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February 15, 2007 2:00 am

Arsenal style triumphs in Cup epic

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Rapier against broadsword again produced an epic. Arsenal, brilliant but wasteful, were taken to extra time by the ever-dogged Bolton last night, but eventually progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup with a 3-1 victory, writes Jonathan Wilson at the Reebok Stadium.

In the early stages, having failed to win any of their previous five games against Bolton, it seemed as though Arsenal felt a need to put on an exhibition.

If only, then, Bolton hadn't had the tenacity to disrupt their opening goal by getting in two half-tackles that did little to check the momentum of the move but everything to ruin the aesthetic.

Still, the liquid quality of the move was awesome, as Alexander Hleb and Denilson worked an opening in the right. The Brazilian teenager shuffled the ball on to Emmanuel Adebayor, who helped it to Tomas Rosicky; his pass was cut out by Ivan Campo, but the ball fell for Adebayor, who swept it home via the underside of Stelios Giannakopoulos's calf.

At that stage it seemed merely a matter of how many Arsenal would score, but for all their recent habit of scoring late goals, the old failing of a lack ruthlessness has not been expunged.

When Tal Ben Haim, mesmerised by the sashaying legs of Júlio Baptista, conceded a penalty 19 minutes into the second half, Gilberto Silva blazed the penalty over. Even worse, with four minutes remaining, Adebayor rounded Jussi Jääskeläinen, only to strike his shot against the post.

Arsenal had survived one scare towards the end of the first half when Giannakopoulos inadvertently blocked a goal-bound shot from Andranik and then hooked the loose ball against the crossbar, but they succumbed in second-half injury time as Abdoulaye Méïté prodded Campo's knockdown over the line.

Gilberto deflected a Diouf cross against the post in a frantic extra time, but by the end Arsenal were back in control. Fredrik Ljungberg, in his first game back after a two-month absence with a hamstring injury, ran on to a Jérémie Aliadière through-ball to restore Arsenal's lead with 12 minutes remaining.

As Bolton became increasingly desperate in the final minutes, Tal Ben Haim was sent off after collecting a second booking, and Nicolas Anelka was extremely fortunate not to follow him as he hauled down Adebayor with even Jääskeläinen caught upfield, having gone forward for a corner. Júlio Baptista missed the resulting penalty but then, as Arsenal broke again, had the presence of mind to lay in Adebayor to make it 3-1.

* Rangers suffered their first Uefa Cup defeat of the season, but will still consider themselves well placed for the second leg after they went down 2-1 away to Hapoel Tel Aviv. Barukh Dego stabbed the winner from close range with 14 minutes remaining after Nacho Novo had cancelled out Salim Toama's strike.

Blackburn Rovers summoned up depleted reserves of energy to keep their Uefa Cup campaign alive with a late goal in Germany. Substitute Shabani Nonda's 87th-minute strike meant Rovers enter the return leg of the round of 32 tie against Bayer Leverkusen with only a 3-2 deficit and precious away goals.

Leverkusen scored first, against the run of play, when Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker headed home at the far post from a free kick in the 18th minute. Rovers deservedly equalised when David Bentley, their main attacking threat, hit a deflected shot home from 25 yards 20 minutes later.

But a long-range drive by Carsten Ramelow in turn took a deflection to give the Germans the lead just before half-time, and Bernd Schneider extended the advantage with a brilliant back-heel finish in the 56th minute.

Meanwhile, Everton have secured the services of goalkeeper Tim Howard on a five-year contract from Manchester United for a fee believed to be about £3m. Howard, 27, joined the Merseysiders on loan from the beginning of the season and has impressed manager David Moyes, keeping 11 clean sheets.

Although the winter transfer window is closed, Premier League rules permit domestic loan deals to be made permanent outside the window.

*CRICKET England announced their 15-man cricket squad for the World Cup on Wednesday and revealed that Andrew Flintoff is not guaranteed to be Michael Vaughan's understudy as vice-captain in the Caribbean.

Flintoff led England in Vaughan's absence during the 5-0 Ashes defeat in Australia and for much of the ultimately successful Commonwealth Bank one-day series. Vaughan played just three of England's 10 one-day internationals before returning home from Australia with a hamstring injury. He has been named captain of England's squad, and will have intensive treatment in the hope he can fly out to the West Indies early next month.

David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, said a decision had yet to be taken on who would replace Vaughan if he does drop out of the squad.

Graveney said: ''Let's be honest - we lost 5-0 in the Test series and five of our first six one-day internationals. Andrew Flintoff deputised for Michael Vaughan in that period of time. It's only right and appropriate that he has time with his family. Then I'll talk to him about his views. I need to sit down and listen to him and have an honest chat about how it went in the winter.

''My personal wish is that Michael gets off the plane at St Vincent to lead England."

If Flintoff is overlooked, Andrew Strauss would emerge as the likely vice-captain, although he had a poor Australian tour.

Vaughan is one of three players England were prepared to name in the squad even though they have injuries. James Anderson's back problem flared up again in Australia and fellow fast bowler Jon Lewis was also sent home early with an ankle injury.

Essex all-rounder Ravi Bopara edged out Lancashire opener Mal Loye to win a place in the squad.

Leicestershire's Paul Nixon, like Bopara a debutant in the triangular series in Australia, claims the wicketkeeper's spot.

England squad: Vaughan (capt), Joyce, Bopara, Bell, Strauss, Pietersen, Collingwood, Flintoff, Nixon (wktkpr), Dalrymple, Panesar, Lewis, Anderson, Plunkett, Mahmood.

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