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City crush Arsenal, open title race Chelsea edge Palace to move second

LONDON, Dec 14, (AFP): Manchester City closed on top spot in the Premier League table on Saturday by overpowering leaders Arsenal 6-3 in a remarkable encounter at the Etihad Stadium. Goals from Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, David Silva, Yaya Toure and two from Fernandinho lifted City to within three points of the summit, with Theo Walcott replying twice for the Gunners, along with Per Mertesacker. The latest goal-fest means that City have now scored 31 times in their last six league and cup matches at home — a staggering average better than five per game. Aguero’s impressive opening goal, after 14 minutes, continued his electrifying form and marked his eighth strike in the last seven games at the Etihad. Former Arsenal man Samir Nasri sent over a right-wing corner that was flicked across goal by centre-back Martin Demichelis, allowing Aguero to slip his marker Laurent Koscielny and conjure up a superb volley, leaning back to lash the ball home from the corner of the six-yard box.

It was Aguero’s 19th goal of the season — more than he scored in the whole of the last campaign — and when Vincent Kompany’s superb pass played in Negredo moments later, City should have doubled their lead.
Negredo shot into the side-netting, however, and the miss looked like it might prove costly when Arsenal equalised against the run of play after 31 minutes. Toure gifted the ball to Aaron Ramsey in midfield and the influential playmaker passed wide to Mesut Ozil, who, in turn, picked out Walcott, starting for the first time since September. Walcott did not connect cleanly, but his first-time shot from 15 yards left City goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon glued to the spot. Negredo wasted another glorious opening by side-footing wide, but he did not need a third invitation to open his account in the 39th minute.

Toure made up for his earlier error by spraying the ball wide to Pablo Zabaleta, whose low cross was converted by Negredo. Koscielny was injured in the process and stretchered off the field as the afternoon took a worrying turn for visiting manager Arsene Wenger. City went 3-1 up five minutes into the second half after Ozil gave the ball away deep in his own half to Fernandinho, who was allowed the time and space to curl a fantastic 20-yard shot past Szczesny. Arsenal looked for a way back, but Giroud volleyed wide at the far post and then headed off target from Bacary Sagna’s cross. The leaders also had a penalty claim turned down after Zabaleta appeared to handle Jack Wilshere’s pass before Walcott cut the deficit to a single goal, taking a Ramsey pass and curling a neat shot into the top-right corner. Hope of a second equaliser soon faded, however, with City regaining their two-goal cushion within three minutes and in the most straightforward fashion.

Chelsea 2, Palace 1
Chelsea moved into second place in the Premier League after first-half goals from Fernando Torres and Ramires secured a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Jose Mourinho’s side took advantage of Arsenal’s heavy 6-3 defeat at Manchester City earlier in the day to move to within two points of the leaders. But this was another unconvincing display from the Blues and Palace, rooted in the bottom three, will consider themselves unlucky not to have added to Marouane Chamakh’s equaliser. Chelsea manager Mourinho had restated his belief before this game that his team are in a period of transition, even suggesting that the Europa League champions could end the season empty-handed.
 

The stuttering performance against Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League in mid-week supported the manager’s view that his side are not firing on all cylinders, although victory against the Romanian side ensured they qualified for the knockout stage as group winners. With Arsenal faltering, this was an opportunity for Chelsea to stake a claim on the domestic front. On paper at least, it should have been a routine three points for Mourinho’s side, despite Palace’s recent resurgence under new manager Tony Pulis.
Three wins in four games had revived the visitors’ season, moving Palace off the foot of the table, but Pulis’s side were making the short journey from Selhurst Park more in hope than expectation. And the way the opening stages of the match unfolded, it seemed there was little prospect of an upset, with Chelsea quickly assuming control. Pulis’s impact on the visitors was apparent, with Palace appearing well organised and defending impressively, but they were undone in the 16th minute. Willian produced a burst of pace to take him past Mile Jedinak and create enough space to drill in a low shot from 25 yards.

Everton 4, Fulham 1
In Liverpool, Everton saved their best until last as the Toffees climbed to fourth in the Premier League with a 4-1 win over Fulham on Saturday. Roberto Martinez’s side were in danger of being held to a lacklustre draw against the struggling Cottagers when Dimitar Berbatov’s second half penalty cancelled out Leon Osman’s early opener. But Seamus Coleman restored Everton’s advantage in the 73rd minute with a strike that Fulham protested was offside, before goals in the closing moments from Gareth Barry and Kevin Mirallas killed off the relegation-threatened visitors. Some of the gloss was taken off Everton’s victory by the hamstring injury suffered by on-loan Barcelona striker Gerard Deulofeu, which could see him miss the busy Christmas programme. Everton are now one point ahead of fifth placed Liverpool, who face Tottenham on Sunday. Fulham’s 21st consecutive defeat at Goodison Park dropped Rene Meulensteen’s side to second bottom of the table. After a low-key start, Everton took the lead in the 18th minute.

Sylvain Distin picked up the ball on the halfway line and played it short to Bryan Oviedo, who slipped it inside for Steven Pienaar. The South African instantly shuffled the ball across to Osman, who having controlled it with his right foot transferred it to his left before curling a composed effort inside Maarten Stekelenburg’s post from just inside the penalty area. Everton striker Romelu Lukaku went close when he met Pienaar’s corner with an instinctive effort which Stekelenburg brilliantly tipped around the post.

Saints 9, Newcastle 1
In Newcastle, Jay Rodriguez scored his sixth goal of the season to secure a 1-1 draw for Southampton with in-form Newcastle in their Premier League clash on Saturday. Yoann Gouffran had given Newcastle the lead in the first-half only for Rodriguez to reply in the second to leave Newcastle in sixth spot — having taken 16 points from the last 21 — and the Saints in eighth. The hosts took a deserved lead in the 27th minute as Gouffran slotted home his sixth of the season — the 10th successive goal scored by a Frenchman for the Magpies — although it stemmed from a dreadful error by Jos Hooiveld. Southampton had almost gifted an opener to Newcastle in the opening minutes as Gouffran stole the ball off Argentinian ‘keeper Paulo Gazzaniga and teed up Loic Remy but the Frenchman’s goalbound shot was cleared before it crossed the line by Calum Chambers.

The visitors, though, came out fired up in the second-half with Steven Davis hitting the bar with a fine effort before he set up Rodriguez playing a neat one-two with the England international who fired past Tim Krul.
Newcastle, though, almost retook the lead immediately with another of their legion of French players, Mathieu Debuchy, seeing his shot well saved by Gazzaniga. However, the Argentinian had Remy to thank for the sides staying level as a minute later he made a mess of his clearance kick with the ball going to the former Marseille striker, but he just shot high over the bar.

West Ham 0, Sunderland 0
Premier League strugglers West Ham United and Sunderland played out a 0-0 draw on Saturday that did little for either side’s fortunes in the relegation battle. Sunderland enjoyed the best of the match at Upton Park, but the closest they came to breaking the deadlock was a first-half shot from Phil Bardsley that came back off the frame of the goal. Sunderland remain bottom of the table, five points behind fourth-bottom West Ham, who inched a point clear of the relegation places. West Ham were without the suspended Kevin Nolan and the injured Stewart Downing, with Ravel Morrison and Joe Cole deputising, while Lee Cattermole, Emanuele Giaccherini and Fabio Borini all came in for Sunderland. Narrowly beaten by Chelsea and then Tottenham Hotspur in their last two outings, Sunderland appeared eager to make it third time lucky and they took the game to their hosts from the start.

Ki Sung-yueng had an early shot saved by West Ham goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, while Sunderland striker Jozy Altidore dragged an effort wide after going clean through. West Ham had seen Modibo Maiga blaze over in the early stages and they put the ball in the net in the 21st minute, only for Guy Demel’s volley to be ruled out for a foul.
 

Cardiff 1, West Brom 0
In Cardiff, Cardiff City eased their relegation fears with a crucial 1-0 win over fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. Peter Whittingham scored the only goal of the game on 65 minutes when he showed great determination to turn in Craig Noone’s cross. The two sides started the day one and two points above the drop zone but the Welsh team’s victory means they now have a little breathing space having opened up a gap of four points to Crystal Palace in 18th place. West Brom dropped to 16th after a fourth Premier League defeat in a row, and sixth game since their last win against Palace at the beginning of November. Cardiff snapped their own five-match winless streak. The game was a turgid affair with little entertainment to warm the spirits of the fans who braved the chilly conditions. West Brom’s travelling support did at least keep themselves busy jeering their former striker Peter Odemwingie throughout. The Nigerian, who moved to Cardiff in the summer, has not been forgiven for trying to engineer a move away from the Baggies to QPR last January without his club’s permission.

Hull O, Stoke 0
In Kingston Upon Hull, former Manchester United team-mates Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce shared the spoils after Stoke City drew 0-0 at Hull City in the Premier League on Saturday. Hull enjoyed the best of the first hour, with visiting goalkeeper Asmir Begovic producing three fine saves, but Stoke came closest to snatching victory when Ryan Shawcross hit the bar in the latter stages. The result meant that Hull remained in 12th place in the table, one point and one place above Stoke, who had stunned title-chasing Chelsea 3-2 in their previous outing. Hull manager Bruce kept faith with the team that had started in Monday’s 1-1 draw at Swansea City, while Stephen Ireland and Oussama Assaidi were both drafted into the Stoke line-up by visiting manager Hughes after scoring against Chelsea. The hosts had beaten Liverpool 3-1 in their previous home fixture and they were the dominant team in a one-sided first half at the KC Stadium.

Begovic had to save smartly from Ahmed Elmohamady and Yannick Sagno, while Curtis Davies planted a downward header narrowly wide from a Tom Huddlestone free-kick. Hull were also the first team to threaten in the second period, with Jake Livermore volleying just wide, but Stoke could have made the breakthrough moments later when Shawcross was unable to make telling contact with a Marko Arnautovic corner. Elmohamady thought he had put Hull ahead with around half an hour to play, but his well directed back-post header drew a stunning full-length save from Begovic.

Stoke continued to menace on the counter-attack, however, and they put the ball in the net when Ireland tapped in after Peter Crouch’s header was parried by Allan McGregor, only for the flag to go up for offside. The visitors drew encouragement from the near-miss, and after McGregor plunged to his left to turn away a snapshot from Crouch, Shawcross sent a header against the bar from the resulting corner. Neither side was able to land a telling blow in the closing stages, leaving both glancing nervously over their shoulders ahead of the busy Christmas period.

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