Phillips equaliser puts dent in Arsenal's title bid

BIRMINGHAM, England, March 27, 2010 (AFP) - Veteran Birmingham striker Kevin Phillips put a major dent in Arsenal's title challenge as his last minute equaliser snatched a 1-1 draw against the Gunners on Saturday.

Arsene Wenger's side looked on course for victory thanks to a Samir Nasri goal nine minutes from full-time at St Andrews.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger gestures during the English Premier League football match between Birmingham City on March 27, 2010. AFP PHOTO

But in the final minute, Phillips frustrated the north London club as he diverted the ball over the line with Bacary Sagna and Manuel Almunia unable to clear.

The strike was Phillips's 250th career goal and leaves Arsenal with plenty of work to do if they are to finish above title rivals Manchester United and Chelsea.

Third placed Arsenal are three points behind Chelsea, while United would go four points clear of the Gunners with a win at Bolton in Saturday's late game.

Wenger has made it clear his side have to stayed focused as they chase a first league title in six years, but in the build up to this fixture he took time out to reflect on Eduardo's infamous broken leg here two seasons ago.

The Croatian was injured following a challenge by Birmingham's Martin Taylor and Arsenal conceded a late equaliser, with their season imploding as a result and Wenger will fear a repeat following this equally devastating setback.

Eduardo began as a substitute here, with Nicklas Bendtner taking a central role in attack, and Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott supporting him from either flank.

Arsenal were without suspended defender Thomas Vermaelen, but Alex Song slotted in alongside Sol Campbell in defence and the visitors began strongly, as Abou Diaby's close range effort deflected just wide off Lee Bowyer.

The visitors had an opportunity on 18 minutes as Walcott raced on to a long through ball, but as Joe Hart made himself big on the edge of the area Arsenal’s forward could only poke an effort into his midriff.

Wenger's biggest concern ahead of half-time had come following a hard challenge by Gardner on captain Cesc Fabregas. It left the Spanish international limping around the turf and the French coach was relieved to see him return for the second period.

It was Fabregas who began to take control in the centre of the field, spraying passes out to both flanks as Arsenal attempted to take the initiative.

For all their superior possession, they struggled to find an opening and Diaby wasted a fantastic opportunity as he struck a shot straight at Hart.

On 61 minutes Arsenal were hugely relieved as Birmingham failed to convert the best chance of the game.

Defender Roger Johnson moved forward for a free kick and managed to divert the ball onto a post after a neat ball from Barry Ferguson, but Scott Dann could not react quick enough and the chance was gone.

Nasri and Andriy Arshavin were brought on in a bid to breathe life into Arsenal's attack with 22 minutes remaining.

The change almost led to an immediate goal as Nasri crossed towards Bendtner, who failed to anticipate the flight of the ball as the chance went begging.

Nasri finally got the breakthrough goal in the 81st minute. Birmingham's defenders sat off as Nasri cut in from the left flank, dribbled towards the penalty area, and sent a 20 yard drive arrowing into the bottom corner of Hart's net.

Only a superb save from Hart denied Fabregas soon afterwards as he sent a brilliant free kick towards the roof of the net.

It could have been the moment that decided the game, but there was to be a late twist.

Craig Gardner's ball into the Arsenal area was kicked against Phillips by Bacary Sagna and Almunia could only palm the ball into his own net.

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