Arsenal’s title challenge suffered a hammer blow on Saturday as a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Aston Villa left them nine points adrift of the Premier League pacesetters Chelsea and Liverpool.
A week after they had reasserted their own title credentials by beating Manchester United, Arsene Wenger’s side suffered their first two-goal defeat at the Emirates Stadium.
“Top level performances are about consistency and at the moment we are not consistent enough,” the Frenchman said. “Everyone in the dressing room is very down because it’s a massive disappointment for us all.”
An own goal by Gael Clichy and a Gabriel Agbonlahor strike revived Villa’s hopes of Champions League soccer next season and it could have been worse for the Gunners if Manuel Almunia had not saved Ashley Young’s first-half penalty.
Chelsea and Liverpool continued to set the pace with Chelsea’s 3-0 win over bottom side West Bromwich Albion keeping them top on goal difference. After Jose Bosingwa had opened the scoring, Nicolas Anelka claimed a first-half double to take his goal tally in the league to 12 in 13 matches.
Liverpool were almost as comfortable in compiling a 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers. Liverpool’s win came courtesy of headers in either half from Dirk Kuyt and captain Steven Gerrard, the latter coming from a superb cross from Fernando Torres after the talismanic Spanish striker came off the bench.
Meanwhile, reigning champions Manchester United leapfrogged Arsenal into third place after knocking five goals past Stoke City at Old Trafford.
Cristiano Ronaldo book-ended the win with free-kicks at the start and the end of a one-sided contest, his 100th and 101st goals for the club. Michael Carrick claimed United’s second just before halftime, Dimitar Berbatov ended the contest four minutes after the break and, with United strolling, youngster Danny Welbeck came off the bench to score a memorable first goal for the club from well outside the box.
Tottenham Hotspur’s unbeaten run under Harry Redknapp came to an end when they went down to a 2-1 defeat at Fulham, a defeat that sent Spurs back down into the relegation zone. Fulham were gifted their opener by another blunder from Tottenham’s Brazilian goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, who allowed a Simon Davies cross to slip through his grasp in the 32nd minute. Andy Johnson doubled the lead with 20 minutes left and Frazier Campbell’s first Premier League goal came too late for Spurs to salvage a point.
Titus Bramble rescued a point for 10-man Wigan Athletic with a last-minute equalizer in a 2-2 draw at his former club Newcastle United. Wigan had gone ahead thanks to a spectacular third-minute strike by Ryan Taylor. But after having Emmerson Boyce sent off midway through the second half they had looked set to leave St James’ Park with nothing after late strikes by Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins had given Newcastle the lead.
Sunderland came from behind to take revenge for their League Cup defeat by Blackburn Rovers in midweek. Blackburn deserved to lead at the interval courtesy of Christopher Samba’s stoppage time header from a Morten Gamst Pedersen corner. But Kenwyne Jones equalized four minutes after the break and strike partner Djibril Cisse sealed a 2-1 win for Roy Keane’s side with a 71st-minute strike.
The day’s other match, between West Ham United and Portsmouth, finished in a goalless stalemate.
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