Chelsea easing to EPL title; Arsenal back in FA Cup final


LONDON (AP) — While rarely ruthless, Chelsea are easing to the English Premier League title. With a 1-0 victory over Manchester United on Saturday, Chelsea surged 10 points clear of Arsenal.

But as Arsenal’s hopes of a first league title since 2004 took a further hit, the FA Cup holders did clinch a place in a second successive final. Alexis Sanchez scored twice as Arsenal beat Reading 2-1 after being forced into extra time by the second-tier club at Wembley Stadium.

Chelsea have already collected a trophy at Wembley this season — the League Cup — and the Premier League trophy could be secured by the end of this month.

Eden Hazard bolstered his player-of-the-year credentials with the only goal that halted third-place United’s six-game winning run. If Chelsea win at Arsenal next Sunday, Jose Mourinho’s side can secure the title with four games to spare with a victory at Leicester on April 29.

“When mathematically it’s done, it’s done, we celebrate,” Mourinho said, maintaining that his players’ on-pitch celebration on Saturday was not a premature title party with fans.

“The celebration is because the players gave everything to win that game.”

It’s far tighter at the bottom of the standings. Leicester are mounting a late fight for survival, climbing off the bottom by beating Swansea 2-0. But Burnley dropped to last place by losing 1-0 at Everton.

West Bromwich Albion moved eight points from danger after manager Tony Pulis got the better of former club Crystal Palace with a 2-0 victory. Southampton missed a chance to close in on the top four Champions League places, staying sixth after losing 2-1 at Stoke.

It was an unusual day when two of the biggest games of the season were played at the same time in different competitions, due to the television schedulers.

At Stamford Bridge, some United players wrongly started celebrating inside five minutes, believing Wayne Rooney scored rather than hitting the side netting.

In fact, the only goal of the game came from Hazard, as Chelsea coped without injured strikers Diego Costa and Loic Remy.

United’s struggling striker Radamel Falcao, making his first start since February, was forced off the ball by John Terry on halfway, and Cesc Fabregas then released the ball to Oscar. A neat backheel from Oscar met a sprinting Hazard, who slotted the ball through goalkeeper David de Gea’s legs at the goalkeeper’s near post in the 38th minute.

“Eden had that magic that the top ones have, especially in big matches,” Mourinho said.

United manager Louis van Gaal was frustrated to leave west London pointless given his side’s domination in the second half. But United has an eight-point advantage over fifth-place Liverpool, and is primed to return to the Champions League next season.

“When you can play in Chelsea like this, as the dominant team, then I’m very happy with that, but I’m very disappointed,” Van Gaal said.

At Wembley Stadium, it was a goalkeeping blunder that enabled Arsenal to avoid embarrassment against Reading.

With the extra time break looming, Sanchez took a pass from Mesut Ozil and sent in a speculative shot through three defenders. Goalkeeper Adam Federici should have easily kept it out, but it went between his legs and slid slowly into the net.

Ozil also set up Sanchez’s first goal of the semi-final just before halftime. A perfectly weighted pass was sent to Sanchez, who brought down the ball on his chest and slotted a low shot past Federici.

Garath McCleary equalised early in the second half, but Sanchez ensured Arsenal will contest the May 30 final against Liverpool or Aston Villa, who play on Sunday.

“What was missing was a bit of speed of combination in the final third and sharpness in the final third,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “But overall, I believe the spirit and concentration was there.”




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