By Ryan Moran
- Stoke City claimed victory at Everton in a seven goal game.
- Romelu Lukaku’s brace took the Belgian to 15 goals, joint with Jamie Vardy.
- Manchester United’s goalless draw meant a sixth league game without a win.
Everton, UK- With heavyweight clashes between Leicester and Manchester City as well as Manchester United against Chelsea, Everton’s clash with Stoke had everything from comebacks to wonder goals to steal the limelight.
Everton 3-4 Stoke City
Stoke City snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as they came from 3-2 down to beat Everton 4-3. Xherdan Shaqiri opened his Premier League account with his first two goals in English football while Romelu Lukaku joined Jamie Vardy on 15 goals but even his brace couldn’t prevent the Toffees from defeat.
Shaqiri opened the scoring when Marko Arnautovic burst into the box, squaring the ball to the Switzerland international who scored from close range. Lukaku notched up his 14th goal of the season to level the scores before Shaqiri scored a contender for goal of the season, a lobbed half volley over Tim Howard as the away side left the field ahead at half time.
Lukaku levelled the scores as the home side came from behind to lead for the first time, Gerard Deulofeu hitting into the roof of the net after Ross Barkley headed past the Stoke defence to cross towards the Spanish winger. Joselu took the visitors level with ten minutes to play, John Stones then handed Stoke an opportunity to secure victory from the penalty spot, bringing down Arnautovic in the area. The attacker took the resultant penalty, striking high in the middle of the goal to hand Mark Hughes’ side a second consecutive victory.
The result moved Stoke above Everton in the league table and into 10th place. Three points and two places behind, the Toffees dropped to 11th as a result of the defeat.
Arsenal 2-0 AFC Bournemouth
Arsenal climbed to the top of the table courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Bournemouth consequently ending the Cherries’ run of six games unbeaten.
Mesut Ozil was at the heart of the Gunners’ attacks with two goals failing to tell the story of the home sides domination. His corner was met by a firm header from Gabriel Paulista to hand Arsenal the lead. The German playmaker doubled the lead in the second half after playing a one-two with Olivier Giroud, the strikers flick laid the ball on a plate for Ozil to beat Artur Boruc.
Ozil’s array of passing was met by gasps of surprise, especially when the midfielder picked out Theo Walcott’s run through a crowded penalty box to win the corner that Gabriel scored from. His willingness to work back and help Kieran Gibbs with Matt Ritchie made up for the Boxing Day blues of the 4-0 defeat to Southampton. Per Mertesacker takes the award for the miss of the season so far, failing to head in after the ball rebounded off the post and onto his head.
The victory moved the home side to the pinnacle that is the top of the Premier League, a point above Leicester who were to play Manchester City the following day. Any result other than a Leicester win would keep Arsene Wenger’s side top of the league.
Watford 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
A 10-man Watford team couldn’t hold on for the draw as Son Heung-min’s 89th minute winner secured victory.
Erik Lamela had given Spurs the lead at Vicarage Road, Craig Cathcart’s mistake gifting the Arentine a free run at goal after Dele Alli dismissed the defender and played Lamela through who wrong footed Heurelho Gomes with the finish. Odion Ighalo levelled before half time, poking home after the bouncing ball dropped in his favour to beat Hugo Lloris from close range.
Nathan Ake saw red for a high foot on Lamela, leaving the Hornets to play with 10 men for half an hour. Eventually the Spurs pressure led to the decisive goal with a question of offside, Kieran Trippier whipping the ball across the box for Son to flick home from close range.
The win took the away side above City for 24 hours, the Citizens draw with Leicester pushed Spurs back to fourth, one point behind the Manchester club. Watford dropped two places to ninth with defeat, level on points with Stoke but above the Potters because of a superior goal difference.
Leicester City 0-0 Manchester City
A top of the table clash ended goalless with both sides failing to dismantle Arsenal from the top of the league. Manchester City will feel they have lost two points rather than gained one as the away side had the greater chances to claim victory.
With 21 shots to Leicester’s 11, the away side only managed one more shot on target, five shots on target out of 21. Prolific strikers Sergio Aguero and Jamie Vardy were short of the mark at the King Power Stadium, Aguero missing from six yards and Vardy firing over after sprinting clear of the City defence.
With only 39% possession, the Foxes put up the barriers and made City work for a clear cut chance, shown in the five shots on target, seven were blocked by the Leicester bus parked in front of their goal. With the intent on counter attacking, Leicester executed a plan well following their loss to Liverpool on Boxing Day, their second of the season.
The win allowed Manuel Pellegrini’s side to move back above Tottenham, but the result wasn’t great enough for Leicester to leapfrog Arsenal back to the top of the Premier League. Both sides have 39 points, the Gunners’ goal difference greater by three with City three points behind on 36 points.
Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea
Old Trafford witnessed a stalemate worth leaving at half time with both sides failing to gain a real foothold after the opening encounters.
Juan Mata came the closest to opening the scoring, striking Thibaut Courtois’ crossbar, the Belgian well beaten by the Spaniard’s effort. Anthony Martial twisted and turned to lose Branislav Ivanovic as the striker was also denied by the upright.
Eden Hazard became increasingly frustrated playing as the false nine as Chelsea played without a recognised striker and no height in their four attacking players. The lack of options going forward meant the four of Hazard, Willian, Pedro and Oscar were isolated when receiving the ball in the final third.
The Belgian attacker found himself on the floor on many occasions, being scythed down before he could make any real impact in the attacking areas. The Blues’ long ball tactics not working in their favour along with their lack of pressing in the United half, many times Martial was allowed the run on Ivanovic, a battle he won on numerous occasions.
Goals remained the issue for United as they will feel it was a game in which two points were lost, rather than a point gained. The result had no effect on the Red Devils’ position, Chelsea climbed above Bournemouth but now a three-point gap separates them from West Brom in 13th.
West Ham United 2-1 Southampton
West Ham United came from behind to win their first game after five consecutive draws. A Carl Jenkinson own goal had given the Saints the lead but goals from Michail Antonio and Andy Carroll gave the home side all three points.
The away side carried the momentum from their surprise 4-0 win over Arsenal by dominating the first half, Dusan Tadic’s toe poke deflecting in off Jenkinson. The home side came out fighting in the second half but levelled as a clearance struck Antonio and looped over Maarten Stekelenburg in the Saints’ goal. Ten minutes later, the home side found the eventual winner as Carroll came off the bench to strike the winner.
Now unbeaten in six games, Slaven Bilic’s side move into eighth position, level on points with both Watford and Stoke while Southampton stayed in 12th, allowing West Bromwich Albion to close the gap with a win over Newcastle United.
Sunderland 0-1 Liverpool
Liverpool moved up to seventh in the league with a 1-0 victory over Sunderland. Christian Benteke struck the only goal of the game just after half time but chances for both teams were not taken, Roberto Firmino being denied by a finger tip save from Vito Mannone. Fabio Borini twice went close against his former side, one shot just wide and the other straight at Simon Mignolet in the Liverpool goal.
The result leaves the Black Cats seven points from safety having lost five consecutive games. The Reds joined Manchester United on 30 points with an inferior goal difference.
Norwich City 2-0 Aston Villa
Norwich City condemned Aston Villa to their 13th defeat of the season as the Canaries climbed three points clear of the drop zone.
Jonny Howson gave the home side the lead when he struck at the far post in a game that lacked the quality, reminiscent of the position both sides occupy in the league. Jordan Ayew came closest to levelling the scores, his header straight at Declan Rudd and a free kick in stoppage time failing to hit the back of the net. Dieumerci Mbokani doubled the lead and secured a much needed three points for the Norfolk based side heading his side’s second past Brad Guzan.
The Villains are now 11 points clear of safety with only eight points from 19 league games, the halfway point in the season. Norwich joined both Chelsea and Bournemouth on 20 points, three points clear of the relegation zone.
Of the weekend’s other fixtures:
West Bromwich Albion 1-0 Newcastle United
Crystal Palace 0-0 Swansea City
Liverpool travel to the Boleyn Ground on 2nd January for the early kick off as Chelsea look to revenge a 2-1 defeat against Crystal Palace when the sides meet at Selhurst Park.
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