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Arsenal appeared to be going back to being the Arsenal of earlier in the year for 75 minutes. They were better than Newcastle United. They had all of the possession and all of the chances, but they couldn't finish them. Newcastle looked like they were going to hold on for a draw. Then, Thomas Vermaelen struck in stoppage time.
The Gunners are three points clear of Chelsea in fourth place and just one point behind Tottenham Hotspur after their 2-1 win over Newcastle. Vermaelen scored the winner in the 94th minute, getting forward from open play and putting in a cross from Theo Walcott at the far post.
Hatem Ben Arfa opened the scoring in the 14th minute, aided by some bad defending and goalkeeping. Kieran Gibbs gave him a shooting lane as he cut in from the right, and Wojciech Szczesny let himself get badly beaten by his shot at the near post. Newcastle was forced to cut their celebration short just 53 seconds later when Robin van Persie scored the equalizer, turning Mike Williamson before slipping a low shot past Tim Krul.
Up until stoppage time, Krul seemed like the clear man of the match. Between his fantastic saves and van Persie's shocking misses after his goal, Newcastle came very close to holding onto a result even though they were thoroughly dominated after Ben Arfa's goal. This loss almost certainly puts them out of the race for the top four, while Arsenal can set their sights on third.
Newcastle United stunned the Emirates Stadium by striking first in the first half, but Robin van Persie provided an instant equalizer. Arsenal and Newcastle are tied up 1-1 at halftime in their vital Premier League match, and what started as a very open and fun game for the neutrals has settled down quite a bit. Newcastle started to sit deeper as the half wore on, while Arsenal looked more and more content with keeping the ball.
Hatem Ben Arfa's opener came in the 14th minute, and though he displayed some great skill during the sequence, the goal should have been prevented. Kieran Gibbs allowed him to cut onto his favored left foot from the right wing, and Ben Arfa's shot beat Wojciech Szczesny at his near post. Both Szczesny and Gibbs should have done much better.
The answer came just 53 seconds later while Newcastle were still celebrating. Theo Walcott provided the assist to van Persie with a low cross into his feet from the right flank, but the goal was all about the turn and finish. Mike Williamson was made to look like an amateur as van Persie backed him down, turned him around easily and finished calmly with his left foot to equalize.
Both teams have plenty on the bench to change the game, and this is a game that needs a bit of changing. Both teams' defenses were badly exposed on the goals, but the game hit a bit of a standstill after van Persie's goal. It hasn't been boring, but neither team looks too much like scoring. That will probably suit Newcastle better than Arsenal, so it might be on Arsene Wenger to alter this game's course.
Arsenal have a chance to get within one point of third place with a win on Monday night, while Newcastle United will put themselves very much in the race for a top-four spot if they're able to prevent the Gunners from winning at home. To try and help his normal midfield two a bit, Alan Pardew is starting Hatem Ben Arfa as an attacking midfielder as striker Papiss Cisse goes to the bench. Mikel Arteta returns for Arsenal after recovering from a concussion.
Arsenal Lineup (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Gibbs, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Sagna; Song, Arteta; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Walcott; van Persie
Newcastle United Lineup (4-4-1-1): Krul; Santon, Coloccini, Williamson, Simpson; Gutierrez, Cabaye, Tiote, Obertan; Ben Arfa; Ba
Kickoff is at 4:00 p.m. ET, 8:00 p.m. GMT. You can catch the game on any of ESPN2, ESPN3 or ESPN Deportes in the USA. You can find it on TSN2 in Canada and Sky Sports 1 in the UK.
Wayne Rooney fired Manchester United to the top of the Premier League table with a brace against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford. The 2-0 win, combined with Manchester City's loss at Swansea City, sees United leapfrog their crosstown rivals into first place, and the result will rather overshadow what was actually some fairly disappointing play from the defending champions.
West Brom were actually very good for most of the match, and had given United more than a few scares before Rooney opened the scoring with what amounted to a tip-in from Javier Hernandez's curling effort. David de Gea was forced into action several times as the visitors, who were in the middle of a great run of form, looked to spring a surprise, but eventually United wrested control back began to turn the screws. Paul Scholes and Ashley Young were key to the turnaround, with the former solidifying their control of the midfield while the later caused havoc with his darting runs.
Even after the hosts took the lead, WBA looked like they'd have some say in the match, and they were rather unfortunate to be denied a penalty after Patrice Evra hacked down Peter Odemwingie in the box only for Lee Probert to completely ignore the foul. Karma seemed to reassert itself in the following few minutes, with Hernandez hitting the post and Danny Welbeck missing an open goal on the volley, but then the visitors' luck took another turn for the worse with Jonas Olsson picked up a second yellow in the 66th minute.
United soon reaped the rewards of their numerical advantage, with Rooney slotting home a penalty following Keith Andrews' foul on Young, and the hosts then saw out the rest of the match with minimal difficulty. With news of Swansea's winner against City hitting the stands as the board went up to show the three minutes of stoppage time, the mood around Old Trafford at full time was something approaching ecstatic. The title is now United's for the losing.
Swansea City 1-0 Manchester City, 2012 Premier League: Citizens Title Challenge Slips Up At Swansea
Tottenham Hotspur continued their run of terrible form with a 1-0 loss to Everton at Goodison Park. Spurs, who just a few weeks ago were looking like possible title contenders, have lost three Premier League matches in a row for the first time in the Harry Redknapp era and now find themselves in a real battle with Arsenal and Chelsea for the last two Champions League spots.
It wasn't just a case of Spurs playing poorly (although they did). Everton were excellent throughout the opening period and well worth their goal, which came after fine work from Leon Osman let the midfielder square for Nikica Jelavic, who opened up his body and sent a lovely first-time shot past Brad Friedel from 12 yards. The American goalkeeper was kept busy for most of the first half, putting in some excellent stops to keep the score manageable as the hosts ran rampant, but thanks to him Tottenham remained in touching distance and nearly managed to fight back.
The second half saw the visitors regroup and hammer Everton's defence. Spurs were pressing hard and it seemed like a matter of time before the home team cracked. Jermain Defoe did manage to get the ball in the back of the net only to see his strike ruled out (correctly) for offside, and the pressure only increased. Everton's failure to make the most out of their rare chances to break out meant a very tense ending to the match, and the hosts were very lucky to see former Toffee Louis Saha's close-range strike rebound off the post and to safety rather than level the score as the game moved into injury time.
Ultimately, however, Everton saw off the threat and earned another impressive scalp at Goodison Park. David Moyes' men rise to ninth in the table, just two behind arch-rivals Liverpool. Meanwhile, Spurs see their margin over their London rivals drop to just four points.
Wolverhampton Wanderers suffered a major blow in their battle to avoid relegation with a home loss against fellow strugglers Blackburn Rovers. Wolves would have viewed this match as a major part of their campaign to avoid the drop - matches against Rovers are eminently winnable this season - but instead put in a miserable performance to increase their woes.
The match started out fairly open, with good chances at both ends of the pitch, but the hosts' day took a turn for the worse when David Davis defelected a throw in straight into Junior Hoillet's path, allowing the strike to fire past Wayne Hennessey to make it 1-0 just before halftime. Blackburn kept up the pressure after the interval and were rewarded shortly following the hour mark when Hoillet struck again with a neat long-range effort. Wolves were a spent force by this point, and a late attempt to push for the equaliser was more depressing than truly threatening. As Chris Foy blew for full time, the boos rang out at Molineux, as well they might. Wolves look like they're going down, and after the Mick McCarthy fiasco, they look like they're going to do so in fairly embarrassing fashion.
Blackburn, meanwhile, go to 16th place and are now two points clear of the relegation zone. It's a big day for Steve Kean. If he keeps this up, do you think he'll still need bodyguards?
Sunderland managed to snap their winless streak with a 1-0 victory over Liverpool at the Stadium of Light, hauling themselves back into the race for the Europa League places in the process. It was hardly inspiring stuff from the Black Cats, who were slightly outplayed by their opponents, although Liverpool, as ever, had trouble creating clear cut chances, but Martin O'Neill will be more than happy with the three points regardless of not playing the visitors off the pitch.
There was more than a hint of bad luck behind Sunderland's goal - Frazier Cambell's initial effort was fantastic, but the way it hit the post, then Pepe Reina and then the post again before ending up on a platter for Nickles Bendtner to crash how from close range was fairly odd. Karma turned on the Danish striker before the end of the match, and the sight of him stretchered off after sustaining what looked like a knee injury during the late stages of the match will take some of the shine off Sunderland's victory.
A very late goal by Andreas Weimann saw Aston Villa victorious against Fulham at Villa Park. It's been a difficult year for Alex McLeish's side, who've recently been rocked by several season-ending injuries to their starters, but most of the time they haven't really helped their cause, playing tremendously boring football throughout the campaign.
Fortunately for the hosts, the dire play that's characterised them recently was put on the back burner as they went after Fulham. Villa were the better side for most of the match and were creating some good chances, but the absence of Darren Bent was keenly felt as nobody was able to provide the killing blow that they needed. Marc Albrighton nearly managed it with a lovely long-range shot that caroomed off the bar, but Fulham replied with a woodwork hit of their own when Damian Duff rattled the post ten minutes later.
That Duff shot inspired a change from McLeish, who brought off Charles N'Zogbia for Weimann, a move that was greeting by boos from the home fans. The manager had the last laugh when the young striker was the first to pounce on a rebound to make it 1-0 in stoppage time, wrapping up a win that sees Villa move nine points clear of the relegation zone.
Roberto Di Matteo's Premier League debut as Chelsea manager wasn't exactly a spectacular one, but they were able to come away with three points while resting some of their key players ahead of their Champions League match against Napoli. Stoke City defended well all match and didn't look terribly bothered in the opening 25 minutes, but the game changed when Ricardo Fuller got himself sent off for a deliberate stomp on Branislav Ivanovic. Tony Pulis' ten remaining men played well, but eventually conceded as the Blues grabbed a 1-0 win.
The breakthrough eventually came in the 68th minute, with Didier Drogba scoring his 100th Premier League goal. Juan Mata, who started on the bench but entered in the first half in response to Fuller's sending off, provided the assist with a fantastic through ball into the penalty area. In the center of the box, Drogba took a couple of fantastic touches to get around Asmir Begovic, then apply a simple finish.
Stoke hadn't conceded in their last two league matches, so Chelsea will be happy to get three points any way they could, even if it wasn't terribly pretty. The pressure is now on Arsenal to defeat Newcastle on Monday night.
For more on the Blues, head over to Chelsea FC blog We Ain't Got No History.
Talk about a timely win for Bolton Wanderers. Owen Coyle's men earned only their third home win of the season against fellow relegation strugglers Queens Park Rangers to claw their way free of the relegation zone and move into 16th place.
It was by no means a straightforward victory, though - although the hosts went 1-0 up before halftime, it was QPR who provided the bulk of the threat in the first half and the visitors were desperately unlucky not to have opened the scoring. First, Bobby Zamora rattled the crossbar with a brilliant hit from a tight angle, and then centre back Clint Hill actually did score from a corner only for Adam Bogdan to claw the ball away from inside the goal, with the linesman totally oblivious.
Bolton, who were riding their luck against a team that looked capable of doing immense damage on the counterattack, then had a goal handed to them on a plate. A busted free kick routine suddenly transformed into a potent attack, with Tim Ream crossing into a muddled QPR defence and Darren Pratley heading home for a 1-0 lead.
Shortly after the break, Djibril Cisse leveled from a suspiciously offside position - it wasn't exactly the finest day from the officials at the Reebok - and the rest of the game turned into a frenetic back and forth which involved several episodes of pinball in each box. Eventually, however, the home side came through, and substitute Ivan Klasnic sealed the win in the closing stages after excellent work from Ryo Miyaichi, slipping past Paddy Kenny in the 86th minute to earn the Trotters a huge 2-1 win.
With Blackburn Rovers playing Wolverhampton Wanderers in one of the 3:00 PM matches, Bolton aren't guaranteed to end the week outside the relegation zone, since a scoring draw in that game would see them drop into 18th. But even if they still are in the bottom three come Monday, they've given themselves a huge boost here, and QPR are now in some real trouble.
I wonder what Mark Hughes is going to say about the refereeing...
Queens Park Rangers are not in good shape right now, and are in vital need of points in order to secure a place in the Premier League next season. That goes double for matches against their fellow strugglers, and they're playing today against 19th place Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium. Where they have been completely screwed out of a goal:
This was taken just before Adam Bogdan clawed the ball off the crossbar and out, and it's pretty clear that it should have been given as a goal. Clint Hill's header was a full yard over the line, and although Ryo Miyaichi was on the line it shouldn't have been enough to impede the linesman's view. If QPR go on to lose this match - and at the time of writing, they were 1-0 down after a Darren Pratley goal, expect this to cause something of an uproar. Who's up for a goalline technology debate?
At the other end of the table, United and City will have to slip up in a big way for there to be a significant change in the title race, and the weekend will be topped off with Arsenal and Newcastle doing battle at the Emirates.