Saturday, 2 January 2016

Gunners Go Top While Reds Edge Sunderland

2015 came to a close with week 19 of the Premier League with the ten games spread across three days which saw just six sides score twice or more while half of the league managed clean sheets.

Bank Holiday Monday saw four 3pm games starting with Crystal Palace hosting struggling Swansea City at Selhurst Park with the Eagles keen to cut the gap to the top four while the Swans looked to move clear of the bottom three. However, the sides seemed to be evenly matched despite sitting at either end of the table as they shared the points in a 0-0 draw.

Everton faced Stoke City at Goodison Park with the Potters looking to leapfrog their hosts with a win while the Toffees hoped to move further into the top half. The Potters made the first mark on the scoreline as Xherdan Shaqiri fired in for 1-0 after 16 minutes but their joy was short lived ad the in-form Romelu Lukaku equalised for the hosts on 22 minutes. Stoke regained the lead just before the interval as Shaqiri struck a second goal for 2-1 at the break but Lukaku struck back for a second time to make it 2-2 on 64 minutes. Everton went ahead for the first time when Gerard Deulofeu struck for 3-2 on 71 minutes but it was 3-3 in the 80th minute as Joselu levelled for the visitors. The sides looked to be on course for a well-deserved point each but Stoke sealed a 4-3 win late on as Marko Arnautovic tucked away a penalty in added time.

Norwich City hosted bottom side Aston Villa at Carrow Road with the chance to move clear of the bottom three with a win while a success for Villa would be their first since the opening weekend and ensure they would end the year with a double-figured points total. Jonny Howson broke the deadlock for the hosts to make it 1-0 after 24 minutes and from there, the Canaries held off the Villa attack long into the second half before wrapping up a comfortable 2-0 win with an 87th minute strike from Dieumerci Mbokani which left Villa with just eight points from 19 games.

Watford and Tottenham Hotspur met in a London derby at Vicarage Road with the Hornets looking to cut the gap to the top four while Spurs who were already there had eyes on closing up at the top. Eric Lamela fired the visitors ahead inside 17 minutes but the 1-0 lead was cancelled out just before half-time as the in-form striker Odion Ighalo extended his scoring streak to make it 1-1 on 41 minutes. Watford were dealt a blow just after the hour mark as Nathan Ake was sent off leaving them with just under half an hour to hold on with ten men and they came so close to completing their task only to be denied a point by Son Heung-Min's 89th minute strike which sealed a 2-1 success for Tottenham. 

West Bromwich Albion hosted Newcastle United at The Hawthorns with the chance to move as high as 13th with a win while the Magpies looked to escape the danger zone with a success of their own. The Baggies sealed a first win in six games with a narrow 1-0 win over the Magpies with Darren Fletcher striking the winning goal in the 78th minute.

The evening saw three games starting with Arsenal's hosting of Bournemouth at the Emirates Stadium with the Gunners knowing a win would see them go top of the table while for the Cherries a success would see them move clear of the drop zone. Arsenal struck an opener through Gabriel in the 27th minute for a 1-0 lead that despite a battling performance from Bournemouth looked to be enough for the Gunners to seal top spot and they confirmed the win with a 63rd minute strike from Mesut Ozil who sealed the 2-0 success.

Traditionally, Manchester United against Chelsea at Old Trafford had been a game between two title challengers but this time around, United sat sixth while the Blues sat down in 14th. Both sides were desperate for a confidence building win with United winless in five and the Blues with just one win in as many games. So it was no real surprise given their recent form that the sides were evenly matched on the night in sharing the points in a 0-0 draw.

West Ham United hosted Southampton at Upton Park with hopes of closing the gap to the top four while the Saints looked to seal back-to-back wins for the first time since early November. The Saints were gifted an early lead as Carl Jenkinson deflected a shot into his own net for a 1-0 lead inside 13 minutes. However, the Hammers battled back in the second half and turned the game around with two goals in ten minutes as Michail Antonio levelled in the 69th minute and Andy Carroll sealed a 2-1 win with a header on 79 minutes.

Tuesday night saw the top of the table clash between Leicester City and Manchester City at the King Power Stadium with the Foxes eager to reclaim top spot from Arsenal while City looked to close the gap on their opponents in second spot. Neither side came out on top as they shared the points in a tight 0-0 draw.

The final game of the year came on Wednesday night as second bottom Sunderland hosted Liverpool at the Stadium of Light and with the Black Cats seven points from safety a win was sorely needed while the Reds looked to end 2015 with back-to-back wins. A fairly tight first half saw the sides remain level at 0-0 but the parity lasted less than a minute after the restart as Christian Benteke slotted in to make it 1-0. The Belgian's second goal in as many games proved to be enough to seal the points for the Reds who moved up to seventh.