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Jan 1, 2011

Arsenal keep pace as top four all win

Robin van Persie scored his first Premier League goal of the season as Arsenal maintained their title challenge with a comfortable 3-0 win at Birmingham.

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Samir Nasri was also on the scoresheet as the Gunners remained within two points of leaders Manchester United.

Arsene Wenger had criticised his defence following their 2-2 draw with Wigan in midweek, but the Arsenal boss had no reason to complain as his side kept their first clean sheet in eight league games.

Van Persie opened the scoring after 13 minutes when his free-kick deflected off Lee Bowyer and past Ben Foster, but the Birmingham players had reason to feel aggrieved after Van Persie tumbled under a soft challenge from Scott Dann on the edge of the penalty area.

But Birmingham responded immediately, with Sebastian Larsson curling an effort goalwards, but Lukasz Fabianski made a fine save to keep the former Arsenal player's effort at bay.

They were denied a penalty when Van Persie appeared to handle the ball from Roger Johnson knockdown. And the Netherlands international had the chance to double his goal tally after Nasri threaded the ball through, but his weak effort was easily blocked by keeper Ben Foster.

Arsenal continued to dominate possession in the second half, and they made their dominance count when Nasri's strike from the edge of the area beat Foster after a fluid passing move between Nasri and Cesc Fabregas.

And the pair combined once more for the third goal, with Fabregas' shot from an acute angle was initially saved by Foster, but Johnson was helpless to stop the ball rebounding off him and into the net.

A late winner from Joe Cole relieved the pressure on Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson, who saw the Reds beat Bolton 2-1 at Anfield.

After watching his side lose to Wolves in midweek, Hodgson experienced a distressing sense of déjà vu when Kevin Davies rose to meet Matthew Taylor's cross and put Bolton in front.

Hodgson insisted this week that he retained the players' support - and his charges showed they were willing to fight for the manager by levelling the scores early in the second half.

Steven Gerrard, who entered the fray after 20 minutes following an injury to Raul Meireles, slipped through a chipped pass that Fernando Torres struck into the net. Liverpool were in the ascendancy for most of the second half, and their superiority finally told when Cole scored in the dying seconds.

In the day's early game, Manchester United secured a hard-fought 2-1 victory at West Brom.

Wayne Rooney had put United ahead early on with a header - his first goal for the club in open play since March - before James Morrison equalised with a superb strike.

West Brom then had a strong penalty appeal turned down when Gary Neville brought down Graham Dorrans and, when they did win a penalty in the second half, Peter Odemwingie fired wide. Substitute Javier Hernandez then headed home to give United only their second away win of the season.

Manchester City, though, moved level on points with United at the top of the league after clinching a 1-0 victory over Blackpool at Eastlands. The margin of victory should have been more comprehensive - City created a glut of chances and Carlos Tevez missed a penalty - but in the end Adam Johnson's strike from the edge of the area proved to be enough.

Spurs stormed into the Champions League places, leapfrogging Chelsea in the process, by beating Fulham 1-0 at White Hart Lane.

After a forgettable first 35 minutes, Gareth Bale broke the deadlock by meeting Rafael van der Vaart's free kick and diverting a header beyond Mark Schwarzer. Fulham had their moments in the match - and will feel aggrieved to have lost - but they could not prevent Spurs extending their unbeaten run to 11 games.

West Ham clambered out of the relegation zone for the first time this season with a 2-0 win against Wolves at Upton Park. Mick McCarthy's men were initially harmed by a self-inflicted wound as Ronald Zubar, so impressive in the midweek win at Anfield, put Frederic Piquionne's low cross into his own net. Freddie Sears, who hadn't scored for the Hammers since March 2008, made the points safe when he tapped in at the back post.

Everton remain worryingly close to the relegation places after their striking woes were highlighted in a 2-0 defeat to Stoke at the Britannia Stadium. The opener was created by Matthew Etherington, who enhanced his bid for an England call-up when he sent in an inviting cross that Kenwyne Jones powered home.

Everton enjoyed the lion's share of possession but yet again failed to show the incisiveness required to find the back of the net - and they were made to pay when Phil Jagielka scored an own goal.

Sunderland ended a run of two straight defeats by recording a comfortable 3-0 triumph over Blackburn Rovers at the Stadium of Light.

Blackburn goalkeeper Mark Bunn made his first Premier League start, but he will feel it was a game to forget after seeing his side two goals down within the first half an hour. The first was scored from Danny Welbeck, who pounced on a poor header from Ryan Nelsen to fire home, while Darren Bent ended a five-game barren streak by nabbing the second. Asamoah Gyan's first goal in seven completed the scoring.

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