Premier League Saturday Wrap: Spurs Go Third, Man City Nearly Implode
With the Premier League games coming thick and fast during the festive season, it's no surprise to see that defences are starting to slacken as the mental pressure takes its toll.
The result is that today's crop of EPL games were goal-laden and enthralling. A fascinating early kickoff between Sunderland and Tottenham was followed by Manchester City attempting to beat Norwich in order to get closer to Manchester United, who were in action themselves at home to West Brom.
At the bottom of the table, Southampton were testing themselves against the Premier League's meanest defence, while Reading and Aston Villa both had opportunities at home to gain a vital three points.
Read on to find out what happened...
Sunderland 1, Spurs 2
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Tottenham moved into third place in the Premier League with a spirited comeback to win at Sunderland, but once again the headlines will be focused on whether or not Gareth Bale deserved to be booked for diving.
Bale was given a yellow card and will miss Spurs' home game against Reading, after Martin Atkinson decided that the Welshman had gone to ground easily. However, television replays seem to indicate that Bale was fouled and that Tottenham should have been given a penalty.
Luckily for Spurs, the decision was not important to the result of the match. Having gone 1-0 down to a John O'Shea goal against the run of play, Tottenham bounced back in the second half courtesy of an own goal from Carlos Cuellar and a great run and finish from Aaron Lennon.
Tottenham now have 19 points from a possible 24, and with Reading next up, it promises to be a truly merry Christmas and a happy New Year for Spurs fans.
Aston Villa 0, Wigan 3
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Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert was left scratching his head as he watched his side concede its 15th goal of the Christmas period, without even scoring once in reply.
Defeats to the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham are explainable, however heavy, but Lambert will find it more difficult to make excuses for a heavy 3-0 home defeat to Villa's fellow relegation strugglers, Wigan.
Wigan started perfectly when Ivan Ramis headed home a corner after just three minutes. In the second half, Athletic piled on the misery for Villa with two goals from Emmerson Boyce and Arouna Kone within a decisive five-minute period.
The result left Villa hovering just a point away from the relegation zone, with 18th-placed Southampton having a game-in-hand advantage.
Fulham 1, Swansea 2
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Another team that are free-falling toward the relegation zone are Fulham. The West Londoners have now only won once in their last 12 games after Swansea took an away win from their trip to Craven Cottage.
Swansea were without the league's top scorer, Michu, and it was his replacement, Danny Graham, who scored the goal to give the Welsh team a 1-0 halftime lead.
The Swans doubled their lead early in the second half through Jonathan de Guzman, and although Bryan Ruiz pulled one back for Fulham, the home side were unable to mount a comeback.
Manchester United 2, West Brom 0
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Robin van Persie again proved his worth to Manchester United as he struck to score his 13th Premier League goal to wrap up a routine 2-0 win for the table-toppers.
United had taken an early lead when West Brom's Gareth McAuley could only deflect Ashley Young's cross beyond Ben Foster and into his own goal. Van Persie started the game as a substitute and, having been introduced in the second half, scored a curling effort in the 90th minute to ensure that the home side took all three points.
The win maintained Manchester United's seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League table and gave Sir Alex Ferguson the best type of early birthday present before he turns 71 on New Year's Eve.
Norwich 3, Manchester City 4
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With Manchester United having won today, it was imperative that their rivals Manchester City did likewise if they were not to lose further ground in the race for the Premier League. City eventually won 4-3, but as the scoreline suggests, it was far from plain sailing.
Edin Dzeko gave his side what looked to be an unassailable early lead as he struck in the second and fourth minutes to put City 2-0 up. However, Anthony Pilkington pulled one back for the Canaries, and with Samir Nasri getting sent off, the reigning EPL champions went into halftime knowing that they had a game on their hands.
Sergio Aguero looked to have made things more comfortable when he put Manchester City 3-1 up in the second half, only for Norwich's Russell Martin to narrow the advantage. Dzeko completed his hat-trick to once again give City a two-goal lead, but another goal from Martin made it 3-4 and ensured some nervous closing minutes for Roberto Mancini's men.
Reading 1, West Ham 0
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In an afternoon full of early goals, Reading also scored within five minutes when their Russian international striker, Pavel Pogrebnyak, gave them the perfect start.
Unlike in the other games today, West Ham were unable to strike back. Reading achieved a vital 1-0 win over a West Ham team that they beat twice last season, when both sides were promoted from the championship.
The victory saw Reading move to within five points of safety and all but ensure that QPR will remain at the bottom of the Premier League table over the weekend.
Stoke 3, Southampton 3
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Stoke went into this game with a burgeoning reputation for defensive excellence, but that didn't stop plucky Southampton from giving them a fright and almost pulling off an important away win.
Strikes from Ricky Lambert, Jay Rodriguez and an own goal from Andy Wilkinson saw Southampton race into a 3-1 lead, with Kenwyne Jones replying for Stoke.
The Saints were unable to hold onto their lead as the home side fought back in the second half. A rare goal from Matthew Upson put Stoke back into contention, and although Steven Nzonzi was sent off to reduce the Potters to 10 men, a brilliant 30-yard goal from Cameron Jerome saw the scores leveled at 3-3.
Arsenal 7, Newcastle 3
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On a highly entertaining day of Premier League football, the best was left 'til last as Arsenal romped to victory over Newcastle in a 10-goal thriller.
It had looked like it was going to be another one of those games for Arsenal after they took the lead three times via Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski, only for Newcastle to peg them back on each occasion, thanks to a brace from Demba Ba, either side of a goal from Sylvain Marveaux.
It took a second goal from Walcott to make it 4-3 and break Newcastle's will. Olivier Giroud came off the bench to score twice and make it 6-3, before Walcott completed his hat-trick with a wonderful goal in the last minute to finish off the Magpies.
Walcott's performance strengthened his claim to be played centrally and for his contract demands to be met by Arsenal. The Gunners are now sitting in fifth, and if they win their game in hand, they will move above third-placed Spurs.