Fabregas back in style to score twice  

Monday, 27 April 2009

Captain Cesc Fabregas scored both goals as Arsenal warmed up for their Champions League semi-final against Manchester United with a 2-0 win over relegation-threatened Middlesbrough at the Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners are now all but safe in fourth place following a run of 20 league matches without defeat.

Andrey Arshavin, who smashed in four goals at Liverpool in midweek, was again inspirational, but will not be eligible for the European tie against holders United.

With leading scorer Robin van Persie still sidelined by a groin problem, the double salvo by Fabregas and the return to fitness of goalkeeper Manuel Almunia could not have come at a better time.

With such a vital Champions League tie only some 72 hours away, manager Arsene Wenger would have been forgiven if he had rested a couple of his key men today in front of the watchful eyes of Sir Alex Ferguson in the Emirates crowd.

However, Arsenal had named a strong starting XI and remained positive from the outset, with Theo Walcott - in his 100th appearance for the club - looking to get clear down the right and Arshavin deployed in a roaming role from the left.

The first opening came after eight minutes. Walcott was sent clear by Fabregas, but Robert Huth, the former Chelsea defender, made a fine recovery tackle.

Arsenal continued to press Boro on the edge of the area, with full-back Kieran Gibbs almost getting on the end of Fabregas' pass at the near post.

crucial block

Arshavin snatched possession some 18 yards out, but could not make enough space for a clean shot, and would perhaps have been better to play Fabregas in on the overlap down the left.

To their credit Boro continued to chase down the home side albeit without making too much impression in the opposition half.

The Gunners went ahead on 26 minutes. Nicklas Bendtner flicked the ball to Fabregas in the centre-circle, and the Arsenal captain immediately released Arshavin down the left. The Russian raced into the area before laying the ball back across into the path of the on-rushing Fabregas, who drilled his shot past Brad Jones, low in the far corner.

Arsenal looked for a second, and Walcott screwed a shot across the face of goal when a square pass to Bendtner in the centre looked the better option.

Almunia, fit again following an ankle problem, was called into action on 43 minutes when he saved Stewart Downing's 20-yard snap-shot at full strength, down to the left.

Boro almost snatched an equaliser when former Gunner Jeremie Aliadiere took a through ball on his chest and raced into the area, but Almunia was quick off his line to make a crucial block.


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