Saturday, 9 January 2016

Gunners Stay Top While Hammers Humble Reds

Ahead of a cup double of the Capital One Cup semis and the hallowed FA Cup third round, the first weekend of the year saw week 20 of the Premier League season. A mixed week at both ends of the table saw just two sides score more than twice while six sides sealed a shut-out.

The action began at Upton Park as West Ham United hosted Liverpool in Saturday's early kick-off with both sides looking to close up on the top four with a win. The Hammers struck early with Michail Antonio scoring for the second game in a row with a header in the 10th minute to leave the Reds with work to do. The response was mixed from the visitors and given their recent woes in defence, it was no surprise when Andy Carroll doubled the lead via a cross in the 55th minute. At 2-0, the hosts were comfortable and leapfrogged the Reds with the win.

Arsenal hosted Newcastle at the Emirates Stadium in the first of six 3pm games with the Gunners eager to extend their lead at the top while the Magpies looked to end a run of three defeats. The sides seemed to be evenly matched in the first hour despite sitting at either end of the league table but it wasn't to last as Laurent Koscielny sealed a 1-0 win with a 72nd minute strike.

After being deposed at the top by the Gunners, Leicester City looked to draw level at the top as they hosted a Bournemouth side sitting on the edge of the bottom three and looking to open up a gap. A tight first half saw the sides go into the interval  level at 0-0 but as the hour neared, Leicester were given a great chance to go ahead.

The Foxes were awarded a 57th minute penalty which saw Simon Francis sent off but the in-form Riyad Mahrez saw his spot kick saved and despite being down to ten for half an hour, the Cherries did well to hold on for a goalless draw.

Manchester United hosted struggling Swansea City at Old Trafford desperate to end a run of six games without a win while the Swans searched for only their fifth win of a mixed season. The sides remained level at 0-0 into the interval but were soon on different levels as Anthony Martial put the hosts in front within two minutes of the restart. Swansea drew level on 70 minutes with a Gylfi Sigurdsson strike for 1-1 but were soon behind for s second time as Wayne Rooney sealed a 2-1 win for United in the 77th minute.

Norwich City hosted Southampton at Carrow Road in a game between two sides who entered 2016 in the bottom half and not too far from the bottom three. The Canaries went into the game looking to claim a third win in a row and with the game at 0-0 long into the second half, they were given a boost as Saints midfielder Victor Wanyama was sent off in the 73rd minute.

It took just three minutes for Norwich to punish the ten men as Alex Tettey made it 1-0 with a 76th minute opener that was enough to claim a win which moved them up to 15th.

The bottom two faced off at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland hosted rock-bottom Aston Villa with both desperate for a win that would cut the gap to those above them. The hosts opened the scoring on the half hour mark as Patrick Van Aanholt made it 1-0 and the slim lead was enough for them to lead into the interval. Villa managed to draw level with a superb effort from Carlos Gil on 63 minutes but it proved to be in vain as a brace from Jermain Defoe in the 72nd and 90th minutes sealed a 3-1 win for Sunderland which leaves Villa seven points adrift at the bottom.

In a battle between to sides residing in mid table, West Bromwich Albion hosted Stoke City at The Hawthorns with both keen to advance closer to the top eight. A closely matched first half saw them remain level at 0-0 but the Baggies managed to break the deadlock just after the hour mark as Stephane Sessegnon made it 1-0 in the 63rd minute.

 Jon Walters drew the Potters level with ten minute to go but a strange red card for Stoke defender Geoff Cameron left them down to ten for seven minutes and the hosts took advantage late on as Jonny Evans sealed a 2-1 win in added time.

The evening kick-off saw Watford host Manchester City at Vicarage Road with the Hornets keen to close up on the top four while City looked to cut the gap to the top two. The game remained goalless into the half-time break despite good chances from both sides in the first half but with 55 minutes on the clock, Watford went ahead via an own goal from City defender Aleksandar Kolarov. City battled back from the 1-0 deficit as they turned the game around with two goals in as many minutes as Yaya Toure equalised in the 82nd minute before Sergio Aguero sealed a 2-1 victory in the 84th minute.

Super Sunday began with a London derby at Selhurst Park as Crystal Palace hosted struggling Chelsea with the Eagles looking to close up on the top four while the Blues looked to extend their gap above the bottom three. The visitors struck 29th minute opener as Oscar put them 1-0 ahead and their lead was doubled on the hour mark as Willian struck a superb effort for 2-0.

Palace battled to try and cut the gap but just six minutes later their fate looked to be sealed as Diego Costa made it 3-0 to the Blues and that was how it ended as Guus Hiddink claimed his first win since taking charge.

Rounding off the weekend was the game at Goodison Park as Everton hosted Tottenham Hotspur with the Toffees looking to move into the top half while Spurs had eyes on closing on the top three. The hosts struck first with a goal from Aaron Lennon whose strike against his former side made it 1-0 after 22 minutes. However, the visitors ensured the sides went into the half-time interval all square as Dele Alli struck in the final moments of the half. A tight second half saw the score remain level at 1-1 meaning the sides had to settle for a point each.