Arsenal sink Spurs to heat up Premier League title race

Simon Foster 16/03/2014
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Rapid Rosicky: Tomas Rosicky (2nd-L) scored inside two minutes to hand Arsenal victory.

Tomas Rosicky fired Arsenal back into the Premier League title race as the Czech midfielder's quick-fire strike clinched a crucial 1-0 win over north London rivals Tottenham on Sunday.

Arsene Wenger's side began the weekend seven points behind Chelsea, but they moved to within four points of the leaders — with a game in hand — thanks to Rosicky's winner after just 72 seconds.

The Czech midfielder's goal, and the gritty defensive display that followed it, secured Arsenal's first league win at White Hart Lane since 2007 in Wenger's 999th match in charge.

The third placed Gunners feared their title challenge was fading after a defeat at Stoke, but they are firmly back in the race and a titanic encounter against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea side looms at Stamford Bridge next weekend.

"It's a huge result because we were under pressure to win before the game," Wenger said. "Tottenham played well and sometimes we were under pressure, so we needed some special resilience to get away with it. It's three massive points."

Tottenham's third successive defeat was harsh on Tim Sherwood's fifth placed team, who look to have blown their chances of qualifying for the Champions League via a top-four finish.

"First and foremost, I wanted the performance. We got that but we didn't get the result," Sherwood said. "The fans won't be happy with that but anyone who has seen that performance will know we didn't deserve to lose."

Arsenal had already defeated their hated neighbours twice this season and they were quickly back in the ascendancy thanks to a virtuoso contribution from the man nicknamed 'the little Mozart'.

Rosicky was only playing because of an injury to the club's record signing Mesut Ozil, but he took less than two minutes to make a more decisive contribution than the German has managed for months.

Rosicky seized possession near the halfway line after a Tottenham attack broke down and surged forward with real intent.

Tottenham were caught short-handed at the back and the Czech picked out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the edge of the penalty area. Oxlade-Chamberlain couldn't control the ball, but it rolled fortuitously back to Rosicky and, although the angle didn't suggest the shot was on, he unleashed a ferocious half-volley that flashed into the top corner past the stunned Hugo Lloris.

It was just Rosicky's third club goal of the season, but Spurs will be sick of the sight of the 33-year-old, who also scored against them in the FA Cup third round.

Rosicky was pulling the strings and he produced a perfectly-weighted pass to put Oxlade-Chamberlain clean through on goal, but the midfielder chipped woefully wide with just Lloris to beat.

Tottenham threatened for the first time when Andros Townsend whipped over a teasing cross that just eluded Emmanuel Adebayor. That provided a much-needed jolt of adrenaline for the hosts, who had made a lethargic start in unseasonably warm temperatures.

The mercury rose even higher when Arsenal right-back Bacary Sagna escaped with only a booking from referee Mike Dean after clattering Danny Rose with a crude lunge.

Tottenham should have been level just after half-time when Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny made a hash of a routine cross. Szczesny tried to catch the ball one-handed but instead fumbled it to Nacer Chadli, yet Arsenal escaped as the Belgian winger shot tamely at Laurent Koscielny with the goal at his mercy.

Sherwood questioned his players' character after their thrashing at Chelsea last weekend, but he could have no complaints here. Spurs were the dominant force and they went close twice in quick succession.

First Chadli flicked wide from Townsend's low delivery, then Adebayor rose highest to meet Nabil Bentaleb's cross but couldn't hit the target with his header.

Sherwood, involved in a row with Benfica boss Jorge Jesus in midweek, has cut a manic figure on the touchline as results have gone against him and he let his emotions get the better of him again when he threw the ball at Sagna in the closing stages.

The hosts kept pressing for an equaliser, but Arsenal, superbly marshalled by Koscielny, threw enough bodies in the way to repel the assault.

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Liverpool smash Man Utd to heap more pressure on Moyes

Simon Foster 16/03/2014
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Captain fantastic: Gerrard is mobbed by teammates after putting Liverpool 2-0 up.

Steven Gerrard scored two penalties as Liverpool closed to within four points of Premier League leaders Chelsea with a 3-0 win at beleaguered rivals Manchester United on Sunday.

Gerrard found the net from 12 yards either side of half-time before Luis Suarez added a third goal in the 84th minute to give Liverpool their first victory at Old Trafford in five years.

Gerrard should have had a hat-trick of spot-kicks, with a third penalty hitting the post after United captain Nemanja Vidic had been shown a second yellow card for felling Daniel Sturridge, but it was to prove anecdotal.

Liverpool retain a game in hand on Chelsea, who lost 1-0 at Aston Villa on Saturday, and while Brendan Rodgers's side look more like potential champions with each display, United's season continues to unravel.

This was the defending champions' fifth home defeat of the campaign and having started the day 11 points below the Champions League places, their hopes of a top-four finish have been all but extinguished.

As a result, Wednesday's Champions League home game with Olympiakos now takes on crucial significance, but with United 2-0 down from the first leg of the last 16 tie, there could be more misery around the corner.

United manager David Moyes had admitted prior to the game that Liverpool's form "probably" made them favourites, but he will have been alarmed by the ease with which the visitors found holes in the hosts' defence.

There were fewer than three minutes on the clock when a Jordan Henderson pass down the inside-right channel set Sturridge free, but he shot wide with his weaker right foot.

There was plenty of commitment to United's play, with Phil Jones and Robin van Persie both flying into early challenges, but they had not mustered a shot worthy of the name by the time Liverpool went ahead in the 34th minute.

Gerrard silences United catcalls

As Suarez looked to dink the ball past Rafael da Silva on the left-hand side of the area, the Brazilian jutted out a hand and referee Mark Clattenburg immediately awarded a penalty.

Having been booked for clattering Gerrard moments earlier, Rafael was fortunate to avoid a second yellow card, but the Liverpool captain showed no mercy from the spot to silence the catcalls from the Stretford End.

Liverpool's fans at the opposite end of the ground celebrated deliriously, and although United briefly rallied, with Wayne Rooney stinging Simon Mignolet's palms, there was more of the same to come.

Only 25 seconds of the second half had elapsed when Jones barged into Joe Allen after he had chested down a lofted pass from Jordan Henderson and Gerrard's spot-kick, into the bottom-right corner, was again unerring.

Rooney then had a penalty claim of his own turned down, after a collision with Martin Skrtel on the edge of the Liverpool box, and when a rare chance fell to Marouane Fellaini, he blazed over.

After Van Persie had headed wide from a Rooney cross, Gerrard was handed an opportunity to complete a first ever hat-trick against United when Vidic sent Sturridge sprawling.

This time, however, his aim was slightly off, with the ball cannoning against the base of the left-hand post and away.

Liverpool were not finished though. Moments after being thwarted by a stunning save from David de Gea, Suarez ghosted in behind the hosts' flatfooted defence to roll home and make United's misery complete.

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Bayern to welcome back Hoeness after prison sentence

David Cooper 16/03/2014
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Convicted: Hoeness has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.

Despite his conviction for tax fraud, Bayern Munich are planning to welcome back ex-president Uli Hoeness after he has served his prison sentence.

The 62-year-old resigned as both Bayern president and chairman of the club's supervisory board on Friday and was a noticeable absentee for Saturday's 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen.

He stepped down less than 24 hours after being sentenced to three and a half years in jail by Munich regional court having cheated the state out of 28.5 million euros ($39.5 million) in unpaid taxes.

He admitted to hiding his wealth in secret Swiss bank accounts while obsessively "gambling" on stock and currency markets for years.

But while Hoeness waits to start his time behind bars, the Bavarian giants already hope he will be back at the Allianz Arena soon.

"This club is one of the best in the world and that is down to the personality of Uli Hoeness," said coach Pep Guardiola. "He deserves our respect. I hope he can come back in the future and help us."

On Saturday, Bayern named Karl Hopfner as Hoeness' successor as club president. Adidas' CEO Herbert Hainer, the CEO of German sportswear giants Adidas, takes over from Hoeness as chairman of Bayern's advisory board. Both positions must be ratified by a vote on May 2 at the club's general assembly.

But Edmund Stoiber, head of Bayern's management board, implied there will be a role for Hoeness with the European champions following his release.

"A door is always open and Uli Hoeness will always be the soul of the club," Stoiber told Die Welt. "Whatever he wants to do, anything is possible."

Hoeness's fall from grace comes with the club he built on the ascendancy and confirmed as the world's best domestic side after winning the Club World Cup last December. There has been zero condemnation from within the tight-knit Bayern camp, even after the guilty verdict.

Chants of "Hoeness – you're the best man!" could be heard at Munich's Allianz Arena during the win over Leverkusen.

Sky television underscored his absence when zooming in on the empty seat next to chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge where Hoeness normally sits and there were a few banners of support from fans.

"His resignation deserves the respect from FC Bayern and from all football fans," said Rummenigge. "I am not a fan of the saying, 'the king is dead, long live the king', more of Franz Beckenbauer's sentiment that 'you never separate from good friends'.

"It's very hard to replace someone like Uli Hoeness at the top of the club."

The club's stance has always been that the tax matters were personal choices made by Hoeness, unconnected to his work as an employee. His conviction tarnishes the image of his beloved Bayern, even if the club's success is directly entwined with Hoeness' drive.

All five of Bayern's European titles in 1974, 1975, 1976, 2001 and 2013 came with him involved as either a player, general manager or club president.

Before his arrival as an 18-year-old in 1970, they had won just two of their 23 German league titles with a 24th imminent. Bayern became Germany's first side to win the treble of Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup under Jupp Heynckes last season, breaking or equalling 25 league records.

Hoeness was instrumental in luring Heynckes's successor Guardiola to Munich and Bayern have thrived this season under the Spaniard. Hoeness will not start his sentence for a few weeks while the verdict is finalised with the prosecution able to appeal having wanted a longer sentence.

As a first-time offender, Hoeness is most likely to serve his sentence in Landsberg prison, 60 kilometres east of Munich. It is the same jail where Adolf Hitler wrote his novel 'Mein Kampf' in 1924 while serving 264 days detention for his part in the previous year's Munich Beer Hall Putsch.

A spokesperson for Munich's regional court has said Hoeness could qualify for day release after just a few weeks of his sentence. In his absence, his successful sausage-making factory will be run by his son Florian.

Bayern's 24th German league title could be confirmed next Saturday if they win at Mainz 05 and both rivals Dortmund and Schalke draw, but Hoeness may already be behind bars.

"It's a very tough situation for FC Bayern, for Uli Hoeness and his family," said France winger Franck Ribery following the win over Leverkusen. "We want to keep winning for him.

"It's a difficult situation, but we have to keep going forward. He's a big figure and he will always be with us."

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