Arsenal 0-2 Manchester City
What initially looked like match of the weekend was unfortunately marred by an early red card.
Just 10 minutes in, Arsenal defender, Laurent Koscielny was sent off after dragging down City’s Edin Dzeko during a scrum in the box that denied him of a clear goal scoring opportunity.
Although Dzeko’s ensuing penalty kick was saved, Arsenal was forced to park the bus as Man City used their man advantage to take control of the match.
City began to dominate play and in the 21st minute took the inevitable lead.
A loosely marked James Milner found his way into the right side of the box where he received a short through ball courtesy of Carlos Tevez and ripped a screamer across goal and into the side netting.
After taking the lead City continued to pile on the pressure and in the 32nd minute took a commanding 2-0 lead as Milner hit a hard low cross into the 6 yard box that Tevez tipped on goal. The shot was saved but Dzeko was their for the easy rebound strike.
With an insurance goal in hand, City seemed content to simply sit on the lead and force Arsenal to chase the ball around as they played simple passes between their defense and midfield.
Eventually, the ball would find its way forward and City would mount a half hearted attack.
These attempts proved futile however, as City was clearly more concerned with preventing an Arsenal goal rather than scoring another themselves.
Although the score remained 2-0, the Man City victory came with a major price as Vincent Kompany was sent off in the 75th minute for a controversial tackle that resulted in a straight red.
With Yaya Toure already off to the African Cup of Nations, Man City must find a way to get results without another top player if they are to remain within striking distance of league leaders Manchester United.
For Arsenal, Koscielny will be missed, but Mertersacker has proven more than capable of filling in at defense this year and with Diaby returning from injury, they finally have the defensive mid they have been missing.
Unfortunately, as Diaby returns to injury Arsenal must now cope with a training injury to maybe their most important midfielder, Mikel Arteta, who has anchored their side since his transfer from Everton last year. With such a tight battle for the 3rd and 4th Champions League spots this year, a lengthy injury could prove very detrimental to their chances.
Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool
Manchester United were able to maintain their 7 point lead at the top of the table with a relatively routine victory at home versus Liverpool. Although they played without star forward Wayne Rooney, who is out with an injury, Robin Van Persie was able to pick up the slack as he continued his amazing run of form, netting his league leading 16th goal of the season and giving the Red Devils a 1-0 lead after only 19 minutes.
Liverpool was able to keep the score close as they pressed heavily across the pitch defensively. They were however, unable to turn their good defense into offense and were plagued time and time again by individual errors as they pushed forward.
United finally found a second goal in the 55th minute courtesy of a Nemaja Vidic header, but their 2 goal advantage was short lived. After just 2 minutes, newcomer Daniel Sturridge netted a Steven Gerrard rebound bringing Liverpool back within one.
Sturridge, who replaced Lucas Leiva at half, made a positive impact for the Liverpool attack as they began to counter more effectively. Unfortunately, they were unable to turn their added shots into goals and in fact rarely even tested De Gea in net.
In the end, only one goal separated the sides, but in truth, United never really seemed in danger of giving up their lead.
Liverpool was anything but clinical in the few good chances they had in front of net and you got the sense that United could turn up the pressure anytime they needed to.
Liverpool will be disappointed with result, but will however, be pleased with the impact of Sturridge, who netted his second goal since transferring from Chelsea and seems poised to add a much needed scoring threat to their attack.
As for United, there will be little time to celebrate their victory as they face off against West Ham midweek in the FA Cup before traveling to 4th place Tottenham on the weekend.
Reading 3-2 West Brom
In a relatively anticlimactic episode of Premier League action, West Brom vs. Reading stood out as by far the most exciting and drama filled match of the weekend. The first 80 minutes of this match belonged to Romelu Lukaku, who, at only 19, has lived up to his Wonderkid status this year while on loan at West Brom.
Lukaku is already one of the most physically imposing strikers in the EPL, but he possesses elite speed as well which he showed off by running past two Reading defenders to tap in a cutback pass to open the scoring in the 19th minute.
Lukaku had two more great chances for a second but saw a beastly header and cracking rip from outside the 18 both clang hard off the post.
Finally, in the 69th minute he finally secured his deserved brace with a ripped a clinical left footed finish from outside the 18 across goal and into the bottom corner.
Just when it looked like West Brom were sure to get a much needed result, Reading finally found the net in the 82nd minute as a Jimmy Kebe header brought them back within a goal.
With newfound life, Reading pushed hard for the equalizer and in the 88th minute got it as Kebe was brought down in the box for a penalty that Adam Le Fondre converted. Then
miraculously, in stoppage time, Reading secured their 3rd goal in 10 minutes as Pavel Pogrebnyak smashed in a left footed shot into the high center of the goal and gave Reading the improbable victory.
The win could not have been bigger for Reading who would have fallen to last place in the EPL if they had lost.
When battling against relegation, every result counts, and win against a team at the top of the table is invaluable to their chances.
The win also kept Reading within 3 points of Wigan who on goal differential hold the last non relegated place in the table.
For West Brom, the loss could not have been more devastating. A team that has overachieved all season had the opportunity to gain points on Tottenham, Everton, Arsenal, Liverpool, Swansea, and Stoke who all failed to win this weekend in the race for a spot in one of the two European Competitions.
Stoke 0-4 Chelsea
This was maybe the 2nd most interesting match of the weekend, but for all of the wrong reasons. In the first half, Stoke showed why they are so hard to beat at home as they played relatively even up with a much superior Chelsea side.
The teams looked to be headed into the break even when, in stoppage time, Jonathan Walters put Chelsea ahead with an own goal off a corner kick.
If one own goal is bad, two is exponentially worse and in the 62nd minute Walters scored another goal for Chelsea of a corner to extend their lead to two.
3 minutes later, another Stoke gaff, this time by Robert Huth, who brought down Juan Mata in the box for a penalty, put Chelsea up 3-0 courtesy of a typical Lampard finish from the penalty spot.
The one bright spot of the match came in the 73rd minute when Mata passed off to Eden Hazard who hit an absolute scorcher from outside the box into the top corner of the goal. A truly sublime strike that took Chelsea’s lead to an
insurmountable 4-0. Although the match was well out of reach, Jonathan Walters got a chance at some redemption for his two own goals as he drew a penalty on John Terry in stoppage time.
What was already a howler for the right midfielder got agonizingly more dreadful as he stepped up to the spot and preceded to bang his penalty shot off the post, thus becoming the first ever player in the Premier League era to score two own goals and miss a penalty in the same match.
Although Stoke sit in the 10th spot in the table, they are only 5 points out of 6th. As none of the teams ahead of them managed to get a victory over the weekend they missed a big opportunity to move up the table.
Coming into the match undefeated at home for the season, Stoke felt good about their chances of coming away with at least a point. But after a strong showing in the first half, individual errors basically gifted Chelsea and easy win.
For Chelsea, the match provided an important victory as they leapfrogged Tottenham into the third position in the table and pushed them further in front of Arsenal and Everton for the final Champions League spot. Its been an up and down year for Chelsea who have scored both massive victories and suffered quizzical defeats.
A win away at Stoke is never an easy task and even though they were not at their best, will gladly accept the result.
QPR 0-0 Tottenham
Harry Redknapp came into this match against his former club needing a result as he attempts to pull QPR out of the relegation zone after taking over for the club in the midst of an historically bad start to the year.
Tottenham came into the match as one of the hottest teams in the league with only one defeat in their last 9 fixtures.
Although QPR have seen their results improve recently, most notably with a 1-0 win against Chelsea, it was no surprise that Tottenham came in and dominated the match from the opening whistle.
The Spurs dominated possession throughout the match achieving an absurd 86% passing percentage and racking up 18 shots while holding QPR to only 4, none of which were on target.
None of those stats matter in soccer however, if a team can’t turn their superiority into goals.
Unfortunately for Tottenham, this one of of those weeks and the team was unable to finish their chances as QPR keeper Julio Cesar played his best match since joining the team in the summer in route to a 0-0 draw.
With the way the QPR began the season, a draw versus Tottenham feels like a win as the team looks to scrape any points they can in hopes of avoiding relegation. Although it was not a pretty performance by the club, it was gritty and may prove to be a point as the season continues to unfold.
For Tottenham, on the other hand, the draw was almost as disappointing as a loss as they try to maintain their position in one of the 4 Champions League spots.
After a slow start to the year, Andre Villas Boas has his club rounding into form at a crucial point of the season. This is the type of match that a team in Tottenham’s position cannot accept anything other than a victory.
Manchester United and Manchester City have separated themselves at the top of the table leaving only 2 sports open for 5 teams to compete for. It is now even more important that Tottenham puts forth a good showing against Man United in their next fixture to avoid dropping out of the top 4.
Sunderland 3-0 West Ham
After a relatively poor start to the season Sunderland came into this fixture playing relatively well.
They had only taken 3 points from their last three matches but with their opponents being Man City, Tottenham, and Liverpool its not totally unexpected. Nevertheless, they began the weekend with only 22 points, just four above the drop zone.
West Ham, conversely, is having a pretty decent season for a newly promoted club and came into the day with a bit of cushion between them and the championship with 26 points.
As soon as the match started it was clear that Sunderland had come into the weekend determined to avoid dropping closer to the drop zone.
They dominated play in the opening minutes and were rewarded with a majestic goal as Sebastian Larson’s left footed volley from outside the 18 knuckled to the left and found the upper corner of the goal.
As the half wore on, West Ham began to get find their footing. Play evened out but neither team was able to bag another goal.
Unfortunately for West Ham, Sunderland began the second half even faster than they did the first as Adam Johnson scored just 2 minutes in.
West Ham pushed to get one back, but their finishing continued to let them down. Finally, in the 74th minute Sunderland put the game beyond reach as James McClean netted the decisive goal.
For Sunderland, who have had trouble scoring in recent weeks, the early goal in the first half seemed to relax the whole side and give them the confidence to score more.
It was an important match for them and even though the play between the boxes was relatively even, they took their chances and made the most of them.
The opposite was true for West Ham as they were really let down by their play around the box. Although they were able to keep over 50% possession they were only able to muster up 5 shots in open play and 6 from set pieces.
Even when they were able to get opportunities their finishing was poor and hardly test Sunderland’s keeper Mignolet.
Aston Villa 0-1 Southampton
An important match in the battle for relegation as Southampton entered the day only one spot away from the drop zone on goal differential with 18 points and Aston Villa ahead of them by a mere point with 19.
This was also one of the most evenly played matches of the day with each side securing 50% of the possession, play was distributed almost exactly evenly across the pitch and the shot total ended 16-15 with Aston Villa having the slight edge.
Both teams however, were severely let down by their finishing as both teams struggled putting shots on target.
The difference in the match came in the 34th minute when Aston Villa brought down Jay Rodriguez in the box for a penalty which Rickie Lambert converted to give Southampton the 1-0 lead and proved to be the winning goal.
The loss is particularly disheartening for Aston Villa who are now winless in 5 consecutive matches having scored only 2 goals while allowing 18.
The defeat also dropped Villa into 18th in the table and into the relegation zone.
Furthermore they are getting no help from their goal differential having been outscored by 25 goals this year, by far the most in the EPL.
With the win, Southampton moved out of the drop zone and into 15th place on the table. The team has now avoided defeat in 4 straight games.
The importance of this recent run of form is undeniable as Southampton must now face off against Chelsea, Man United, Everton, and Man City in their next five games.
They are out of the drop zone for now, but must find a way to earn some points against the EPL’s elite if they want to remain safe.
Everton 0-0 Swansea
This match had significant implications for both teams. Everton came into the weekend just 3 points behind Tottenham for the final Champions League spot.
On the other side, Swansea entered the match with aspirations of the automatic Europa League place, currently held by Everton, well within reach and with a victory could narrow the gap to just 4 points.
Both teams came into the match tied for 5th in goals allowed and as Everton came into the match on attack, dominating play in their offensive end, Swansea showed why their defense is ranked so highly.
Throughout the match Swansea was hardly able to get the ball into their offensive zone let alone create any good goal scoring chances. In the full 90 minutes they only managed 4 shots with just one coming inside the 18. Conversely, Everton took 18 shots with 14 of them coming within the box.
No matter how many opportunities Everton had however, Swansea proved impossible to break down allowing only 5 shots to be put on target and held out for a 0-0 draw.
Although Everton will be disappointed with the draw, the fact that neither Tottenham nor the teams directly behind them were able to come out with wins either eases the pain.
This was already their 10th draw of the year and they have secured their place at the top end of the table, not by winning matches, but by not losing matches.
Swansea, will be more than happy with the draw. Their attacking was abysmal throughout the match and they withstood an offensive barrage from Everton to escape with the match with a draw.
They will also be favored if not heavily favored in their next four matches, and can look forward to making up ground in the next few weeks as their schedules dips.
Wigan 1-1 Fulham
Both teams came into this match somewhat disappointed with the way their seasons have gone so far.
Wigan are in desperate need of points as they look to battle their way out of the relegation zone and Fulham, although well clear of the bottom 3, find themselves 13th in the table after finishing last year in 9th.
As the match got underway, both teams played positively as they looked to find goals. 22 minutes in Fulham struck first as Giorgios Karagounis took a right footed shot from outside the box that settled in the bottom corner of the net.
Play remained positive, but neither team was able to find the net. In the 71st minute, however, Wigan was finally able to level the score as Franco Di Santo’s right footed shot from outside the box found the top corner of the goal.
Play throughout the match remained positive, however, neither team was able to find another goal.
Both teams settled for primarily long shots and even though Wigan put way more of their attempts on target, finishing was poor.
In the end, a 1-1 draw seemed a fair result as play was relatively even from the kickoff to the final whistle.
Although Fulham would have preferred a victory, they will not be disappointed with the result as they remain within striking distance of the teams ahead of them in the table. Wigan, would have preferred a victory as well, but probably left the match as the happier side as the draw took them out of the bottom 3 on point differential.
Newcastle 0-0 Norwich
Newcastle came into the match in the midst of a very disappointing season and were desperate for a result after the loss of their best offensive player Demba Ba, who transferred to Chelsea last week.
Norwich, have had an indifferent year so far as they find themselves in the same position now as they finished the season last year.
Unfortunately, neither team was really able to find their rhythm in this match. Neither team passed particularly well and the finishing was abysmal with each side only able to put up 2 shots on goal in the entire match.
Newcastle seemed content with taking most of their opportunities from outside the box and although Norwich was able to find their way into better goal scoring positions neither was able to test the opposition’s keeper.
Although Norwich came into the match higher in the table and expecting to win, they will probably leave the match as the happier side.
Newcastle will not be unhappy with the draw as a loss would have put them only a point above the drop zone. They were, however, unable to pick up a goal which is concerning because of the departure of Demba Ba.
Aside from Ba, who had been lethal in front of net all year, Newcastle has been unable to find another consistent goal scorer. Papiss Cisse, who set the league on fire during the second half of last season has been unimpressive so far this season.
It is imperative that Newcastle get their goal scoring woes sorted out quickly if they are to remain in the top flight going into next year.