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November 4, 2007

Gallas strikes late as Arsenal hold United

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November 4, 2007

LONDON: William Gallas scored an injury-time equalizer to keep Arsenal at the top of the Premier League after a 2-2 draw with Manchester United here on Saturday.

What the eagerly anticipated encounter of the top two lacked in quality was more than compensated for by the drama of a finale in which Gallas redeemed himself for the own goal which had allowed United to take the lead on the stroke of half-time.

Cesc Fabregas cancelled out the lead within two minutes of the restart but Cristiano Ronaldo’s 82nd-minute goal had looked set to hand United victory before the Gunners captain popped up at the back post to volley in an equalizer that ensures they remain ahead of the champions on goals scored, with the benefit of a game in hand.

Ryan Giggs’s rich experience of these clashes earned him a recall to the United line-up at the expense of the young Portuguese winger, Nani, while John O’Shea made way for fit-again Patrice Evra at left-back.

Wenger had kept faith with the players who preserved their unbeaten record at Liverpool last weekend.

As a contest, it had been anticipated as a battle between Arsenal’s collective ability to pass and move opponents to exhaustion and the greater spread of individual match winners in the United line-up.

The reality, for much of the opening period, was nowhere near to that appetising billing, as Arsenal struggled to establish any rhythm in their passing, perhaps inevitably given the energy expanded on shutting down their opponents supply lines to Rooney, Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.

The suggestion that this would be a contest devoid of the physical edge that has characterised meetings of the two clubs for over a decade also proved misplaced. Neither side had managed to muster a shot on target before Anderson had sent Fabregas sprawling to the turf with a challenge that prompted Matthieu Flamini to square up to the Brazilian, who was fortunate that referee Howard Webb was looking

the other way as he appeared to attempt to head-butt his marker.

Emmanuel Adebayor had spurned Arsenal’s first half-chance, heading Gael Clichy’s cross wide of the target after ten minutes.

At the other end, Giggs got on the end of a low cross from Ronaldo beyond the back post but could only bundle the ball wide and the veteran winger also failed to trouble Manuel Almunia with a long-range effort minutes later.

Arsenal finally forced Edwin van der Sar into his first save of the match nine minutes before the interval, the Dutch goalkeeper producing a superb stop after Gallas had got in front of Evra to head Fabregas’s free-kick towards the bottom corner.

Evra swept the loose ball to safety and United exploited that reprieve by taking the lead right on the stroke of half-time. Wes Brown muscled Hleb off the ball on the right before sending Ronaldo to the byline.

The Portuguese winger held off Gael Clichy and sent in a low cross to the near post. Rooney got there ahead of Gallas but his attempted flick did not look to be goalbound before the ball ricocheted off the defender’s arm and into the net.

It was a crushing blow for the home side but it had been neutralised within two minutes of the restart. Van der Sar did superbly well to block Adebayor’s volley off a Thomas Rosicky chip into the box but Bacary Sagna was able to hook the loose ball back from the byline and Fabregas’s cool head did the rest, the Catalan pausing on the edge of the six-yard box before side-footing his finish into the corner of the net.

Arsenal might have added to their lead almost immediately, when a Fabregas free-kick pierced the United wall, but van der Sar smothered the danger. Hleb and Rosicky also went close with efforts from around the edge of the area.

But United’s threat on the counter-attack was underlined when one sweeping move ended with an unmarked Rooney heading a chip from Giggs wide and Ferguson’s men finally exploited their hosts enthusiasm for attack eight minutes from the edge.

Substitute Louis Saha sent Evra sprinting through the inside left channel and the French defender’s cutback cross left Ronaldo with the easiest of finishes.

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