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Arsenal spared as Villa nearly wrecks the party


  • Reading pulled off a stunning win over Middlesbrough
  • Portsmouth blanked Blackburn

    LONDON: Gilberto Silva spared Arsenal a nightmare housewarming at its new Emirates Stadium on Saturday as his dramatic late goal secured a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa in their English Premiership opener.

    Villa had seemed intent on marking the new arena's competitive debut with a shock win after Olof Mellberg headed the team into the lead after 53 minutes.

    But the game swung Arsenal's way after boss Arsene Wenger's introduction of 17-year-old striker Theo Walcott for his first ever Arsenal appearance.

    His contribution prevented new Villa manager Martin O'Neill from starting his tenure with a famous victory two weeks into the job.

    Wenger waited until the 73rd minute to unleash Walcott and his arrival was greeted with a storm of applause. No wonder. Ten minutes later, his exquisite cross caused havoc in the Villa area before the loose ball was smacked in gleefully by Gilberto.

    Stunning comeback

    Elsewhere, Championship winner Reading shocked Middlesbrough 3-2, Newcastle defeated Wigan 2-1, Tottenham lost 2-0 at Bolton and Portsmouth beat Blackburn 3-0 at home.

    In its first match in the top flight, Reading pulled off a stunning comeback against Middlesbrough at the Madejski Stadium.

    Stewart Downing put Boro ahead after 11 minutes and Yakubu scored 10 minutes later. But Reading fought back with Dave Kitson scoring two minutes before the break and Steve Sidwell equalising a minute later. Leroy Lita scored a 55th-minute winner to hand Reading an impressive victory.

    Portsmouth blanked Blackburn 3-0 with Nwankwo Kanu, who only joined the club on Thursday, scoring twice and missing a last-minute penalty.

    Svetoslav Todorov scored in the 26th minute and Kanu added two more in the 62nd and 84th minutes to give Pompey fans hope that this season may be more than just another exercise in avoiding relegation.

    The results:

    English Premier League: Sheffield 1 drew with Liverpool 1; Arsenal 1 drew with Aston Villa 1; Everton 2 bt Watford 1; Newcastle 2 bt Wigan 1; Portsmouth 3 bt Blackburn 0; Reading 3 bt Middlesbrough 2; West Ham 3 bt Charlton 1; Bolton 2 bt Tottenham 0. — Agencies

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