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It will be a while yet before Arsenal mathematically cannot win the Premiership but after Tuesday night's defeat in a classic their reign as champions is in its death-throes, Jonathan Wilson reports from Highbury.
Manchester United remain eight points behind Chelsea, and the gap will grow to 11 if Chelsea win at Blackburn tonight, but they can at least still dream. On last night's showing, they certainly still have the heart for the fight.
Forced to play the final 21 minutes with 10 men after Mikael Silvestre was sent off for headbutting Fredrik Ljungberg, they not merely held on to their 3-2 advantage but added a fourth, Gabriel Heinze and Paul Scholes combining for John O'Shea to beat Manuel Almunia with a gloriously weighted chip, a magnificent end to what was, for United, a magnificent game. But Arsenal fans will wonder how they lost the advantage last night, taking their total of leads lost this season to 11.
Patrick Vieira, who had clashed with Roy Keane in the tunnel before the game, put Arsenal ahead from Thierry Henry's corner after eight minutes, but United levelled 10 minutes later, Wayne Rooney cushioning Scholes's pass for Ryan Giggs to drill a shot that deflected in off Ashley Cole.
Dennis Bergkamp ran on to Henry's pass to make it 2-1 by half-time, but United turned the game in four dramatic second-half minutes.
Giggs laid in Cristiano Ronaldo to fire a finish across Almunia and Rooney hit the angle of post and bar with a dipping free-kick, before Giggs, making the most of Almunia's crazy rush from his goal, crossed for Ronaldo to slam his second from close range.
Magnificent, harum-scarum stuff, but for all the fire and the fury, the bruises and the brimstone, it was hard to avoid the thought that Chelsea were sitting calmly, smiling softly to themselves, knowing that, in terms of the Premiership, it did not matter at all. Elsewhere in the Premiership, two goals in the dying minutes of the second half gave Bolton their sixth successive win in a 3-1 victory over Tottenham.
* The last time Yann Delaigue started a Six Nations match for France there were still only five nations in the competition, rugby union was an amateur game and England's new centre Matthew Tait was at primary school, writes Huw Richards. That was 10 years ago, but the Castres outside-half returns to don the number 10 shirt worn by nine other men since 1995 and, while not his club's regular kicker, will also take goal-kicking responsibilities as France begin their campaign at home to Scotland on Saturday.
Delaigue's half-back partner, Pierre Mignoni of Montferrand, is also recalled after three years. Late call-up Pierre Tabacco goes straight in at number eight, one of five Stade Français players in the starting XV, packing down between the powerful Sebastien Chabal of Sale and Bourgoin's Julien Bonnaire, who starts for the first time.
Wales's team to play England at Cardiff on Saturday also has a Latin flavour. Two French-based players, skipper Gareth Thomas (Toulouse) and Steve Jones, Mignoni's half-back partner at Montferrand, will start. The third Franco-Welshman, Gareth Llewellyn, loses out to Italian-descended Robert Sidoli, rewarded for his line-out skills for Cardiff Blues with the resumption of an international career that stalled last year.
Flanker Martyn Williams has recovered from a foot injury to win his 50th cap while Mefin Davies has held off the challenge of Robin McBryde at hooker. Tom Shanklin will partner Gavin Henson at centre while Hal Luscombe plays on the wing. France: Elhorga; Rougerie, Liebenberg, Traille, Dominici; Delaigue, Mignoni; De Villiers, Servat, Marconnet; Pelous, Thion; Bonnaire, Tabacco, Chabal. Wales: G Thomas (captain); Luscombe, Shanklin, Henson, S Williams; S Jones, Peel; Jenkins, M Davies, A Jones; Cockbain, R Sidoli; D Jones, Owen, M Williams.
* Scientists have discovered a second steroid designed to evade drug testers, the World Anti-Doping Agency said on Tuesday. "Following the THG story, this is the second designer steroid we have found," Olivier Rabin, Wada scientific director, said in Montreal. "We believe this was created purely for doping in sport."
Several leading track athletes, including double world sprint champion Kelli White and Britain's European 100m champion Dwain Chambers, have been banned after THG (tetrahyrogestrinone) was discovered in 2003. Rabin said a desoxy-methyl-testosterone (DMT) had been discovered after an anonymous tip-off and a test for it had been developed.
* Athletics, gymnastics, hockey and karate emerged as the main losers on Tuesday as Sport England revealed how £315m of funding is to be allocated over the next four years, writes David Owen.The quartet each stands to suffer a cut in the amount the funding body pumps into their 2005-06 business plans, compared with the current financial year.
Athletics, which has disappointed on the performance front in spite of the Olympic efforts of Kelly Holmes and the men's sprint relay squad, will receive £3.14m in 2005-06, down from £3.91m. The sport is going through a reform process and Sport England says its funding in subsequent years will be conditional on that. Funding to gymnastics will edge down from £2.9m to £2.76m, while hockey, where performance has also disappointed, will tumble from £5.7m to £3.57m. Funding for karate is to be chopped from £511,000 to £250,000 due to perceived poor organisation.
* Martina Hingis's tennis comeback in the Thailand Open ended in first-round defeat. Hingis, 24, slumped to a 1-6 6-2 6-2 defeat to Germany's Marlene Weingartner two years after retiring with an ankle injury.
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