Fabregas keeps Arsenal in title hunt
Cesc Fabregas made a scoring return from injury as Arsenal stayed on the heels of Chelsea and Manchester United at the top of the English Premier League, with a 2-0 victory at Bolton yesterday.
The Gunners captain, who had missed three matches with a hamstring problem, netted his 10th league goal of the season in the 28th minute, while Fran Merida sealed the victory with a late strike.
"It's always a difficult place to go; we know what we'll get at Bolton, but we coped with it well and we're proud of that," the 22-year-old Fabregas said. "When I was younger, the chances were not going in, but now they are and I hope it continues until the end of the season. I feel stronger and that helps."
Arsenal are third in standings after playing 21 games, but can go to the top by beating Bolton by the same scoreline when they meet again on Wednesday, at the Emirates stadium.
Chelsea, who have also played 21 games, lead Manchester United by one point and are three ahead of Arsenal.
Bolton remain in the relegation zone, but West Ham climbed out of the bottom three yesterday with a 0-0 draw at Aston Villa and Blackburn moved up to 12th by beating Fulham 2-0.
At the Reebok Stadium, Arsenal had to soak up sustained early pressure as Bolton impressed in Owen Coyle's first match in charge.
But when Gretar Steinsson slipped on the edge of the penalty area, handing possession to Fabregas. The Spain international quickly exchanged passes with Eduardo da Silva before slotting a low shot past Jussi Jaaskelainen's outstretched right hand.
Fabregas had been quiet after the break but he still set up the second goal in the 78th. His surging run into the penalty area allowed Eduardo to cross to the far post where Merida side-footed home.
ABOVE DROP ZONE
At Ewood Park, Blackburn won for the first time since November to move five points above the drop zone.
"It is a big, big win - it is well-deserved and one that will take the pressure off us," Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce said. "The performance was nice but it was all about the result today and we're pleased to get the victory."
Chris Samba deflected home an attempted clearance by former Blackburn player Damien Duff in the 25th after Benni McCarthy's corner caused havoc in the Fulham penalty area. Blackburn captain Ryan Nelsen headed in another, nine minutes after half-time.
Fulham threatened little, with the best effort coming from Clint Dempsey's overhead kick which struck the bar in the 36th. But the American forward, Fulham's main source of inspiration, limped off after falling in the 62nd.
"The initial prognosis for Clint is not good," Fulham manager Roy Hodgson said. "It looks like cruciate knee ligament damage and if it is, it will keep him out for a while."
Aston Villa failed to break down an injury-hit West Ham, with Martin O'Neill's side lacking any significant threat and are now in sixth place, two points behind fourth-placed Tottenham with an inferior goal difference.
West Ham, which moved out of the relegation zone on goal difference with the point, had been unable to field a single experienced striker because of injuries to Carlton Cole, Zavon Hines and Guillermo Franco.
The 18-year-old Frank Nouble was given the goalscoring responsibilities on his first league start and came close to scoring inside six minutes. Nouble burst forward from the halfway line and shook off two challenges, but sent his shot over the bar with only Brad Friedel to beat.
"Away from home it's a good result," West Ham captain Matthew Upson said. "We're improving. We've had some really tight games against some top teams.
"The last few months we've had an improvement. Hopefully we can maintain that to the end of the season."
There was a lack of inspiration about Villa's play, until midway through the first half when West Ham goalkeeper Robert Green was tested for the first time, tipping away Ashley Young's shot at full stretch.
Green excelled again by turning aside a fierce shot on the turn from Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Villa had more chances after the break, James Milner clipping the outside of the post and James Collins volleying wide from 20 yards, while John Carew had the ball in the net in the 61st-minute but the strike was ruled out for offside.