City dismantle Newcastle to go clear
Manchester City came through another stiff test of their Premier League title credentials on Saturday, inflicting a first defeat of the season on Newcastle, but Manchester United ensured the gap at the top stayed at five points with an evening victory at Swansea.
In a match between the English top flight's only unbeaten sides, City had too much class for Newcastle, winning comfortably 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium. Penalties from Mario Balotelli and Sergio Aguero sandwiched a Micah Richards strike that capped a man-of-the-match display from the England hopeful.
Most of the best work was actually done by Newcastle in a well-contested opening to the game that saw Joe Hart produce a superb save to deny Demba Ba. However, it was City who led 2-0 at half-time following two Ryan Taylor errors.
First Balotelli converted with trademark calm from the spot after Taylor clearly handled inside the penalty area. Then Richards scored his first Premier League goal for a year after he nipped the ball off Taylor's toes to cap an excellent individual 45 minutes from the right-back.
Richards was the best player on the pitch and he was involved again for City's third, forcing Hatem Ben Arfa to concede a penalty, which Aguero despatched with Balotelli off the field. Dan Gosling grabbed a late consolation for the Magpies, but City's minds had already turned to Napoli in the Champions League.
With the gap at the top briefly extended to eight points, Manchester United needed a response at Swansea, a ground where no opposition player had scored a league goal this season. That statistic changed after just 11 minutes as Javier Hernandez opened the scoring en route to a 1-0 victory for the champions.
Sir Alex Ferguson restored Ryan Giggs to his starting XI for the trip to Wales, and the veteran played a big part in the opener, squaring for Hernandez to tap home. Angel Rangel was at fault for Swansea, passing the ball directly to Giggs on the edge of his own box, and he was made to pay the ultimate price.
The Swans should have been level midway through the first half when Scott Sinclair missed an open goal, getting the ball tangled between his legs six yards out. Brendan Rodgers' men arguably deserved to find an equaliser, but in a game of few clear-cut chances it was United who came closest to a second when Phil Jones hit an upright.
Arsenal's excellent run of results continued at Carrow Road in Saturday's lunchtime kick-off, but once again Robin van Persie had to dig his defenders out of trouble as the Dutchman scored twice in a 2-1 victory over Norwich City. Arsene Wenger's side have now won seven of their last eight matches in all competitions, despite a defence that continues to look extremely suspect.
Certainly Per Mertesacker failed to cover himself in any glory as he dithered to allow Steve Morison the opener, but in two-goal Van Persie Arsenal have the most in-form striker in European football.
Mertesacker's soft capitulation took place in the 16th minute of a hugely watchable first half, choosing not to hoof the ball into the stands under pressure from Morison, instead falling to the ground as the powerful striker stole the ball and slotted home.
Van Persie and Gervinho then missed golden chances to level, but it was no surprise when Theo Walcott's low cross from the byline was turned home by Van Persie at close range for the equaliser. The winner was then supplied by Alex Song, who robbed Russell Martin of the ball on halfway before feeding Van Persie, who dinked over John Ruddy with his right foot.
Steve Kean's future is still hanging on by a thread after 10-man Blackburn Rovers came from behind twice to draw their relegation six-pointer with Wigan Athletic 3-3 at the DW Stadium. In a match between two sides who had taken a combined 11 points from 22 fixtures this season, it was Yakubu who rescued Blackburn deep into injury-time as Wigan remain rooted to the foot of the table.
Rovers only arrived at the ground 50 minutes prior to kick-off due to traffic congestion, but it was Wigan who were late to the party as Blackburn took the lead just 67 seconds after kick-off. Yakubu was the man to pounce for his 100th league goal in English football, latching on to Steven N'Zonzi's flick-on to beat Ali Al-Habsi.
The lead lasted only five minutes though as Jordi Gomez drove into the corner from outside the box for Wigan's leveller, and by half-time Blackburn were behind. Gary Caldwell headed home a simple David Jones corner to hand Wigan the lead, but the Blackburn marking - with David Dunn the culprit - left a lot to be desired.
Dunn's afternoon came to an abrupt end seconds after half-time when he received his second booking, albeit harshly after he seemed to get a bit of the ball. But Kean's men rallied to level in controversial circumstances through Junior Hoilett, who scored after Yakubu faked to take a corner, failing to touch it before Morten Gamst Pedersen ran with the ball - effectively taking the set-piece to himself.
The goal did not look like it would influence the final result as Albert Crusat handed Wigan the lead two minutes from time, but Yakubu netted a penalty, awarded for a foul on Rovers keeper Paul Robinson, up in the box for one last charge, in one of the eight minutes of stoppage time to earn Rovers a point.
Bolton Wanderers were unable to lift themselves out of the bottom three as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. Goals from Jerome Thomas and Shane Long leave Owen Coyle's side two points from safety.
The Baggies had striker Long back from injury for the first time since he was hammered by Alan Hutton at Villa Park, but it was Thomas who opened the scoring when rounding Jussi Jaaskelainen after Zoltan Gera's slide-rule pass. However, within moments the hero turned villain as Thomas slipped into Fabrice Muamba inside the area, conceding a penalty that Ivan Klasnic comfortably converted.
The script was always written for Long though, who created and scored a brilliant second for West Brom for his fourth of the season, lifting them into the top half.
Everton capitalised on Bolton Wanderers' loss, coming from behind to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 at Goodison Park. Starting the day one place above the relegation zone, the Toffees lifted themselves up towards mid-table after Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines overturned Stephen Hunt's opener.
David Moyes' men fell behind to a soft penalty decision, which saw Hunt convert after Marouane Fellaini tripped David Edwards. Everton were level by the break though, Jagielka converting a sublime free-kick from Baines that was just begging to be finished. Baines then stepped up to notch the winner from the spot after a foul on Louis Saha.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Stoke City's poor run continued as they lost 3-2 to Queens Park Rangers at the Britannia Stadium. Defeat is Stoke's fourth on the bounce in the Premier League.
Jon Walters handed the home side an ideal start with an excellent finish following Peter Crouch's intelligent pass, but Rangers were ahead at half-time thanks firstly to Heidar Helguson's excellent headed equaliser, and then to Luke Young's emphatic finish into the roof of the net.
Helguson then capitalised for his second when Ryan Shawcross went to sleep at the back post early in the second half, and although the defender quickly made amends to reduce the arrears to 3-2, QPR held on.
And Sunderland have still won only one home game this season after they could only draw 0-0 with Fulham at the Stadium of Light. A point moves both sides two clear of danger at the bottom.