Premier League Saturday Wrap: Chelsea, Arsenal, Norwich All Win; QPR Relegated?
The Premier League's fixtures are split this weekend because of the midweek Champions League and Europa League games.
Sunday's games were, without doubt, where most Premier League fans were concentrating. The Manchester Derby, Everton vs. Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham vs. Liverpool were all on the last day of the week.
However, Saturday was not to be outdone, as there were some incredibly interesting and important fixtures to be had.
For once there was no early kickoff or late match, so all six Saturday games were at 3 p.m. (GMT).
With the Citizens and Red Devils battling it out on Sunday, Chelsea had the chance to jump back into the title race—but only if they beat struggling Sunderland who have only won once in their last 10 matches.
The fifth vs. 10th match saw West Brom take on Arsenal.
The Gunners haven't been as low as 10th since 1994, so there was far more than just pride at stake as Steve Clarke's side came to town.
Aston Villa entertained Stoke City, Wigan were visited by QPR and Southampton welcomed Reading in two relegation six-pointer battles that would have a huge affect on the rest of the season.
The most contrasting and interesting match of the weekend saw Swansea take on Norwich City.
The fluid Swans are hot off the back of a stunning win over Arsenal last weekend and unbeaten in seven. While, the ultra-disciplined Canaries are now unbeaten in nine. Who would win, Swansea, who out-Arsenaled Arsenal, or the disciplined and direct Canaries?
Read on to find out what happened...
Sunderland 1-3 Chelsea
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Chelsea recorded their 15th win in 16 matches over Sunderland as Fernando Torres scored twice in a routine 3-1 win. The victory gives Rafael Benitez his first Premier League win as the Blues' manager.
The result was never in doubt from as early as the second minute, when Juan Mata had a penalty appeal waved away after Seb Larsson appeared to shove the Blues' play-maker after he had been played in by Eden Hazard.
Minutes later Chelsea's dominance paid off when Fernando Torres scored his first Premier League goal since October 6.
The Spanish striker spun Carlos Cuellar on the halfway line and laid the ball out to Victor Moses who played an incisive pass to Hazard. Torres then directed the Belgian 21-year-old to play him in before he dispatched a superb volley into the top corner.
The Blues dominated the rest of the half with Torres, Mata and Ramires all causing problems for Martin O'Neill's lacklustre side.
If anything, the only blot on the almost-perfect first half was Oriol Romeu going off injured after just 20 minutes. To see Chelsea's complete dominance of Sunderland all you have to do is look at this substitution.
Rafael Benitez is a notoriously defensive coach, but when his defensive midfielder got injured he chose to replace him with the attacking prodigy that is Oscar.
The change was to prove a master stroke as the Blues went on to dominate the game even more doubling their lead.
Larsson, unhappy at not giving away a penalty in the second minute, then got his wish when his clumsy and undisciplined challenge brought down Ramires in the box.
Torres, full of confidence after his first goal in two months, duly stepped up to score from the spot. Torres then stepped up and fired home his second goal of the game.
Three minutes into the second period and Torres turned provider for Mata, who scored to end the game as a competitive fixture.
To no surprise, Chelsea began to think about their impending trip to Japan for the World Club Cup as the Black Cats began to force the pace.
Adam Johnson reduced the deficit after good work by James McClean down the left as Sunderland piled forward.
McClean, beginning to influence the game more and more, started to run at Branislav Ivanovic and expose the Serbian defender in one-on-one situations.
In the end the Blues played out the game in a professional manner as O'Neill's side huffed and puffed to create opportunities without the injured Steven Fletcher up front.
Aston Villa 0-0 Stoke City
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Aston Villa and Stoke City played out a scoreless draw that was short on chances as both sides struggled to make the breakthrough.
Prior to this match, Aston Villa had only scored eight goals at home all season, while Stoke City had only scored seven away goals, so this game was never going to be a goal fest.
Villa controlled the first half but struggled to create chances as Christian Benteke was easily shackled by Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross in the Stoke defence.
Defensive strength and discipline have been Stoke's great strength over the last couple of seasons, and they do not give goals away cheaply. This season only Premier League champions Manchester City have conceded fewer than Tony Pulis's side.
The game improved in the second period, but only slightly.
Stoke forced the tempo for a while and created chances for Jonathan Walters and Kenwyne Jones, but they did not muster a single shot on target.
With neither side capable of scoring, it seemed that the two sides began to measure each other in tackles, which resulted in more than one argument and melee.
As both teams clattered into each other, referee Roger East was forced to take control and issue his 65th yellow card of the season and first yellow card of the match to Ryan Shotton.
The biggest cheer of the game was not reserved for a shot. It was saved for the late introduction of Darren Bent who entered the insipid proceedings seamlessly.
In the end, Shotton was sent off for a needless challenge deep into injury time.
The red card, East's fourth of the season, being the most notable statistic of a dreadfully poor Premier League game.
Southampton 1-0 Reading
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Southampton received an early Christmas present as they climbed out of the relegation zone thanks to a 1-0 win over Reading at St Mary's Stadium.
The Saints were well worth the three points against the Royals as they controlled the game from start to finish.
Dominating possession against a Reading side struggling to come to grips with the occasion, Nigel Adkins' side created plenty of chances in an entertaining opening period.
Jay Rodriguez, Morgan Schneiderlin, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert all went close for the home side as Adam Federici, in the Reading goal, made a number of stunning saves.
Federici's fine form should have been a wake up call to the rest of his team mates. However, they seemed incapable of forcing their way into the game such was the Saints' early dominance.
Southampton did eventually score before the break, but Puncheon's header was ruled out for a foul by Maya Yoshida on Federici.
To their credit they did not let that set-back affect them and stormed into the shell shocked Royals at the start of the second half.
In a period where Reading barely got out of their own box, never mind their own half, the Saints deservedly took the lead when Jason Puncheon fired home.
The goal seemed to spark some life into Reading, who created a couple of chances against the run of play through the likes of Jobi McAnuff and Adam La Fondre.
Southampton continued to dominate the one-sided affair but could not find that all important second as they crawled out of the relegation zone at the expense of Sunderland.
The result means that Reading's and Sunderland's clash on December 11 becomes all the more important as both sides are now firmly in the grip of a relegation battle.
Arsenal 2-0 West Brom
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Arsenal are back up to sixth in the table after beating West Brom at the Emirates. The win comes thanks to two controversial penalties that were duly dispatched by Mikel Arteta.
West Brom will be more than aggrieved with referee Mike Jones after he controversially awarded the Gunners two penalties while waving away another after Per Mertesacker appeared to handle the ball in the box.
The first penalty came after a settling period where the Baggies were containing Arsenal quite comfortably.
Santi Cazorla was fed the ball on the left and cut into the box as he wrong-footed Steven Reid. The Irish international swung out a foot in a poor attempt at a tackle and made no contact with the Spaniard who went down as if he was pole-axed.
Jones immediately awarded a penalty despite massive protests by West Brom's players.
To his credit, Arteta had to wait until all the complaints had been waved away before slapping the ball right down the middle of the goal as Boaz Myhill dove to his right.
The goal changed the complete complexion of the game, and all of a sudden the away side were leaving gaps for the Gunners to expose.
Gervinho started to become a creative influence and almost set up Jack Wilshere for the second goal as the Gunners pushed on.
As the game wore on, West Brom reverted to type and stayed defensive as Arsenal hogged possession.
However, their game-plan was unraveled in the 65th minute when Jones awarded another penalty to the Gunners.
There was no arguing about Chris Brunt's lazy challenge on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after the attacking midfielder had tricked his way into the box. However, the Baggies believed Oxlade-Chamberlain should have been penalised for a push on Goran Popov in the build-up to the penalty.
Arteta, the coolest man on the pitch, duly scored his second penalty in exactly the same fashion as the first.
In truth, Arsenal deserved their win despite the controversial means.
The Gunners dominated possession and dictated the match throughout, while West Brom barely managed a single shot on target throughout.
Steve Clarke must take a large proportion of the blame for his side's defeat, as prior to today Arsenal's confidence was shot. They had dropped to 10th for the first time in almost 20 years and had not won in four games.
The win carries Arsenal to sixth as West Brom hang onto fifth for at least one more week.
Wigan 2-2 QPR
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Wigan and QPR played out an error-strewn 2-2 draw that sees Harry Redknapp's side claim the worst start in Premier League history.
James McCarthy was the hero for the home side with his double either side of Ryan Nelsen's and Djibril Cisse's goals for Rangers.
However, despite all the entertainment on show, the game will be best remembered for Harry Redknapp's side setting a new Premier League record of 16 games without a win from the start of the season.
McCarthy fired Wigan ahead in the 19th minute after the Latics had dominated the opening period against a nervous Rangers team.
The goal seemed to spark the away side into life as Nelsen equalised just seven minutes later after a sustained period of pressure.
Rangers then began to create the better chances, but they could not find a way past Ali Al-Habsi in the Latics goal.
Wigan then roared back into the game and swept Harry Redknapp's 4-4-2 away as McCarthy began to dictate the game from midfield.
He went close again but was denied by a superb save by Rob Green before Jordi Gomez went close twice, with his second effort cannoning off the crossbar with Green well beaten.
With the game in a distinct pattern of Wigan attacking while QPR defended, the away side somehow managed to score against the run of play.
Djibril Cisse, on for Adel Taarabt, finished off Shaun Wright-Phillip's centre after the diminutive winger had dispossessed Gomez.
The lead, however, only lasted three minutes as McCarthy blasted home through a forest of legs following Jean Beausejour's clever pass.
The last 15 minutes were decimated by each manager trading substitutions, and what little rhythm the game had was completely lost.
The draw means that Wigan drop to 17th on goal difference as Southampton climb to 15th.
While Rangers, only seven points from their first 16 games, now need to take an estimated minimum of 32 points from the remaining 22 fixtures.
Swansea 3-4 Norwich City
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Swansea and Norwich City played out a pre-Christmas cracker as the Canaries won 4-3 in the most entertaining match of the Premier League season.
While all eyes were on the Manchester Derby on Sunday, the most intriguing match of the weekend saw two of the Premier League's form sides do battle at the Liberty Stadium.
Prior to this match, Swansea, with their possession based system, were unbeaten in seven games while Norwich with their direct style were unbeaten in nine.
The Canaries tore into the Swans right from the very first minute and deservedly took an early lead with only their sixth away goal of the season. Steven Whittaker played a neat one-two with Robert Snodgrass before cutting inside the box to easily beat Gerhard Tremmel with a low shot to the near post.
To their credit, Michael Laudrup's side fought their way back into the match and dominated possession for almost 20 minutes. However, they could not find a way past Mark Bunn in the Norwich goal.
That lack of a cutting edge was to prove costly as the visiting side then scored twice in the space of five minutes at the end of the first half.
The first came from another towering header from Sebastien Bassong, his second goal in three games, before Grant Holt thumped another header in following another Snodgrass assist.
Whatever the managers said to their respective teams at halftime had a huge effect, as Swansea came out all guns blazing while Norwich seemed determined to defend and counter.
Five minutes in and Michu gave the Swans some hope as he swept home a left wing cross to make the score 3-1.
However, it could have all been so different and the game as good as over as just seconds earlier when Bradley Johnson bounced a beautiful lob off the crossbar.
Finding room on the wings, Swansea began to attack Norwich down both flanks and scored on the hour to leave the game in fine balance.
Bassong failed to deal with a cross from the right ,and as the ball hung in the air Jonathan de Guzman raced in to score with a low volley.
With Swansea on top, dominating possession and cutting Norwich to pieces on the wings, it only seemed a matter of time before that elusive equaliser came.
The inevitable seemingly happened in the 75th minute when Swansea thought they had scored following a corner only for Howard Webb to disallow the goal.
Once again, Norwich failed to deal with a cross as de Guzman corner was headed upwards in front of Bunn in the Canaries goal. Michu then challenged the keeper for the ball only to see it spill to Itay Shechter who scored from close range.
As the Israeli striker spun away to celebrate, the referee, Webb, blew his whistle to disallow the goal for Michu's challenge on Bunn.
Almost straight from the re-start Norwich launched an attack that caught Swansea cold, and they were forced to give a free-kick away around 25 yards from their goal.
Robert Snodgrass, a dead-ball specialist, then stepped up to smash a shot into the top corner, which should have ended the game as a contest.
However, just like before, Swansea refused to roll over as Michu scored his second goal of the game and his 12th Premier League goal of the season.
The injury time strike was to prove too little too late for the valiant Swans, as Norwich record their first away win of the season.