Fabregas double piles misery on Boro

Arsenal 2 Middlesbrough 0
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The Independent Football

Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas scored his first goals for more than six months in a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough today, dealing a blow to Boro's bid to avoid relegation.

Fabregas scored in the 26th minute following a slick move near halfway.

Nicklas Bendtner's back-heeled flick to the Spaniard was quickly passed on to Andrei Arshavin, who raced down the left flank. The Russia playmaker crossed to an unmarked Fabregas, who had continued his run to the edge of the area and his sliding shot beat Boro goalkeeper Brad Jones.

It was Fabregas' first league goal since he headed in a late equalizer for a 1-1 draw against Sunderland on Oct. 4.

"We made some brilliant passing today and some brilliant combinations," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "Especially the first goal, I believe was absolutely outstanding."

He scored again in the 67th after collecting a through ball from Emmanuel Eboue and rounding Jones, who had come off his line, to slot into an empty net. It was Fabregas' last action on the pitch at Emirates Stadium and he was substituted. He now has three goals this season.

"I had completely lost the feeling of scoring a goal," Fabregas said. "To score two in a game is always special, but the feeling was amazing."

Fabregas has had a tough season, unable to repeat last year's form when he scored 13 goals in all competitions, seven of them in the league.

He was sidelined for three months earlier this term with a serious knee injury and also is defending against accusations that he spit at Hull's assistant manager after their FA Cup quarterfinal. The Football Association charged Fabregas with improper conduct this week and he has until May 12 to respond to the charges.

"He gets sharper and sharper from game to game," Wenger said. "He was out for three months you know. You do not come back straight away at your best. Now he gets better in every game."

Middlesbrough struggled to retain possession throughout the first half and Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia had little to do. Boro came closest to scoring in the 43rd minute when captain Stewart Downing fired a low shot and Almunia dived to his left to keep it out.

Arsenal created several chances off passing moves throughout the half. But Boro's defending, including a last-gasp tackle by Robert Huth on Theo Walcott who was clear on goal in the eighth minute, prevented a heavier defeat.

"I thought we did OK, but OK isn't enough when you come to somewhere like this," Boro manager Gareth Southgate said. "You've got to be outstanding because they're a top quality team."

Arsenal extended its unbeaten run to 20 league games, not losing since a 3-0 defeat at Manchester City on Nov. 22. The Gunners are in fourth place with 65 points, and will try to narrow the six-point gap on third-place Chelsea in its remaining games to automatically qualify for the Champions League group stage next season.

Middlesbrough is in 18th place with 31 points, but could drop a place lower depending on the outcome of Monday's match between Newcastle and Portsmouth. Newcastle needs only a draw to go ahead of Middlesbrough on goal difference.

Boro's predicament worsened when Blackburn moved six points clear of the relegation zone with a 2-0 win over mid-table Wigan.

South Africa striker Benni McCarthy put Rovers ahead in the 45th minute with a header from Morten Gamst Pedersen's corner before Ryan Nelsen made it 2-0 in the 60th with a near-post header from a free kick by McCarthy.

Victory lifted Blackburn one place to 15th on 37 points, trailing Portsmouth only on goal difference.

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