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Arsenal slip-up in top four bid

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LONDON, England, February 2 – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insisted his side could still finish in the top four of the Premier League after a goalless draw away to Bolton Wanderers left them five points shy of a Champions League spot.

Wednesday’s result was made worse for Arsenal by Newcastle beating relegation threatened Blackburn Rovers 2-0 to leapfrog the Gunners and Liverpool into fifth place, two points in front of Wenger’s men.

At the Reebok Stadium, visitors Arsenal dominated possession but, with Robin van Persie off-target, dropped down into seventh — a huge 17 points behind leaders Manchester City.

“When you create six or seven clear-cut chances, it is difficult not to win and we do have regrets but the positives have to be that we didn’t concede,” said Wenger after Arsenal were left with just one point from their last four league games, having lost all their three previous encounters.

And the Frenchman said there was still time for the Gunners to secure a place in the lucrative Champions League.

“The belief is there, the desire is there and the confidence is there. We have come through a difficult period and we have of course a fight in front of us but we are ready for it.”

Newcastle were sent on the way to victory at Ewood Park when Blackburn’s Scott Dann deflected a 25-yard shot from Ryan Taylor past stranded Rovers goalkeeper Paul Robinson in the 12th minute.

Blackburn, who remain in the bottom three, had a gilt-edged chance to equalise before the break but David Dunn’s penalty was saved by Tim Krul and the Newcastle keeper blocked Gael Givet’s follow-up.

Rovers’ failure to convert several second half chances was compounded when Gabriel Obertan made it 2-0 to Newcastle in the closing seconds.

“You have got to have resilience, a good keeper and a good captain and we have got that,” said Newcastle manager Alan Pardew.

Sunderland’s revival under Martin O’Neill continued as they beat promoted Norwich 3-0 at the Stadium of Light to climb into eighth position.

Fraizer Campbell smashed home a 21st minute opener and seven minutes later he provided the cross for Stephane Sessegnon to head in the home side’s second.

Sunderland’s sixth win in nine league matches under O’Neill was completed when Norwich defender Daniel Ayala deflected in a Phil Bardsley cross in the 54th minute.

Elsewhere Djibril Cisse marked his return to English football by scoring on his Queens Park Rangers debut in a 2-2 draw away to Aston Villa.

The 30-year-old French striker, thrust into the side a day after completing a transfer deadline day move from Italian side Lazio on Tuesday, took just 12 minutes to open his Rangers account.

Cisse, who had previous spells with Liverpool and Sunderland, struck a fierce shot past Shay Given before celebrating with a somersault.

“We’re delighted that he has such an instant impact so early in his QPR career,” said QPR manager Mark Hughes of Cisse.

“You saw his quality tonight in tight areas, where he was able to use his pace and power and that will be effective for us in the course of the season.”

Rangers went 2-0 up when Villa defender Stephen Warnock headed a cross from Taye Taiwo into his own net in the 29th minute when under no pressure at all.

But Villa pulled one back on half-time when striker Darren Bent turned in an Alan Hutton cross for his 100th Premier League goal.

And the resurgent hosts equalised 11 minutes from time when Charles N’Zogbia volleyed in a Stiliyan Petrov cross.

However, the draw saw QPR inch further away from the relegation zone, with Rangers now three points above the bottom three.

In London, West Brom manager Roy Hodgson saw his side come from behind to draw 1-1 with Fulham, one of his former clubs.

West Brom fell behind to a 69th minute goal from Fulham’s United States striker Clint Dempsey.

But the Baggies equalised eight minutes from time through substitute Somen Tchoyi.

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