Misfiring Gunners booed off after Fulham stalemate

Arsenal’s bid to cling onto their status as Champions League regulars suffered another serious blow as they were held 0-0 by Fulham in Saturday’s Premier League clash at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsene Wenger’s team missed the chance to heap pressure on fourth-placed Aston Villa, who play on Sunday, as they recorded a fourth consecutive scoreless draw for the first time since October 1993, when George Graham was in charge.

The notoriously miserly Graham would doubtless have approved of Arsenal’s class of 2009 keeping six consecutive clean sheets, but that is of little consolation to Wenger, whose attack continues to malfunction dreadfully.

They were in control for most of this London derby but, for all Arsenal’s possession, Fulham hardly had to endure a siege in their quest for a point.

Their Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer had to make just a handful of meaningful saves but, in general, he was well protected by his stout-hearted defence.

The concern for Arsenal is that these results no longer constitute a surprise. Fulham might boast one of the worst away records in the Premier League, having failed to win away from home all season.

But there was still an air of predictability in seeing the Gunners labour so desperately and they were greeted by a torrent of abuse from disgruntled home fans at full-time.

Whenever Arsenal fail to plunder an early goal, they condemn themselves to a tortuous afternoon and, here, it was Fulham who made the brighter start.

In the first 10 minutes alone, they might have been three goals up: Simon Davies volleyed over from Danny Murphy’s clever pass, Andrew Johnson fizzed just wide after a quicksilver turn had left Kolo Toure grasping at air and Clint Dempsey saw his curling shot smothered.

Arsenal, unused at confronting such feisty opponents on home soil, were reduced to the role of groggy spectators and it needed a moment of inspiration from Andrey Arshavin to shake them out of their lethargy.

The Russian made good progress down the right flank and chipped a delicate cross towards Robin van Persie. The Dutchman was all alone six yards out but directed his header too close to Schwarzer, who palmed it over the crossbar.

Schwarzer was van Persie’s scourge throughout the first half. The Gunners’ leading goalscorer was left one-on-one with Schwarzer again in the 19th minute after another canny Arshavin pass, but the former Middlesbrough goalkeeper again saved brilliantly.

Wenger’s mood will not have been helped by a glance at his bench, which revealed a chronic lack of attacking options.

Instead, the Frenchman had to place his faith in van Persie, but Arsenal’s talisman was having one of his exasperating afternoons, his luck summed up in the 59th minute when he met Bacary Sagna’s centre with an angled header, only for the ball to kiss the left-hand post.

Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Eboue, were duly dispatched from the bench – to decidedly lukewarm receptions – as Wenger grew desperate but still Fulham held firm.

There were anxious moments, and Schwarzer was at his agile best again in the 74th minute when he acrobatically blocked Abou Diaby’s downward header.

That suggested there might yet there be a grandstand finish but, once again, it failed to materialise and Arsenal’s players trooped off with the boos of their home faithful ringing in their ears. It is becoming a familiar soundtrack in these parts.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Defiant Ancelotti vows to see out Milan contract

AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti on Saturday insisted that he will stay at the Italian giants until his contract expires in June 2010 despite rumours that he is set to leave before the end of the season.

“I have a contract with the club until 2010 and I fully intend to respect it,” Ancelotti said at a press conference prior to the team’s trip to Sampdoria on Sunday.

“I’ve had my name linked to other teams for the past five years, so it’s no surprise to hear these things again. But my desire is to stay at Milan.”

The seven-time European champions were eliminated from the UEFA Cup on away goals on Thursday after drawing their last 32 tie 2-2 against German side Werder Bremen, while they are currently 11 points behind leaders Inter Milan in Serie A.

The Italian media claim that the current team has reached the end of its cycle and have linked Ancelotti with a move to either Chelsea or Real Madrid at the end of the season.

Ancelotti, however, insists that the club can meet the challenge of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

“By looking the players in their eyes, I’ve seen their motivation,” he said.

“The meeting with Werder demonstrated that we have a number of physical problems which obviously will not be resolved in two days,” he added.

“As a result, we’ll just have to rely on our spirit.”

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Tuncay torpedoes Liverpool title bid

Liverpool’s fading title hopes suffered a major blow as they slumped to a shock 2-0 defeat at the hands of Premier League strugglers Middlesbrough.

Xabi Alonso’s first-half own goal plus a second from the outstanding Tuncay Sanli after the break leaves the Reds a daunting seven points behind leaders Manchester United having played a game more.

Liverpool’s 15-game Premier League unbeaten run was left in tatters by a rejuvenated Middlesbrough, who rode their luck early on before securing a fully deserved first league win since early November to ease their relegation fears in style.

It means the Merseyside club’s trip to Old Trafford later this month now adopts must-win proportions – and even that might not be enough to prevent their bitter rivals from securing a latest title at their expense.

After seemingly sorting out their behind the scenes problems by announcing Rick Parry, the chief executive who enjoys an uneasy working relationship with manager Rafa Benitez, will leave at the end of the season, Liverpool’s on the field frustrations look set to continue.

This latest damaging setback stretches their winless run at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium to seven years, a venue where they have failed to score in six of their last seven visits.

Boro’s Australian keeper Brad Jones was forced into three fine early saves to deny Nabil El Zhar, Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel as Liverpool, with Steven Gerrard restored to the starting line-up before his late substitution when the midfielder understandably tired, dominated.

But the visitors were made to pay for failing to assert their dominance, as they fell behind in comical circumstances after 32 minutes.

Martin Skrtel and two other defenders failed to head clear as Stewart Downing swung in a corner from the right, catching a flat-footed Alonso unawares on the six-yard line. The ball hit the Spaniard and bounced tamely past Pepe Reina.

It broke Middlesbrough’s 527-minute Premier League goal drought – almost nine hours – and provided the platform for their first league win in 15 games in a huge boost to their hopes of avoiding relegation.

The out-of-touch El Zhar wasted another Gerrard-inspired opening to level straight after the break as Liverpool were soon brought back down to earth in the wake of their memorable 1-0 Champions League victory against Real Madrid in midweek.

Instead of sitting back and defending their lead, Boro went in search of a decisive second goal to calm the nerves, which arrived in the 62nd-minute.

Gary O’Neil fed Jeremie Aliadiere down the Boro right, and the forward easily out-paced Sami Hyypia to cut back a low cross for man-of-the match Tuncay, who beat Reina with a low angled drive from 15-yards to put the hosts in control.

There was still time for Kuyt to miss his kick six yards out with the goal at his mercy from Gerrard’s inviting low cross – the England midfielder’s last meaningful contribution before he succumbed to cramps with 13 minutes left.

At the other end Middlesbrough substiute Marlon King, who shot straight at Reina, and O’Neil, who volleyed narrowly wide at the end of a four-man move, both came close to adding a third as Liverpool pushed forward in search of a way back which never came.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Panucci returns after spat with Roma boss Spalletti

Italian defender Christian Panucci has returned to the Roma squad for Sunday’s match at league leaders Inter Milan after being left out for refusing to sit on the bench, coach Luciano Spalletti revealed on Saturday.

“We’re making a fresh start with Panucci,” Spalletti said in a press conference at the club’s Trigoria training complex. “He’s done what he had to do. It took him a bit of time, but we’ve made up.”

On January 25 the 35-year-old Italy international demonstrated his anger at being named among the substitutes for the league match at Napoli by refusing to take his place on the bench.

He apologised to his team-mates and to the club’s directors and supporters a few days later but didn’t make amends with Spalletti until Friday.

“He’s a Roma player and we need to use all the resources at our disposal,” Spalletti continued.

“As far as I’m concerned, in cases like this it’s not Panucci or Spalletti who counts – it’s Roma.”

However, Spalletti was quick to add: “What he did yesterday (Friday), he should have done two days after (his refusal to sit on the bench).”

Despite his return to the squad, Panucci will not feature in Roma’s Champions League last-16 second-leg against Arsenal – who lead the tie 1-0 – as he was not registered to play in the competition by his employers.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Nakamura treble fires seven-goal Celtic

Japanese international Shunsuke Nakamura fired a memorable hat-trick to help Celtic keep the pressure on Scottish Premier League leaders Rangers with a 7-0 thrashing of 10-man St Mirren at Parkhead on Saturday.

The Hoops comprehensive victory reduced their rivals lead on goal difference at the top to just four after a Barry Ferguson strike was enough to give Rangers a 1-0 win away to Hamilton.

A first-half double from Nakamura sent Celtic on their way and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink could even afford to miss a penalty as Buddies defender Jack Ross was ordered off.

Celtic made their extra-man advantage count in the second-half with a sensational strike from Marc Crosas before a Scott Brown double either side of a stunning Nakamura free-kick.

An own goal from John Potter sealed the win for the Parkhead side.

“I thought we started the game well and the passing and movement was good,” said Celtic manager Gordon Strachan.

“When they went down to 10-men and the second goal went in I felt very sorry for St Mirren as I knew it was going to be a hard day for them.”

St Mirrens boss Gus MacPherson said his players were hurting.

“It’s never nice when you lose any game but when you lose so heavily there’s no doubt the pride is dented,” MacPherson said.

“I was standing there with half an hour to go wanting the game to finish.”

It was St Mirren who had the first chance.

The Celtic defence backed off Andy Dorman as he ran at them in the 12th minute before unleashing a shot but Stephen McManus’s late lunge managed to deflect it for a corner.

A mistake from Chris Smith in the 16th minute allowed Celtic to take the lead through Nakamura.

The keeper got both hands to a speculative 25-yard strike from the Japanese international but he allowed it to spill over his head and into the net.

St Mirren were reduced to ten men when the Hoops were awarded a penalty in the 28th minute.

Scott McDonald collapsed in the box under a challenge from behind by Ross, who received a straight red.

However, Vennegoor of Hesselink’s soft spot-kick was too near the keeper and Smith made up for his earlier mistake by getting down low to save before Will Haining cleared the danger.

Japanese star Nakamura got his second after 34 minutes.

The midfielder collected a pass from Hinkel just inside the box before sending an angled left-footed drive low into the bottom corner.

A magnificently struck Crosas shot made it three in the 51st minute. A headed clearance landed at his feet and he took a touch before letting fly with an unstoppable strike from 30 yards out which swerved past Smith.

A minute later Brown got Celtic’s fourth. The Scotland midfielder collected a pass ten yards out and his miss-hit shot managed to squirm under the body of Smith and into the net.

Nakamura completed his hat-trick with a stunning free-kick in the 58th minute, the midfielder’s powerful, curling kick from the right beat Smith at his near post.

Brown got his second and Celtic’s sixth after 67 minutes. The midfielder sprung the St Mirren offside trap to run on to a Crosas through ball and finish low past Smith who remained rooted to the spot.

A 76th-minute own goal by Potter added to St Mirren’s misery.

The defender stooped low to send his attempted headed clearance from a Hinkel cross past his own keeper.

At New Douglas Park, Ferguson’s first goal of the season sealed a 1-0 win for Rangers over Hamilton.

The Gers captain sent a low angled drive from the edge of the box past the outstretched keeper late in the first-half.

Inverness lost for the first time in Terry Butcher’s tenure as Motherwell clinched a 2-1 win.

Hearts moved five points clear in third spot with a 1-0 win over Dundee United. Aberdeen and Kilmarnock and Hibernian and Falkirk both played out goalless draws.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Atletico coach digs heels in over ´new Maradona´

Atletico Madrid’s new coach Abel Resino has dug his heels in against club fans who were upset at his decision to substitute Argentine striker Sergio “Kun” Aguero, who has been dubbed the ‘new Maradona’.

Resino subbed the 20-year-old fans’ favourite early in the second half of their 2-2 draw Tuesday against Porto in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie, drawing whistles of protest from the home fans.

But asked if he would make the substitution again, Resino told El Mundo: “Yes, why not? If I felt it was the right move, for sure. No one is untouchable here.”

He added: “Kun is another player, who is important for us when he is well, but another player. That is, he plays or does not play.

“The public is sovereign and can decide whatever it wants but I can’t explain every decision to the whole world. I don’t have time.”

Aguero has not finished a game since Resino replaced Javier Aguirre as Atletico coach at the beginning of February, fueling speculation the player may be on his way out of the Spanish club.

English Premiership sides Chelsea and Manchester City have in the past been linked to a move for the ace with Italian side Inter Milan also reportedly interested in signing the ace.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Milan’s objective is Champions League

Carlo Ancelotti did his best to give fans assurances of his commitment to the side and the side to him. “Next year, I see Milan in the Champions League and the current manager still sitting on the bench,” he began sardonically. “Being knocked out by Werder hurt, but now we know our objective is to finish in the top three”.

“There was no shouting match with Galliani and no one pushed me around. It was made clear that the club must play in the Champions League next season and that’s what we will fight for, without worrying about the title,” he added.

“I hope Gattuso will be back soon, but it has been the defence that has suffered the most.”

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Barça will not implode, Messi has assured

Barcelona superstar, Lionel Messi, has assured fans that his side will not implode as they have done in recent seasons.

We know that Barcelona are always excepted to win, but we are relaxed because we are feeling good. We have a seven point lead in the league and the draw with Lyon was a good result. What is important is to beat Atletico so everything will be forgotten about,” he told El Mundo Deportivo.

“It is understandable that the fans worry because in the last two years things were like this and the league was lost, but now a lot has changed in this team, both in terms of play and the mental side. What happened in recent years will not happen again.”

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Voronin helps send Hertha back on top

Andrey Voronin hit his fourth goal in four games to help put Hertha Berlin back on top of the Bundesliga as the leaders sealed a 2-1 win over bottom club Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday.

The Ukrainian striker, on loan from Liverpool, hit a first-half goal, which show-cased his excellent finishing, before Hungary midfielder Pal Dardai put Hertha 2-0 up at half-time.

United States midfielder Michael Bradley converted a penalty for Moenchengladbach on 69 minutes after Hertha’s Germany defender Arne Friedrich brought down international team-mate Marko Marin in the area.

Berlin now have a one-point lead, but their stay at the top of the table could only last 24 hours as second-placed Hamburg face fifth-placed Wolfsburg on Sunday.

Third-placed Hoffenheim missed out on the chance to claim top spot when they were held 0-0 at Borussia Dortmund.

Both sides were reduced to ten men when Hoffenheim midfielder Tobias Weis retaliated after being brought down by Dortmund’s Sebastian Kehl.

Weis was shown a straight red while Kehl was shown his second yellow.

After both sides heroics in Europe in midweek, Bayern Munich on Sunday travel to face Werder Bremen, who are without goalkeeper Tim Wiese, while Bayern are missing striker Luca Toni and defender Daniel van Buyten.

Bayern stunned Sporting Lisbon 5-0 in the Champions League Round of 16 on Wednesday, while Werder Bremen knocked AC Milan out of the UEFA Cup the following day.

Defending champions Munich are now five points behind Hertha in fourth and badly need a win after three defeats in their last four games while Bremen are down in 11th.

Relegation candidates Bochum escaped the bottom three after a 3-2 win over fellow strugglers Energie Cottbus who drop into the danger zone.

Bochum’s Austrian defender Christian Fuchs equalised with a direct free-kick on 54 minutes before French defender Marc Pfertzel converted an 80th-minute penalty to give Bochum three much-needed points.

Struggling Schalke 04 allowed a late equaliser from Eintracht Frankfurt to threaten to share the points before Germany defender Heiko Westermann volleyed into an empty net in the 83rd minute.

The 2-1 win moves Schalke up to seventh in the league with Frankfurt now 13th.

Bayer Leverkusen were shocked by a 1-0 defeat at Hanover which leaves them sixth in the table while Hanover are 12th.

On Friday, Cologne drew 1-1 with Arminia Bielefeld while on Sunday Stuttgart are at Karlsruhe.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Cahill helps Everton kill off struggling Albion

Australia midfielder Tim Cahill kept Everton firmly on course for a top six finish in the Premier League as his header set up a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

Cahill’s eighth goal of the season came late in the first half at Goodison Park and Louis Saha sealed the points with a sublime second after the break.

The win moved David Moyes’ side nine points clear of seventh placed Wigan, who were due to face Chelsea later on Saturday, and left Albion firmly rooted to the bottom of the table.

Tony Mowbray’s team are now without a win in their last eight games and look destined for a quick return to the Championship.

With Mikel Arteta, Victor Anichebe and Jack Rodwell all injured, Moyes was happy to welcome back Cahill from suspension and Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini from injury.

Everton had the first opportunity when Leighton Baines’ long ball was met by Cahill, who beat Scott Carson to the ball, but also cleared the bar.

Albion’s Marc-Antoine Fortune had two shots well held by Everton keeper Tim Howard before Robert Koren flashed a powerful strike wide of a post for the visitors.

Cahill had the ball in the net with a volley in the 24th minute but referee Steve Bennett correctly penalised the midfielder for climbing on Paul Robinson.

Everton’s Tony Hibbert, just back from injury, limped off with a thigh problem moments later.

Albion midfielder James Morrison set up Fortune for another opportunity with a neat pass but the striker’s effort was blocked by Howard.

Moyes’ side took full advantage in the 36th minute. Ryan Donk gave away a needless free-kick with a foul from behind on Pienaar.

Baines curled a free-kick into the area and Albion’s defence went missing, allowing Cahill yards of space to head past Carson.

Albion, who last won a league game at Goodison Park in 1979, made a positive start to the second half despite that setback.

Koren ran from his own half to fire just wide of the post from the edge of the box, then Luke Moore, on as a substitute, had a shot deflected wide.

From the corner Albion thought they had scored. Donk headed on and Moore’s flick was somehow hooked off the line and into Howard’s arms by Phil Jagielka.

Moyes’ response was to take off Fellaini and send on Saha.

The move paid instant dividends. In the 70th minute Pienaar nudged a pass to Saha, who turned and rifled a perfectly placed long-range drive past Carson.

Moore hit the bar in the closing minutes but Albion were soon trudging off after their 11th away league defeat this season.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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