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Nov 3, 2012

United go top, Chelsea held, Spurs lose

Manchester United went top of the Premier League table as Robin van Persie haunted old club Arsenal on Saturday, and they will remain there after Chelsea were pegged back late on at Swansea. Tottenham failed to boost their top-four credentials as they were shocked by Wigan, while there were wins for Norwich and Aston Villa.

• Jolly: RVP haunts Arsenal
• Delaney: City still struggling
• Brewin: Berbatov finds a home
• Premier League Gallery

Van Persie struck an early blow as Manchester United sank ten-man Arsenal 2-1 at Old Trafford. The former Gunners captain, who joined United in the summer, scored inside the opening three minutes in the lunchtime kick-off before Patrice Evra doubled the lead midway through the second half.

Wayne Rooney missed a penalty on the stroke of half-time, but Arsenal were forced to play the last 20 minutes with ten men after Jack Wilshere was sent off for a second bookable offence. Santi Cazorla netted a late strike for Arsenal, but it will be of little consolation as the Gunners fall nine points behind United.

Much of the build-up to the match surrounded Van Persie, and he made an early impact, lashing a low strike past Vito Mannone after Thomas Vermaelen - the man who replaced him as Arsenal skipper - failed to clear Rafael's tame cross.

With Arsenal already on the back foot, Rooney had the chance to give his side some breathing room from the penalty spot after Cazorla handled Ashley Young's cross, but the England striker blazed his spot-kick wide of Mannone's right post.

Having been largely outplayed in all areas of the park, Arsenal were still in the match in the second half and Olivier Giroud hit a post after some neat work by Cazorla. But they conceded the killer goal in the 67th minute when Evra found himself unmarked in the six-yard box to nod home Rooney's cross from the left.

The visitors' hopes of salvaging anything from the match were further dented two minutes later, when Wilshere was given his marching orders for a rash challenge on Evra, having been cautioned early in the first half for a late tackle on Tom Cleverley. Nevertheless Cazorla pulled one back for Arsenal in the dying minutes, curling a sweet strike past De Gea after a neat one-two with Andrei Arshavin, but in truth United should have won by a greater margin.

Roberto Mancini's tinkering backfired again as Manchester City blew the chance to join Manchester United at the top of the Premier League at West Ham.

Ten days after his three-at-the-back experiment in City's shattering Champions League defeat at Ajax, manager Mancini was at it again at the other end of the pitch at Upton Park.

But the decision to start with Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko in the same XI for the first time failed just as spectacularly as the champions failed to score for the first time in almost seven months.

It could have been even worse for Mancini's men had Kevin Nolan not seen an early goal controversially ruled out for offside as West Ham more than held their own and were marshalled brilliantly by Winston Reid and James Collins.

After a testing week off the field, Chelsea were able to focus their minds on footballing matters, but an 88th-minute equaliser for Swansea denied the Blues in a 1-1 draw at the Liberty Stadium. Victor Moses struck for Roberto Di Matteo's side, who remain unbeaten away from home this season, but Pablo Hernandez's strike kept United top by a point.

Chelsea were without the injured David Luiz and Juan Mata - as well as the suspended John Terry - and they produced a disjointed first-half display. It took until the hour-mark for Moses to find an opener, diverting Gary Cahill's goalbound header past Gerhard Tremmel.

That appeared to be enough, but as wretched weather swept across the ground, Swansea found a leveller two minutes from time through a lovely Hernandez strike.

Tottenham are no longer fourth after Andre Villas-Boas' side were beaten 1-0 by Wigan at White Hart Lane. Wednesday's disappointing Capital One Cup exit at Norwich filtered into the north Londoners' weekend display, and they were booed off after Ben Watson's winner.

The first half was surprisingly dominated by the visitors, who should have taken the lead through Shaun Maloney when the former Celtic man broke the offside trap. That pattern continued into the second half and Wigan grabbed a deserved opener when Brad Friedel buckled under pressure at a set-piece, allowing Watson to poke home.

Villas-Boas drew the wrath of the home crowd by withdrawing Jermain Defoe for Emmanuel Adebayor, but it was Wigan who nearly scored again through a Maynor Figueroa free-kick as they held on for victory.

Two sides who began the day within striking distance of Spurs were Fulham and Everton, and the Merseysiders are now up to fourth on goal difference after they drew 2-2 at Craven Cottage. A Tim Howard own goal handed Fulham the early lead, but Marouane Fellaini scored twice for Everton before Steven Sidwell snatched the home side a point.

It took less than 10 minutes for Martin Jol's men to break the deadlock, and once more it was Bryan Ruiz providing the touch of class, bending a 30-yard free-kick past Howard - who will likely get credited with an own goal after the ball ricocheted off a post and onto his back before entering the net.

Everton responded well and deservedly equalised in the second period, Fellaini converting Kevin Mirallas' cutback. The Toffees were clearly the better side as the match progressed, and Fellaini controlled Phil Jagielka's long ball before sliding past Mark Schwarzer for 2-1. However, Sidwell consigned them to a fourth straight draw in the 90th minute.

Everton's twin club Stoke - at least in the eyes of Steven Gerrard - travelled to Norwich in pursuit of their first away win of the league campaign. But they failed in their mission as the Canaries won 1-0 at Carrow Road.

Norwich made the breakthrough moments before half-time, Bradley Johnson adjusting his body brilliantly to convert an unorthodox header from Robert Snodgrass' cross.

And in the day's other 3pm kick-off, Paul Lambert relieved some of the pressure on his Aston Villa side and turned it in the direction of Martin O'Neill at Sunderland, winning 1-0 at the Stadium of Light.

Villa were never in danger of slipping into the bottom three - courtesy of the fact none of the bottom clubs were playing, but they are now five points above the relegation zone thanks to Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Christian Benteke was inevitably involved for the visitors as he headed a cross towards the six-yard area, where Agbonlahor rifled into the roof of the net from close range.

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