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02 May 2006 10:41
Thierry Henry and Arsene Wenger joined forces to slam Sunderland as Arsenal left the Stadium of Light battered and bruised after cruising to a 3-0 Premiership victory.
French under-19 international Abou Diaby is a major doubt for the Champions League final against Barcelona on May 17 after he was carried off and taken to hospital with a serious ankle injury following Dan Smith’s ugly injury-time lunge.
Arsenal skipper Henry led by example, scoring one and making the other two as Arsenal kept the pressure on fourth-place rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
But the Frenchman was unhappy with the approach adopted by the Gunners’ already-relegated opponents.
“Some of the tackles I saw, there was one on Cesc Fabregas and I don’t know what the Sunderland player wanted. I hope Diaby can recover as quickly as possible.
The poor kid, it’s not every day you get a chance to play in the Champions League final.
“What happened to him at the end was a pity.
Manager Wenger admitted the injury took the gloss off victory as Henry’s 30th goal of the season in all competitions added to a Danny Collins own goal and another from Fabregas killed the contest before half-time.
Wenger said: “It looks a very serious ankle injury, and I’m down for Diaby. He’s worked hard to come back from previous injuries and this takes away from the victory.
“It was a bad kick and an unnecessary one, not nice to see. He will be going to hospital tonight and it’s a big blow to lose a player like that. Fabregas was kicked a few times as well which isn’t acceptable, it’s difficult to take.
“We can accept an accident but not the way this happened. It’s sad because some players are on the pitch not trying to play football. That’s just not acceptable. The only one who didn’t see the Smith incident as a red card was the referee.”
Sunderland caretaker manager Kevin Ball defended substitute Smith, who was sent off on his Sunderland debut earlier this season.
“If Arsene Wenger’s upset then that’s his prerogative, let him say what he wants to say.
“Dan’s not a dirty player, he went for the ball and has caught the player. We wish him a speedy recovery. I think it’s a little unfair on Dan, he’s not malicious.”
Ashley Cole is likely to start at Manchester City on Thursday night after boosting his hopes of making England’s World Cup squad by making only his second appearance in seven months as a second-half substitute following ankle and foot injuries.
Victory can take Arsenal to within a point of their North London rivals in the pursuit of the fourth Champions League place ahead of Sunday’s final round of fixtures, and Wenger added: “Ashley did well and physically he looks sharp.
“He’s getting better and better and he’s ready for 90 minutes. He’s had two games in the reserves so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Wenger’s side still have the luxury that even if they have to settle for fifth, they can demote Spurs into the UEFA Cup by winning the Champions League.
What was billed as among the Premiership’s biggest ever mis-matches proved to be exactly so, as Danny Collins headed Henry’s in-swinging free-kick into his own net from five yards to break the deadlock on 28 minutes.
Henry’s sublime through-ball released Fabregas to calmly chip his third Premiership goal of the season past an exposed Kelvin Davis 12 minutes later.
Henry deservedly got his name on the scoresheet two minutes before the break, curling his 24th league goal of the season—one more than managed by the entire Sunderland team—over a three-man wall and into the bottom corner to beat Davis from a narrow angle.
Only the thickness of a post prevented Henry from doubling his tally after the interval as his angled shot on the turn was spilled by Davis, only for the Sunderland keeper to be rescued by the woodwork.
Sunderland need to beat Fulham on Thursday to avoid going an entire Premiership season without a home win. - AFP
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