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Wenger hits out about Chelsea’s first goal; Bellerin update

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LONDON — Arsene Wenger cut a frustrated figure high up in the stand at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

[ MORE: 3 things learned

Serving the third match of his four-game touchline ban, he TV cameras often panned to Arsenal’s manager struggling to get messages down to this assistant coaches on the bench.

In truth, even if he was on the touchline it wouldn’t have made much difference.

[ MORE: Conte reacts to victory ]

Arsenal put in an inept defensive display and now trail Premier League leaders Chelsea by 12 points with 14 games to go.

But should Marcos Alonso‘s goal, which set them on their way to a fifth-straight home victory over Arsenal in the league, have been disallowed for a foul on Hector Bellerin?

“Of course it was a foul,” Wenger said bluntly. “But he allowed the goal and after that, I feel we started well, but after that it was a much more difficult task because we were 1-0 down and Chelsea is very strong at defending and very good on transition in counter attack. We paid for that.”

The decision to take Bellerin off, who looked extremely dazed, came very quickly and Wenger has called for more fouls given for aerial battles. He also confirmed that Bellerin was confused after suffering the blow to his face from Alonso’s elbow and “didn’t know what the score was” as he walked off the pitch.

“The decision was for me very quick but you have to respect that, it’s the head,” Wenger said. “One of the particularities of the games today is that referees are much more severe with tackles on the ground and let more go with elbows in the face. It is not only today but in many, many games I see that. It is more dangerous to hit in the head than in the legs.”

Bellerin’s injury aside, Wenger admitted that plenty of his players weren’t up to their usual levels at Stamford Bridge.

Asked if Arsenal’s slim title chances are now over, he wouldn’t throw the towel in and said he would be focusing on the next game.

“We were maybe not good enough in possession to get our game more dangerous. We lost many balls in positions where you can’t afford to lose it when you play against a team who is good on counter attack. Overall, look at all their shots. Our goalkeeper didn’t have a lot to save today, even if I concede we did not create a lot in the final third. It was the kind of game Chelsea loves and they mastered it very well.”

What about Chelsea, are they the champions elect?

“They look at the moment in full confidence, powerful, strong, they don’t concede goals. It’s theirs to lose. They are in the best position. They don’t play in Europe. They can wait every week for the next game and prepare properly. They are in a very, very strong position.”

Arsenal are not.

After a fourth defeat in nine games in the Premier League they are now embroiled in a battle for a top four finish. Arsenal has 47 points, with Tottenham on 47 points, plus Liverpool and Manchester City on 46 points ahead of the later games in Week 23.

That means one of those giants won’t finish in the top four and given Arsenal’s back-to-back defeats and slack defensive display at Chelsea, the Gunners will be looking over their shoulders nervously.

With Wenger’s contract running up in the summer, plus the futures of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil (both of whom had off days) up in the air. There’s a massive few months coming up in Arsenal’s future.

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.