MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – The F.A. Cup served up another shock for the established powers of English soccer when Arsenal lost 2-1 at home to Watford on Sunday, ending its bid to win the trophy for a third straight year.
A day after Chelsea tumbled out of the competition, Arsenal also saw its best chance of silverware quashed as Watford joined Crystal Palace and Everton in an unlikely lineup for the semifinals at Wembley Stadium next month.
The last four won’t be completed for a few weeks, after Anthony Martial grabbed an 83rd-minute equalizer for Manchester United in a 1-1 draw against West Ham. Dimitri Payet’s 30-meter free kick that kissed the post on its way in put West Ham ahead at Old Trafford, although the France playmaker was lucky to be on the field having escaped a yellow card for diving minutes earlier.
The replay ensures one final F.A. Cup match at Upton Park before West Ham leaves to take up residence in the Olympic Stadium in London.
In the Premier League, Harry Kane scored twice as Tottenham beat last-place Aston Villa 2-0 to trim the gap to Leicester to two points ahead of the surprise leader’s match against Newcastle on Monday. Spurs are now six points ahead of third-place Arsenal, completing a bad day for Arsene Wenger’s side.
It marked the worst possible start to a make-or-break week for Arsenal, which is likely to be eliminated from the Champions League by Barcelona on Wednesday before a crucial match against Everton next weekend in its fading Premier League title challenge.
“Our fantastic run has come to an end on a day where we felt that our performance deserved a win,” said Wenger, who is under growing pressure with his team having won just one game in its last seven in a familiar early-spring collapse.
Arsenal had been looking to become the first team in 130 years to win the F.A. Cup for three straight years and played a full-strength lineup — an indication of Wenger’s priorities ahead of the second leg against Barcelona, which is 2-0 ahead.
Yet Watford looked more dangerous and Odion Ighalo opened the scoring in the 50th when he received a flick-on from strike partner Troy Deeney, evaded marker Gabriel and tucked a finish from eight meters into to the bottom corner.
Adlene Guedioura made it 2-0 by smashing an angled drive into the roof of the net, inside David Ospina’s near post, from Ighalo’s lay-off. Danny Welbeck replied for Arsenal in the 88th but sustained late pressure, including a shot against the post from Alex Iwobi and a glaring miss from Welbeck, didn’t yield an equalizer.
Watford reached the semifinals of the world’s oldest knockout competition for the sixth time in its history, in its first season under coach Quique Sanchez Flores.
“I have memories on television of the old Wembley and watching in Spain and seeing the finals of this competition,” Flores said. “Now it is a new Wembley, I’ve just arrived in England, and to get there is exciting.”
If United had legitimate complaints about the scorer of West Ham’s goal, the visitors argued that Martial’s goal should not have counted at the other end. United midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger could have been penalized for obstructing West Ham goalkeeper Darren Randolph as he scurried across his line to try and keep out Martial’s volley on the stretch.
“In our dressing room after the game, it was kind of silent,” West Ham manager Slaven Bilic said, before adding about the replay: “It’s going to be another epic home F.A. Cup match and we couldn’t ask for more. It’s like Spielberg.”
Kane moved level with Leicester striker Jamie Vardy as the league’s top scorer with 19 goals after scoring in the 45th and 48th minutes against Villa, which slipped even closer to relegation. Dele Alli, Kane’s England teammate, set up both goals at Villa Park.
Given the struggles of Arsenal and Manchester City in third and fourth, it is looking increasingly like a two-team race for the title between Leicester and Spurs — a highly unlikely scenario at the start of the season.
PSG wins French title
Paris — Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored four second-half goals as Paris Saint-Germain clinched its fourth straight French League title in style, pulverizing last-place Troyes 9-0 on Sunday to become champion with a record eight games to spare.
Forward Edinson Cavani scored twice, while midfielders Javier Pastore and Adrien Rabiot also scored in addition to an own goal.
PSG has lost just once this season — away to Lyon last month — and leads second-place Monaco by 25 points.
Cash-rich PSG, bankrolled by funds from Qatari investor QSI, has dominated so much that it has lost only once in any domestic competition over the past calendar year.
“The players have been professional all season. From the first game we said we would set a pace that others would find hard to keep up with and no teams could,” PSG coach Laurent Blanc said. “It’s amazing to win the title after 30 games.”
Blanc will keep a close eye on his players in the next 48 hours — mainly because he’ll be with them.
“We can celebrate for the next two days — and I think I will celebrate with them,” he said. “But then we have to get back to work.