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Mar 3, 2012

AVB on the brink, Van Persie brace

Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas is under huge pressure as his side fell 1-0 to West Brom thanks to Gareth McAuley's goal.

• Villas-Boas feeling the pressure
• Premier League gallery Photo Gallery

Villas-Boas ignored recent media headlines about an alleged fallout with Frank Lampard by selecting the England man in his starting XI, but it was West Brom who made the better start - James Morrison running the length of the pitch to nearly score a wonder goal.

However, the best chance of the first half belonged to Chelsea, who really should have led when Didier Drogba fed Sturridge. The England youngster was unmarked near the penalty spot, but he skewed his shot wide when it looked easier to score.

Sturridge had another glorious opening in the second when he was sent clean through 35 yards from goal, but he failed to take the ball round Ben Foster who came to the Baggies' rescue. And Chelsea were punished when McAuley stabbed home a deserved winner eight minutes from time after a corner was not cleared. It was deserved in a game that saw Petr Cech overworked throughout.

Manchester City can watch Sunday's encounter between Tottenham and Manchester United knowing they hold a five-point lead over their title rivals following a 2-0 victory over Bolton at the Etihad Stadium. With only 11 games of their Premier League campaign left to play, Roberto Mancini's men are showing few signs of cracking, seeing off Wanderers thanks to an own goal from Gretar Rafn Steinsson, in addition to a second-half strike from Mario Balotelli.

The league leaders flew out of the blocks on home soil, Balotelli hitting a post inside the opening three minutes. However, they had to wait another 20 for their breakthrough, and it came from a Bolton man as Steinsson diverted Gael Clichy's drive into his own net.

Bolton were by no means lambs to the slaughter, breaking forward to good effect at times, and it needed a top drawer save from Joe Hart to deny Ryo Miyaichi an equaliser. However, at the other end Balotelli appeared to have a strong shout for a penalty when bundled over by Zat Knight inside the area.

Adam Bogdan worked overtime in the Bolton goal, making a string of saves as City searched for a killer goal, but he was almost beaten by his own player for a second time when Darren Pratley hit his own bar from 20 yards whilst trying to tackle Edin Dzeko. A second goal did finally arrive, Balotelli converting Adam Johnson's excellent work, helping City become the first top flight side to win their opening 14 home games since Newcastle in 1906-07.

Earlier, Liverpool hit the woodwork twice, missed a penalty and wasted an open goal as Arsenal somehow left Anfield with an unlikely 2-1 victory on Saturday, in a game the home side dominated.

Predictably it was Luis Suarez who led Liverpool's offensive effort with another virtuoso display, and Wojciech Szczesny had to be quick off his line to rescue Koscielny after a limp piece of defending. Moments later it was Bacary Sagna bailing out his colleagues as he nipped the ball off Stewart Downing right in front of goal.

Liverpool upped the pressure and earned an 18th-minute penalty through the brilliance of Suarez, who exchanged a one-two with Kuyt before being tripped by Szczesny. Kuyt stepped up, but the Arsenal keeper redeemed himself by saving both the spot-kick and the follow-up with a brilliant double save.

The Gunners had two weak links though, one being their anonymous left-back Kirean Gibbs and the other being Koscielny. The duo combined for Liverpool's opening goal, first when offering acres of space to Jordan Henderson down the right flank, and then when Koscielny inexplicably diverted the ball into his own net under no pressure inside the box.

It was a goal Liverpool richly deserved and they should have immediately doubled their advantage when Suarez hit a post. Henderson forced the initial save from Szczesny, and when the rebound fell to Suarez at a tight angle he could only find the woodwork.

Arsenal barely registered a presence at the other end in the opening half hour, Van Persie rendered a spectator, yet suddenly he levelled out of nothing. Sagna whipped in a magnificent cross from the right, and Carragher's defending left a lot to be desired as Van Persie pounced to equalise.

The goal failed to change the pattern of the game, and by half-time Liverpool should have led comfortably, Suarez brilliantly weaving past four Arsenal defenders only to see his effort denied by Szczesny. From the resulting corner Martin Skrtel sent a free header over the top, and then right on the stroke of the interval Kuyt hit the woodwork again as Arsenal somehow escaped on level terms.

The second half did not start happily either for Arsenal as Mikel Arteta departed on a stretcher with a nasty head injury after a collision with Henderson. They nearly had an unlikely lead though when Tomas Rosicky volleyed dangerously across goal, forcing a magnificent clearing header from Carragher in front of his own goal.

Better chances were to come though, for both sides, first when Kelly somehow missed his kick in front of an open goal with 20 minutes remaining. Then, at the other end, Reina re-adjusted brilliantly to deny Walcott, who nevertheless should also have scored.

Liverpool pushed for a winner, but suddenly one lofted Alex Song pass over the top of the defence found Van Persie in injury-time, and his exquisite volley was a moment of technique worthy of winning any game - except possibly this one.

At the bottom of the table Aston Villa threw away a much-needed win as fellow strugglers Blackburn snatched a 1-1 draw at Ewood Park. Victory looked to be heading Villa's way courtesy of a top class strike from Charles N'Zogbia, but Rovers responded five minutes from time to move level with 17th-placed Wolves.

With top scorer Darren Bent injured and Gabriel Agbonlahor suffering a goal drought, Villa needed a different name to step forward in Lancashire. That man was N'Zogbia, who produced quite breathtaking finish to hand Villa the lead on 24 minutes, but they could not hold on for a rare win as Dunn earned Blackburn what may prove a vital point.

Blackburn are now level with Queens Park Rangers after Mark Hughes' awful start to his role as manager barely improved with a 1-1 draw at home to Everton. Rangers had not won any of their previous five games in all competitions, a record that was extended by Royston Drenthe's excellent strike.

Hughes stated when he left former club Fulham that he wanted a bigger challenge, and he certainly has that on his hands at Loftus Road. In fairness to the QPR boss there was little he could do about Everton's opener, which was another unstoppable strike by former Real Madrid man Drenthe.

Rangers did find a response before half-time as one of Hughes' January signings, Bobby Zamora, glanced home an equaliser, and they should have won it but for arguably the miss of the season. Adel Taarabt initially hit a post with a wonderful curling effort, and when the ball came back out Zamora drove across goal, where Akos Buzsaky contrived to hit the woodwork from all of four yards.

Wigan began the day at the foot of the table, and that is where they will stay after Swansea recorded a 2-0 win at the DW Stadium. The Latics are looking increasingly likely to suffer the drop as their home record extended to one win in 14 thanks to two superb strikes from Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Sigurdsson scored either side of half-time, both from range, and Wigan had no response despite a harsh sending off for Nathan Dyer early in the second period, after he was late into the challenge wiith Jordi Gomez.

Elsewhere, Stoke prevented Norwich from moving within a point of Liverpool thanks to Matt Etherington's 72nd-minute winner in a 1-0 triumph at the Britannia Stadium.

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