Rampant Newcastle closes in on Arsenal in EPL
LONDON (AP) -Newcastle capitalized on a stalemate between Arsenal and Chelsea to maintain its surge toward qualification for next season's Champions League, easing past Stoke 3-0 to claim a sixth straight victory and climb into the English Premier League's top four on Saturday.
Papiss Demba Cisse scored for the sixth match in a row and Yohan Cabaye grabbed two goals in a superb individual display for Newcastle, which is now just three points behind third-place Arsenal having played a game fewer.
"That is a big, big achievement by us, make no mistake,'' said Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, whose team was tipped by many pundits to struggle this season.
Tottenham continued its freefall by dropping a place to fifth following a 1-0 loss at relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers, which left Harry Redknapp's team three points outside the Champions League positions.
Chelsea rode its luck to escape with a 0-0 draw at Arsenal, which struck the goal frame twice, and is now four points behind Newcastle with only four games left.
The Blues' entry to the Champions League for a 10th straight season may now hinge on winning this year's competition - it is 1-0 ahead going into the second leg of the semifinal against Barcelona on Tuesday.
The battle against relegation took another twist thanks to Blackburn's 2-0 win over Norwich that lifted Steve Kean's team above Bolton, which fell to next to last with a 1-1 draw against Swansea.
Fifth-bottom Wigan's stunning recent run, which included wins over league leader Manchester United and Arsenal, came to an end with a 2-1 loss to Fulham, while Aston Villa drew 0-0 with Sunderland in the other match.
With Arsenal following up its shock 2-1 home loss to Wigan on Monday by failing to impress against Chelsea, the race for the final two Champions League spots is wide open.
Arsenal has played a game more than all of its rivals and is in danger of being caught by Newcastle, which is the form team in the division.
Cisse has sparked Pardew's side into life since joining from Freiburg in January and took his tally to 11 goals in 10 games with the second against Stoke.
However, most of the plaudits went to French midfielder Cabaye, who headed Newcastle in front in the 14th minute after Cisse's header came back off the bar, set up the Senegal striker's goal, then sealed the win in the 57th with a curling left-foot finish from 20 yards (meters).
"We have got momentum and it's a dangerous tool to have in your locker,'' Pardew said. "We are playing with confidence and we have got ourselves in a fantastic position - perhaps even better than we thought we might be in.''
Chelsea's goal led a charmed life at Emirates Stadium, with Robin van Persie hitting the post and Laurent Koscielny striking the bar with close-range efforts in two of the few chances created in a poor match between two of the giants of the league.
Chelsea will came away the happier of the sides, having made eight changes to the team that beat Barcelona 1-0 in their semifinal first leg on Wednesday.
"Under the circumstances, we have to be pleased with a point away at the Emirates,'' Di Matteo said.
"Two semifinals and an away match against Arsenal in the space of six days is a crazy schedule. I think we are still in the running for fourth spot and we will fight until the end of the season.''
Five days after Mikel Arteta was ruled out for the season, Arsenal was dealt another injury blow with Theo Walcott hobbling off with a hamstring problem that Wenger believes will end the winger's campaign.
"I think we were nervous today because we could not afford to lose the game,'' Wenger said.
Adel Taarabt scored QPR's winner against Spurs in the 24th but was then sent off in 78th, leaving his team a tense few minutes to see off before celebrating a fourth straight home win.
Tottenham has won only one of its last nine league matches and could now miss out on European football altogether, having been 10 points clear in third place less than two months ago. QPR and Wigan, which was sunk by a last-minute goal by Fulham defender Philippe Senderos, are three points clear of Blackburn.
"We've made another statement,'' QPR manager Mark Hughes said. "People wrote us off too regularly when they saw our run-in.''
Bolton rallied for a point against Swansea thanks to Chris Eagles' equalizer yet is still stuck in the relegation zone, a point behind Blackburn but with games in hand on all its rivals at the bottom.
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