City and Arsenal claim narrow wins
Roberto Mancini's critics were silenced on Saturday as Manchester City put their midweek European troubles behind them with victory over Swansea. Arsene Wenger also had reason to smile after Mikel Arteta struck a winner inside the final ten minutes as Arsenal plunged QPR into further turmoil, on a day when Jack Wilshere made his first start after 17 months on the sidelines.
Mancini employed a back four at the end of a week that saw his tactics heavily criticised following Manchester City's loss to Ajax, but Joleon Lescott - viewed by certain observers as a scapegoat - was benched for the visit of Michael Laudrup's Swansea. Carlos Tevez came in for Edin Dzeko, and the Argentina forward produced a wonder goal in a 1-0 win.
A lacklustre atmosphere paved the way for a forgettable first half at the Etihad, punctured only in the 36th minute when Michu had a superbly taken goal correctly disallowed for offside. Moments later the Spaniard broke the offside trap again - this time legally - but, with City's defence carved wide open, Joe Hart smothered his effort.
Michu continued to prove a handful in the second period, sending a poor header towards Hart when he really should have scored, but Manchester City eventually found a breakthrough on the hour. Tevez, benched for the defeat in Amsterdam, received the ball 30 yards from goal and sent a hammer of a right-foot drive dipping beyond the dive of Michel Vorm. The Swansea 'keeper appeared to injure his groin while diving and had to be stretchered off.
City were not without their own injury concerns as Micah Richards also needed a stretcher for a serious looking knee injury, and the champions had to negotiate 12 minutes of injury time before celebrating a victory that lifts them within a point of Chelsea.
Arsene Wenger faced a thorny AGM in midweek following back-to-back defeats at the hands of Norwich and Schalke. However, Arsenal reacted to their critics with a 1-0 victory against QPR at Emirates Stadium, courtesy of an 84th-minute winner from Arteta.
Wenger had described a top-four finish in the league as being the equivalent of a trophy, revealing he would rather qualify for the Champions League than win the FA Cup. It was therefore vital that Arsenal improved on ninth place in the league, and the sight of Wilshere for 67 minutes might just have the club's fans believing they can heighten their ambitions over the coming months.
Wilshere's first real impact on the game arrived in the 20th minute when he played a one-two on the edge of the area before sending in a shot that QPR 'keeper Julio Cesar spilled. Other than it was pretty tame stuff from the Gunners, who completed a fifth straight half of football without scoring.
There was concern for Wilshere when Esteban Granero's studs left him clutching his ankle early in the second half, and then QPR had a goal rightly ruled out for offside after Junior Hoilett ran onto Granero's lofted pass.
Wilshere left the field in the 67th minute in what appeared to be a pre-planned substitution with little over 20 minutes remaining, having completed every pass he attempted. Lukas Podolski also departed, but nothing seemed to work as Santi Cazorla missed a late sitter for the North London side.
Stephane Mbia left QPR with ten men for the last ten minutes after lashing out at Thomas Vermaelen, but Olivier Giroud failed to capitalise immediately when missing the target from three yards. Finally it was left to Arteta to poke home from close range to ease the tension around the ground, although the performance was far from impressive as Jamie Mackie wasted a fine chance to level for Rangers at the death.
At the bottom end of the table, Norwich defender Michael Turner denied Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert victory against his former club with a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw. The result leaves Villa in 17th, with one win from nine games this season.
Christian Benteke justified Lambert's decision to leave Darren Bent out of his starting line-up with Villa's 27th-minute opener - caressed into the corner from close to the penalty spot - but Villa were forced to defend desperately after left-back Joe Bennett's sending-off early in the second period for two bookable offences.
Turner earned the Canaries a deserved share of the spoils when he headed home from a short corner, and Villa have now won only one of their last 19 league matches. It could have been worse, too, but for a trio of fine saves from 'keeper Brad Guzan.
Villa's point briefly lifted them above Wigan but that lasted less than three hours as the Latics claimed their second win of the campaign with a 2-1 triumph over West Ham at the DW Stadium. Roberto Martinez's Latics beat the Hammers 4-1 in the Capital One Cup earlier in the season, and they inflicted another defeat on Sam Allardyce's side thanks to Ivan Ramis and James McArthur.
Ramis netted in that September win at Upton Park and he took eight minutes to repeat the feat on Saturday, converting a set-piece for his first league strike. Wigan then needed Ali Al-Habsi to stay alert in order to keep their lead intact as West Ham threw several dangerous corners towards Andy Carroll inside the penalty area.
McArthur doubled Wigan's advantage two minutes into the second period, converting from close range as West Ham's defence went walkabout. Carroll then missed a glorious chance on his right foot to halve the deficit for the visitors, who were deservedly beaten despite James Tompkins' late consolation.
Reading failed to move above Villa and outside of the bottom three after they drew 3-3 with Fulham at the Madejski Stadium. The Royals are one of only two sides - along with Southampton - not to have won a league game this season, but they will take some comfort from the fact they fought back twice to earn a point.
The Royals' opener was of the highest quality as Mikele Leigertwood handed the home side the lead, striding on to Jobi McAnuff's pass to sidefoot into the top corner from 25 yards. However, Bryan Ruiz produced an effort of equal quality to level on the hour, before Chris Baird's 77th-minute effort threatened to send the Cottagers fourth.
Garath McCleary levelled for Reading only to see Dimitar Berbatov score again for Fulham, but the final say came from Hal Robson-Kanu in injury time.
In the day's other 3pm kick-off, Stoke drew 0-0 with Sunderland at the Britannia Stadium. Simon Mignolet was the busier of the two goalkeepers but it was an uninspiring display from both sides.