’s been added to try and rid the side of their ineptitude at defending corners and set pieces effectively. However, the side may have to play a deeper line to compensate for his almost chronic lack of pace. Nonetheless, the Bundesliga’s almost break-neck speed of play is extremely similar to that of the Premier League and he should adjust fairly quickly. From AC Monaco comes South Korean forward Park Chu-Young comes for a fee around the £2m mark and with a one in three goals to game record throughout his career and significant international experience behind him, he should prove a solid squad player.

Brazilian left-back also joins Arsenal, even though Wenger had claimed that the club was well stocked at left back because they had Vermaelen, Traore and injury-plagued Kieran Gibbs to call upon. He’ll add pace and width down the flanks, even if his defensive attributes are under question. Arsenal left-back Armand Traore has joined Premier League new-boys QPR for an undisclosed fee.

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Newly Promoted Club – Queens Park Rangers

For the 2011-12 English Premier League season, like in previous years we have 3 newly promoted sides who came up from the second division below the Premier League; Queens Park Rangers FC was promoted on virtue of being crowned champions of the Football League Championship for 2010-11 season. They have the honour of playing in the top division for the first time in 15 years.

QPR  is a London football club, based in Shepherd’s Bush,Hammersmith and Fulham, west London and they play in the Lotus Road stadium. The club has been managed by Neil Warnock since March 2010 and the current chairman of the club is Gianni Paladini. When you look at the squad you won’t see any big name players with the sole exception of English & former Newcastler midfielder Kieron Dyer.

After a number of years of financial difficulties which included a period in financial administration, QPR was bought by Formula One tycoons and multi-millionaires Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore in a £14 million takeover in August 2007 and then the Mittal family purchased a 33% stake from Briatore.  On 18th August 2011, Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes was unveiled as the majority shareholder after having bought out Ecclestone’s 66% stake in the club for a rumoured fee of around ?35 million, while the Mittal Family retaines their 33% stake.

Musicians Alan Wilder of Depeche Mode and Recoil, Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, Mick Jones of punk band The Clash, Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols, Robert Smithof The Cure, Pete Doherty, of The Libertines and Babyshambles are all fans of the club. Let’s see how well the club does at the top level in England.

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Fabregas; Good Riddance

As news of the transfer of former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas from the London side to Catalan giants Barcelona FC dies down and the player made his debut for his home side in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup, which Barca won, we Arsenal fans are left with a bitter taste in the mouth.

The deal, worth $42 million or 34 million Euros, should have happened atleast 1 or 2 years ago. Forget the fact that this transfer was done so late, right at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, leaving Arsenal with little time to trade for & integrate new quality players into the squad. Did you see Fabregas playing for the Gunner the last two years? He was only half into the games, looking a lot like a player who does not want to be with his side. This was especially evident last year in the few games that he did play.

If a player does not want to be there and is courted by another club, in this case Fabregas’s home club of Barcelona, there is no point in keeping him unless you can convince him that here is where he belongs. Arsene Wenger clearly did not achieve that and his squad’s captain looked like a guest player who didn’t want to be at his club. That is the worst thing that a player can do, especially one who has become a world famous star with the club’s help.

Fabregas was part of the Barcelona youth system and was signed on by Arsenal at the age of 16. Admittedly he was already well molded by that age but his blossoming into one of the best attacking midfielders of the current age was done at Arsenal & he was treated like royalty over there. Wenger had a lot to do with that and Fabregas should have been more grateful. Sure he has stated that he has nothing but praise for Arsenal; he didn’t play like he belonged to them for the better part of the last two seasons! He should have given it a lot more and I’m glad that he is gone.

Arsene – I implore you! Please go and buy some good quality players even if it’s a short term gain. The squad looks lean.

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Arsenal 1 Man Utd 0

Attacking with a purpose to prove a point, Arsenal took the game to league leading Manchester United and won 1-0 at the Emirates last evening. In the process, with Chelsea also winning, the loss to Arsenal means that United are just 3 points ahead of the Blues and the chase for the league title is wide open with 3 games left.

Aaron Ramsey’s winner early in the second half condemned United to defeat and leaves them only three points ahead of Chelsea with identical goal difference – and a meeting between the two to come at Old Trafford next Sunday. Forced to rebuild his promising career after suffering a broken leg, Ramsey made the most of a chance to deputise for injured captain Cesc Fabregas with a goal that will have been met with almost as much joy at Stamford Bridge as it was in front of Arsenal’s fans.

This leaves United on 73 points with 35 games played & Chelsea on 70 points with 3 games to go. A highly unlike situation will have to arise for Arsenal, 3 points behind Chelsea with 67 points, to win the league. This is provided that Arsenal win all 3 of their remaining games, Chelsea should beat or draw with Man U this coming weekend, and then the two teams will have to lose their next two games. Ideal scenario for us, one which is not at all probably but not impossible. Silverware will elude us yet again!

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Arsenal 2 Wolves 0

Robin van Persie scored twice to secure Arsenal’s victory over Wolves and keep them in touch with Premier League leaders Manchester United. The Dutchman sent a free-kick over and also sliced wide before scoring with a sweet volley from Cesc Fabregas’ cross. Wayne Hennessey kept out Theo Walcott’s shot and Richard Stearman blocked on the line from Fabregas within seconds. Walcott shot wide when he should have scored but the winger later squared for Van Persie to lash in his second. The striker, who has now notched nine goals in five games, was in sparkling form once again and was matched by a stellar performance from midfielder Jack Wilshere.

The pair were far too good for a Wolves side that have now lost 11 out of their 13 games on the road this season, and the visitors never looked likely to improve that woeful record at the Emirates. Only a series of outstanding stops by keeper Hennessey – and also some poor finishing from Arsenal – prevented the Gunners potentially breaking another Premier League record. Arsenal were shining bright in a match that had begun with hailstones smashing down in the stadium. And Andrey Arshavin should have made it 2-0 but failed to properly connect with a corner that evaded Hennessey, the Russian sending his volley wide of the gaping goal.

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Two Record Shattering Transfers In The UK

I fail to recollect when the last time the football world had such record breaking transfer deals on the same day. Shattering all previous English Premier League records, two star strikers changed clubs right on the cusp of the transfer window closing.

After a sensational day of drama on transfer deadline day, Liverpool have confirmed that  22-year-old English striker Andy Carroll has signed a five-and-a-half-year deal at Anfield. Newcastle United initially rejected two bids for their star player but when Carroll handed in a transfer request, the writing was on the wall. The first 2 bids of around 30 million pounds were rejected and the final bid of 35 million was agreed upon. At the time this was the record transfer in the UK.

Andy Carroll will wear the No.9 shirt for Liverpool. The former Newcastle forward will be expected to team up with fellow new signing Luis Suarez, who has joined the club from Ajax, in a new-look strike-force under Kenny Dalglish.  Carroll has burst onto the scene in the Premier League this season, netting 11 Premier League goals in 19 games and scoring a hat-trick against Aston Villa in August. He made his international debut for England against France at Wembley in November.

I stated earlier that Carroll’s transfer was the biggest in the UK – but the record lasted only a short time. Chelsea have officially completed the sensational £50 million signing of Spain star Fernando Torres from Premier League rivals Liverpool. The 26-year-old World Cup winner was the subject of rumours and speculation throughout transfer deadline day, but has now put pen to paper on a five-year-deal at Stamford Bridge.

The transfer saga began in earnest last week when the Reds declined an offer from Chelsea and then rejected a transfer request from Torres, insisting the player would be required to honour his long-term contract at the club. Despite this, negotiations between the clubs continued and a conclusion was reached on Monday, allowing the forward to undergo a medical and agree personal terms with the reigning league champions.

Torres had joined Liverpool from boyhood club Atletico Madrid for a fee of around £25m in July 2007 and bagged 33 goals in all competitions during a stunning debut campaign. The striker went on to play a total of 142 times and score 81 goals in three-and-a-half successful personal seasons on Merseyside.

Despite enjoying a close relationship with the club’s fans, a lack of trophies and the Reds’ inability to challenge for major honours haunted the player, who has long been linked with an Anfield exit to various destinations around Europe. The fact he has joined another English club will be a bitter pill for Liverpool fans to swallow in a deal comprehensively becomes a new British transfer record. Even more bitter will be that the Spaniard is to make his Chelsea debut against none other than Liverpool! Torres, who is yet to win a major honour in club football, has already amassed 82 caps for Spain, scoring 26 times.

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Arsenal 3 Wigan 0

Robin van Persie missed a penalty. He more than missed it; he mooned the ball well over the cross bar. Never mind, he still scored a hat-trick tonight.

The Dutchman scored his first hat-trick as Arsenal outclassed Wigan 3-0. Keeper Ali Al Habsi gave Wigan hope with superb saves, the best of them denied Cesc Fabregas and Van Persie. But he was finally beaten when Van Persie lashed in from inside the box and again when the Dutchman sweetly volleyed in from Fabregas’s long pass. Van Persie skied a penalty, conceded by Gary Caldwell who was sent off, and also hit the post before scoring his third with a shot at the near post.

Arsenal’s victory keeps them in touch with leaders Manchester United and moves them above Manchester City to second place in the table – although the Eastlands side play later on Saturday. The performance was a sign of real intent for Arsenal as they continue their pursuit for silverware on four fronts – and with Van Persie firing on all cylinders, the odds look good on them winning a first trophy since 2005.

In other games Manchester United thrashed Birmingham 5-0, while Liverpool beat Wolves 3-0.

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Arsenal 3 West Ham 0

I couldn’t watch the Saturday night football matches as I had gone to Thrissur for my friend’s wedding but I did manage to catch some of the highlights and also watch the full 90 mins of Tottenham Hotspurs vs Manchester United.

Let’s start with Arsenal; I’m quite happy to note that the Gunners had an emphatic away victory at London rivals West Ham. Arsenal, who won 3-0, have scored more away league goals this season than other other team. Robin van Persie scored twice as ruthless Arsenal put struggling West Ham to the sword in a match tipped to be Avram Grant’s last as Hammers boss. The Dutchman expertly rifled home Theo Walcott’s pass before teeing up Walcott to crash in from close range. Van Persie netted his second from the spot after Wayne Bridge fouled Walcott to cap a sparkling Gunners display. It is understood that former Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill will take over.

Chelsea won 2-0 against Blackburn, while a Carlos Tevez brace helped Manchester City overcome Wolverhampton 4-3. Hapless Liverpool managed a 2-2 draw against their hated local rivals Everton. That brings me to last night’s exciting 0-0 draw played out by Tottenham against Manchester United. It was a quite fast game with both sides looking to squash the other and both the teams were attack minded. Spurs looked the more likely to win and had the better chances.

At this stage Man City are top of the league with 45 points in 23 games played. However Man Utd are just a point away and with 3 games in hand. Arsenal sit 3rd with 22 games played and 43 points in total. In 4th is Chelsea with 38 points and Spurs with 36 come in at 5th.

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Arsenal 3 Birmingham 0

I missed this game on January 1st as I got the timings mixed up. But Arsenal stayed in touch with both Manchester based clubs at the top of the league, just two points above, with a 3-0 win over Birmingham City. Robin van Persie gave Arsenal the lead with a deflected free-kick.  The Dutchman should have then doubled it with a chip, and was almost made to pay when Roger Johnson fired over. But Samir Nasri scored his 13th goal of the season before fine interplay between the Frenchman and Cesc Fabregas saw Johnson skew into his own net.

Seven points out of possible nine for Arsene Wenger’s team over the festive period will breathe confidence into a team which faces Manchester City on Wednesday and will be eyeing the title with added fervour as 2011 begins. Arsenal ave 39 points while their North London rivals Tottenham have 36 points. Chelsea are at 5th spot with 34 points. Struggling Liverpool have only 25 points and hence at 9th place.

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Arsenal 3 Chelsea 1

Ok this is such good news. I could not watch this game last night but managed to catch the highlights this morning. Arsenal boosted their Premier League title hopes in emphatic fashion and damaged Chelsea’s in the process with a stylish victory at the Emirates. It moved the Gunners up to second in the table, two points behind Manchester United but having played a game more, while Chelsea – also a match ahead of United – are in fourth and six points off the pace.

Arsene Wenger admitted halting a barren run of 11 games in all competitions without a victory over closest rivals Chelsea and Manchester United – including 10 defeats – would provide a psychological lift as they bid to secure their first silverware since 2005. And they will take huge confidence from the manner and margin of their first win against Chelsea since a 2-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge in November 2008. Alex Song put them on the path to victory with a goal seconds before the interval, but the real damage was inflicted on Chelsea with a double salvo from Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott in the space of two minutes just after the restart.

Branislav Ivanovic’s header set up the prospect of an anxious last 30 minutes for Arsenal, but it never materialised as they held out comfortably in the face of a timid Chelsea challenge.

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Arsenal 3 Partizan Belgrade 1

Arsenal survived a minor scare to reach the last 16 of the Champions League for the 11th successive season with victory against Partizan Belgrade at The Emirates. Arsene Wenger knew that three points would assure them of qualification for the knockout phase and they ultimately ran out comfortable winners, although for a spell in the second half against the Serbians, there was the fear that Arsenal’s proud record might end.

Arsenal’s win was not enough to give them top spot in Group H, and they now face the prospect of running into the real elite of European football when the draw is made on 17 December. Robin van Persie, Arsenal captain on his first Champions League appearance of the season, put them ahead on the half-hour from the spot after he was fouled by Marko Jovanovic. But Theo Walcott’s introduction as substitute injected some firepower into Arsenal and some life into subdued supporters inside The Emirates as he made a decisive contribution. He restored Arsenal’s lead with a fine volley after 73 minutes, and another moment of class from Samir Nasri wrapped things up as he scored with a fine low finish four minutes later.

Arsenal suffered a blow with an early injury to defender Kieran Gibbs, while Bacary Sagna was shown a red card in the closing stages for a foul on Aleksandar Lazevski.

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Arsenal 2 Fulham 1

I gotta admit; this was a very exciting attacking game for long periods and I certainly enjoyed it. Full credit to Fulham players who took the game to Arsenal and never let up during the 90 minutes of football.

But it was Samir Nasri who stole the show, the spotlights, the whole she-bang with two goals. The Frenchman lashed the hosts into an early lead after dancing inside two defenders before the Gunners wasted a host of chances to extend their lead. A clash of heads affecting Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny let Diomansy Kamara slot a slick but contested equaliser.

But Nasri decided the match late on after jinking past a posse of defenders to slip the ball home from an angle. It was a beautiful goal, a highlight reel event, gorgeous to behold and a joy to every Gunners fan. When the ball went that far, I thought the chance was lost, as must most of the onlookers thought. But someone forgot to tell Nasri. He turned and shot the ball past the goalie and a lunging defender.

Thanks to French international Nasri, who now has 11 goals from midfield this season, Arsenal have moved to the top of the Premier League – one point clear of Manchester United – as they put rare back-to-back home defeats behind them, albeit in nervous fashion.

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Arsenal 4 Aston Villa 2

After some really bad performances and defeats, Arsenal has seemingly come back to good form in their 4-2 away win at Aston Villa today. Andrey Arshavin cut in from the left to fire in a shot and Samir Nasri volleyed home to put the Gunners 2-0 up. Ciaran Clark gave Villa hope with an 18-yard strike but Marouane Chamakh’s poked shot for the visitors appeared to have put Arsenal safe.

But Clark nodded in to set up a tense finale before Jack Wilshere’s late header won it for the visitors. At that point it looked as if Arsenal were in for another devastating result, meaning a draw or even worse. But Wilshere’s injury-time goal came as a relief to Arsenal as they avoided being on the wrong end of another rearguard action. The Gunners, who lost to Braga in midweek, let a two-goal advantage slip last Saturday when they lost 3-2 to Tottenham and, after securing another two-goal lead at Villa, they looked unconvincing as they almost threw it away again.

The win meant that for about 2 hours Arsenal went to the top of the table but Manchester United won 7-1 against poor Blackburn and took the pole position back.

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