Arsenal, Chelsea win; Rooney stars
Wayne Rooney fired a warning to Manchester United's title rivals by helping himself to two goals as the Red Devils brushed aside the challenge of Aston Villa with a 3-1 win at Old Trafford.
Rooney has struggled for form this term and it got to the stage that he was handed a vote of confidence by Sir Alex Ferguson. If it was meant as a motivational tool, it certainly worked, as he looked much more like his true self and scored at the start and end of the first half.
Just 60 seconds in and Rooney netted his first goal at Old Trafford since August and it was simplicity itself. A long punt from Edwin van der Sar was misjudged by the Villa defence, Rooney seized on the ball and took an exquisite touch before lashing the ball beyond Brad Friedel.
The killer second came on the stroke of half-time as Nani delivered a sublime cross into the box and Rooney was on hand to turn the ball home.
Darren Bent had offered little by way of an attacking threat for an hour, but he showed his predatory instincts when converting following fine play from Stewart Downing, but Villa hopes were quickly dashed as Rooney teed up Nemanja Vidic to thunder home a third.
Arsenal answered Manchester United's call when rallying from a goal down to beat Everton 2-1.
There was a sense of justice, as Everton's opener on 23 minutes was hugely controversial after Louis Saha appeared to be yards offside when collecting a pass from Seamus Coleman that flicked off an Arsenal defender. The Frenchman did not wait to see if a flag would be lifted as he slammed an unerring shot into the corner. Arsenal protested, referee Lee Mason consulted his assistant, but to Arsene Wenger's consternation it was allowed to stand.
It took Arsenal some time to shake off the effects and it was not until Andrei Arshavin was summoned from the bench on the hour that they got back on level terms. Cesc Fabregas dinked a ball over the top for the Russian who took the ball in his stride before striking a shot beyond Tim Howard.
The goal lifted Arsenal's confidence and 15 minutes from time the comeback was completed as Laurent Koscielny was left unmarked five yards from goal to head home a Robin van Persie corner.
Chelsea made a signal of intent with the £50 million capture of Fernando Torres and the striker was able to see his new team battle to a 4-2 win over Sunderland.
Sunderland, who beat Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, made a superb start as Phil Bardsley galloped down the wing, cut inside before unleashing a low shot that shocked Petr Cech.
The lead lasted a matter of five minutes, as Frank Lampard fired home from the spot after Ahmed Elmohamady had felled Ashley Cole in the box. With Torres watching on, Chelsea's forwards were under pressure to deliver and Salomon Kalou did his cause no harm with a neat finish, although he was given a helping hand by Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon who made a mad dash off his line but failed to get the ball.
Chelsea could have been expected to press on for victory, but they were left stunned when Kieran Richardson produced a moment of magic. The forward stepped up to take a free-kick and with the Chelsea wall jumping to make the block, he sent the ball under them and into the corner.
The Blues laid siege to the Sunderland goal, as Branislav Ivanovic hit the bar and Nicolas Anelka, Michael Essien and Lampard were denied by world-class saves from Gordon.
Gordon pulled off another brilliant save to thwart Lampard on the hour, but he was helpless to see John Terry knock home the rebound and Anelka sealed the win with a close-range finish in the dying moments.
Marc-Antoine Fortune climbed off the bench to earn West Brom a 2-2 draw with Wigan.
Peter Odemwingie collected a fine pass from Jerome Thomas to dash clear and hand the Baggies an early lead, but Wigan showed their quality from set-pieces with a brace of goals to turn the match on its head.
Wigan rejected a bid from Newcastle for Charles N'Zogbia on deadline day and it paid off as he netted a free kick on 20 minutes and shortly before the break Ben Watson's wicked set piece eluded everyone and flew into the far corner.
But Wigan failed to kill off the contest and Fortune found space to nod home a cross from Thomas for the leveller.