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Premiership MD16 Review

last updated Monday 14th December 2009, 1:06 PM
Premiership Weekend Review Arsenal were the weekend's big winners on another electrifying round of Premier League fixtures as they re-entered the title race after manager Arsene Wenger's half-time words at Anfield had the desired effect.

Elsewhere, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur all failed to win after Everton, Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers and Wolverhampton Wanderers all claimed memorable results respectively, whilst Birmingham City's impressive form continued as they made it four straight top-flight triumphs and Fulham took another point away from home.

After surprise stuttering from their rivals on Saturday, extra onus was placed upon Sunday's fixture between Liverpool and Arsenal. It turned out to be a game of two halves, with the former dominant in the first as they opened the scoring through Dirk Kuyt - thanks to poor keeping from Manuel Almunia - and seeing a stone-wall shout for a penalty kick turned down by referee Howard Webb. Yet, some uncharacteristic "screaming" from Wenger ensured the second half was a different story.

The visitors were much improved on their first-half showing, pressing, tackling and passing better. And when Glen Johnson directed past his own goalkeeper, one felt the pendulum of momentum had swung. Cue the hero of last season's corresponding meeting between the pair, Andrey Arshavin. The Russian unleashed a startling strike on 58 minutes that cracked off the woodwork and nestled home. A Liverpool onslaught was then expected, but the Gunners were surprisingly untroubled as they secured a memorable and vital three points. Game on in the title race, while three wins from 15 games is simply not good enough by Rafa Benitez.

Chelsea's meeting with Everton seemed a predictable affair. A depleted Toffees side would surely melt versus a Blues team aiming to bounce back after their Eastlands defeat. However, suspect defending from the home side gifted Everton a point. First, an own goal from Petr Cech on 12 minutes handed Everton the lead. But a stunning effort from Didier Drogba saw Chelsea draw level. And the comeback was complete just five minutes later as Nicolas Anelka bagged. But, just before the half-time whistle, Chelsea were caught out on a long throw as Yakubu Aiyegbeni buried. Drogba then took his goalscoring tally for the term to a silly total of 18. But Everton again hit back, this time via Louis Saha as Cech was punished for indecision. The Czech international is a shadow of his former world-class self.

With Chelsea having dropped two points, Manchester United were gifted the opportunity to move level with the leaders. But an in-form Aston Villa outfit stood in their way - and Martin O'Neill's men had not read the script. In the 21st minute a wicked cross from Ashley Young allowed Gabriel Agbonlahor, who had lost his marker Wes Brown, to head past shot-stopper Tomasz Kuszczak. United rallied and Sir Alex Ferguson threw on Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov in a bid to find a vital leveller. But it was not to be as Villa defended resolutely and keeper Brad Friedel was at his all-action best. The Red Devils' shock slip-up means Arsenal can now move above them in the table on goal difference, should they win their game in hand. For Villa, a first Premier League win at Old Trafford demonstrates tangible progress.

The Reebok Stadium also witnessed a six-goal Christmas cracker as troubled Bolton showed admirable grit to hold a Manchester City team high off the back of their Chelsea scalp. A seemingly offside Ivan Klasnic goal handed Bolton the lead in the 11th minute but City hit back through the inspired Carlos Tevez shortly after. However, a superb, curling effort from centre-back Gary Cahill gave Bolton the advantage again, only for Micah Richards to storm down the right and tuck home. But the Trotters were not done there, as Klasnic volleyed past Shay Given. City's task was toughened when Craig Bellamy was given a second yellow card, for what referee Mark Clattenburg somehow deemed a dive. Mark Hughes' men, though, were not to be beaten as Tevez bagged his second goal of the game. Bolton's meeting with West Ham on Tuesday is now a must-win game.

Wolverhampton Wanderers reiterated the significance of the visiting underdog grabbing the opening goal in the early stages as they came away from Tottenham Hotspur with a memorable triumph. Kevin Doyle was the man with the winning strike, which came on three minutes via a set-piece. Spurs huffed and puffed in the hope of restoring parity, but the leveller never came as Wolves understandably put men behind the ball and held on for back-to-back successes in the top-flight. The result sees Mick McCarthy's men climb out of the relegation places, but Tuesday's trip to Old Trafford threatens to see them slide back down. The result means Spurs are now without a win in their previous three matches, while it reiterated their well-documented susceptibility in defence. It is back to the drawing board ahead of Wednesday's game against Manchester City.

Birmingham City are currently unbeaten in seven Premier League matches after they were 1-0 winners against West Ham. The game's decisive goal came in the 52nd minute courtesy of Lee Bowyer, who now has three goals to his name from his last four appearances. West Ham were a little directionless in the absence of the injured Carlton Cole, while they were not helped by the dismissal of midfielder Mark Noble with 17 minutes left on the clock. Alex McLeish's Blues are now up to eighth in the table, but the Hammers sit in 18th. As already touched upon, their trip to Bolton is a six-pointer.

Stoke City's encounter with Wigan Athletic saw a strong contender for Goal of the Season scored. Emmerson Boyce broke the deadlock at the Britannia Stadium after he bundled in Hugo Rodallega's headed effort that had been saved by Thomas Sorensen. Tuncay Sanli made it 1-1 following slow reactions from full-back Mario Melchiot before in the second half came the aforementioned wonder strike. Maynor Figueroa tried his luck from inside his own half and off soared the ball from his foot, arrowing high and far. It dipped and left Sorensen scrambling as his outrageous shot dropped home. Truly emphatic. But Stoke battled back and Ryan Shawcross was the man to level the scoreline. Then came a shocking call from the linesman as he failed to notice an offside Jordi Gomez, who proceeded to win a penalty. But Sorensen maintained his fine record of saving spot-kicks as he denied Rodallega and ensured the points were shared.

Sunderland looked on course for a routine three points against Portsmouth that would see them end a disappointing run of form. Darren Bent scored his first goal of December to hand the Black Cats the lead in the first half. But Steve Bruce's men never really kicked on from there, and it was no real surprise when Younes Kaboul bundled in to salvage a big point for bottom-of-the-table Portsmouth. So overcome with emotion was Kaboul that he then received a second yellow card for taking off his shirt when celebrating in amongst the travelling Pompey fans. Avram Grant's side remain at the foot of the standings, but could leapfrog Bolton during midweek. However, a trip to Chelsea renders that possibility an unlikely turn of events.

Burnley, who host Arsenal on Wednesday, were in action against in-form Fulham. Bobby Zamora kept up his goalscoring run as he netted five minutes after half-time, with the Cottagers aiming to creep into the top seven. But Wade Elliott struck to ensure the clash at Turf Moor ended in a 1-1 stalemate. The Clarets are now without a win in five matches, and are just four points above the drop zone. For Roy Hodgson's Fulham, a four-match unbeaten run sees them within a point of seventh-placed Liverpool, but their midweek Europa League game against Basle means they will have to wait until Saturday, when they take on United, before resuming their push for a high finish.

Lastly, Hull City played out a goalless draw with Blackburn Rovers at the KC Stadium. The result was a third straight clean sheet for Rovers, however, they have not hit the back of the net in 377 minutes of Premier League football. A balance needs to be struck between defence and attack by Sam Allardyce. The fixture schedule means it is now a week off for Hull before they lock horns with Arsenal at Emirates Stadium. Phil Brown will doubtless be hoping for a November-like performance from his charges when they make the trip to the capital.

Source James Dall at SkySport
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