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Arsenal answer Bale heroics as Wigan close gap

ESPN staff
May 4, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Theo Walcott scored the Premier League's fastest goal of the season against QPR © PA Photos
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Arsenal made Tottenham's return to the top-four a short one as they answered Gareth Bale's late heroics against Southampton with an unconvincing win at QPR, on a day that saw Wigan close the gap at the bottom of the Premier League after a come-from-behind victory over West Brom.

Aston Villa greatly improved their own prospects of survival with a hard-fought win over Norwich, who are now looking nervously over their shoulders. So too are Newcastle - after they could only draw with West Ham at Upton Park to stay locked in the battle at the bottom. Elsewhere, Manchester City were held to a drab 0-0 draw with Swansea, while Fulham were beaten at home by already-relegated Reading.

Premier League table & results

Arsenal are up to third in the race for Champions League qualification thanks to a nervy 1-0 win over Championship-bound QPR at Loftus Road, which came courtesy of quick-fire goal from Theo Walcott. Arsene Wenger's men are two points clear of Chelsea and Tottenham with two fixtures to play, although the Blues have two games in hand on their London rivals while Spurs also have their future in their own hands.

It took 21 seconds for Arsenal to find a way past Harry Redknapp's brittle QPR side, Mikel Arteta slipping a delicious short pass into Walcott on the edge of the area, and the England man's tame finish squeezed past Rob Green.

It was the quickest goal in the Premier League this season and Walcott later hit a post as Arsenal reached half-time ahead, but the expected goalfest never arrived. Instead, QPR whipped a series of dangerous crosses across the face of goal and Loic Remy forced a fine late stop from Wojciech Szczesny, but a third clean sheet in their last four games proved decisive for Arsenal.

Gareth Bale was again the difference for Tottenham, scoring late against former club Southampton to give his side a vital 1-0 win in their ongoing bid for Champions League football. The Welsh winger added yet another remarkable highlight to a season seemingly full of them, lashing home from 25 yards with five minutes remaining to decide a game that had looked destined to end a draw.

The result briefly elevated Andre Villas-Boas' side into the top-four but, following Arsenal's win at QPR, they slip back to fifth - albeit with a game in hand on Wenger's men.

Kick-off at White Hart Lane was delayed for 30 minutes due to a traffic accident in the outlying area, but in truth it was not until the final 10 minutes that the game really sparked into life. Prior to that both sides had created chances - Hugo Lloris making several handy saves to deny the unfortunate Saints forwards - without looking like making the difference, before Bale popped up with his world class intervention.

Perhaps overlooked in the excitement, Southampton are now in very real trouble at the bottom - just four points above Wigan, having played a game more.

Wigan gave themselves renewed hope of staying in the Premier League this season with a 3-2 victory over West Brom, with Callum McManaman grabbing a dramatic winner ten minutes from time. Victory lifts them within two points of 17th-placed Sunderland.

The Latics were behind twice in the contest, but Arouna Kone and James McArthur both notched to set up a tense last half hour. And it was the Latics who eventually got the winner - McManaman turning home after the wily Shaun Maloney had wriggled free down the left.

It had not looked like being a positive afternoon for Roberto Martinez's side when they went behind after 29 minutes to Shane Long's bundled finish. After Kone had found the equaliser five minutes before half-time the visitors duly came out after the break and fell behind again - Gareth McAuley this time powering home from a corner.

But McArthur responded with a similar strike from a Maloney delivery, before the Scotland international played the provider again to decide matters - slipping the ball to McManaman after a few clever stepovers to alter the outlook at the bottom of the table.

Wigan's victory drew Norwich firmly back into the relegation mire, especially after they were beaten 2-1 by Aston Villa at home. Gabriel Agbonlahor scored twice on Paul Lambert's return to his former haunt, clinching all three points in the 89th minute after Grant Holt's penalty had initially looked like giving the Canaries a share of the points.

Callum McManaman was the Wigan hero © PA Photos
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Norwich are now three points above Wigan with an identical goal difference, having played a game more. Villa, in such trouble barely a week ago, are two points better off with two games remaining.

After playing a supporting role in Monday's important victory over Sunderland, Agbonlahor was the hero on Saturday - breaking the stand-off with a long-range effort shortly after half-time, before grabbing the winner with a slipped effort from Ashley Westwood's delivery with just a minute remaining on the clock.

In between those strikes Holt had found the net from the penalty spot, profiting after Joe Bennett fouled Robert Snodgrass. But Chris Hughton's side could not grab a second equaliser, setting themselves up for a fraught final couple of games.

In East London, Newcastle held on to grab what could prove to be a crucial point in a 0-0 draw against West Ham. In a generally drab game involving two managers with experience of managing the opposition, the goalline clearance of Papiss Cisse's effort was perhaps the biggest moment of drama in a result that leaves Newcastle three points from 18th spot with two games to play.

Cisse's effort came in the first half - Winston Reid clearing it as the Senegal international thought he had scored. The game briefly sparked into life again midway through the second half, with Andy Carroll perhaps unlucky not to earn a penalty after being brought down, before Rob Elliott was forced into a flurry of saves.

Newcastle survived, however, and could have then had a goal of their own - Yoan Gouffran narrowly unable to find the target after Jussi Jaaskelainen had misjudged the decision to leave his line.

With both sides having little to play for, Manchester City were held to a 0-0 draw against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium. David Silva and Edin Dzeko both went close for the visiting side, but the Swans could have snatched it had the Spanish duo of Michu and Pablo Hernandez had their shooting boots on.

Finally, at Craven Cottage Fulham and Reading played out perhaps the most entertaining game of the day as the Royals claimed a 4-2 win. Already relegated to the Championship, Nigel Adkins' side grabbed the lead thanks to Hal Robson-Kanu's penalty - with the Wales international doubling his side's advantage 15 minutes after half-time.

Bryan Ruiz then halved the deficit after slotting home from Hugo Rodallega's ball - before Adam Le Fondre slipped a shot in from a difficult angle to restore the two-goal lead. That would last barely 60 seconds, however, with Ruiz heading home an Alexander Kacaniklic cross to set up a tense final 15 minutes.

The next goal proved crucial - and it went to the away side, with Jem Karacan firing home from just inside the box to clinch Reading's sixth win of the season.

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