Arsenal 7, Blackburn Rovers 1
Gunners Use Width to Rediscover Scoring Touch
Arsenal finally rediscovered the goalscoring habit and hit seven past lowly Blackburn Rovers. It was the way that the Gunners used their natural width that defined the free-scoring performance.
Wide men Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain led the way. The duo regularly made well-timed runs inside the full-back and central defender and provided a consistent outlet for Arsenal to utilise on the counterattack.
One such run led to a second-minute lead for Arsene Wenger's team. Walcott was picked out by makeshift right back Francis Coquelin and dragged the ball across the box for Robin van Persie to nudge the Gunners in front.
This familiar combination linked up again after Rovers had equalised via a Morten Gamst Pedersen free kick. This time it was Alex Song who spotted Walcott's run and hit him in stride with a decisive through pass. Walcott reversed the ball to Van Persie and the Gunners skipper turned it in to put Arsenal back in front.
Walcott and Van Persie then combined moments later with the England speedster laying the ball off to the cerebral Dutchman who slotted a nice pass into the path of Oxlade-Chamberlain. The 18-year-old rounded Paul Robinson and netted his first Premier League goal for Arsenal.
In the second half, Walcott again got loose and stretched Blackburn's defense with his sprinter's speed. He slid the ball into path of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had the pace to match him on the break and the youngster slammed home his second goal of the day.
This is how Arsenal's front three is supposed to function. Fluid movement and quick interchanges at pace can expose any defense and the Gunners have the natural speed to utilise these tactics against any opposition.
Nobody is going to catch Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain when they are in full flight. Van Persie has the flair, creative instincts and passing range to drop into space and pick out the passes to match their runs.
Playing to the speed of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain allows Arsenal to be more direct and move the ball more quickly. They can bypass the quagmire created by teams who choose to crowd the midfield and close off the space for the short passing game.
Arsenal have struggled this season playing a system based around the talents of Cesc Fabregas, without a player possessing the similar skills. By emphasising the wingers more, the Gunners can reduce the need for and reliance on a central playmaker.
Manchester City 3-0 Fulham
Sergio Aguero leads hosts to comfortable victory as they move three points clear at top of Premier League
Routine win despite extremely snowy conditions at the Etihad Stadium with the majestic Argentine, Edin Dzeko and a Chris Baird own-goal sealing the win for Roberto Mancini's side
Stefan Savic came into the City backline in place of injured captain Vincent Kompany, with Aleksandar Kolarov and Adam Johnson also replacing Gael Clichy and James Milner, respectively.
Martin Jol re-instated Mark Schwarzer to his line-up and opted for Baird rather than John Arne Riise at left-back for the Cottagers, while Clint Dempsey partnered Moussa Dembele in attack.
Roberto Mancini's team started dominantly and had early chances through Dzeko, firing into Schwarzer's arms before flicking over from Gareth Barry's cross under pressure from Brede Hangeland.
The home side had a glorious chance to open the scoring after ten minutes, Adam Johnson jinking his way into the box before going over Baird's outstretched leg. Mike Dean pointed to the spot and Aguero dispatched the penalty with ease.
The Cottagers were struggling to get a foothold in the game with City dominating possession, but they looked to work a way back into the game as Simon Davies' shot low towards goal, but his effort was saved by Hart.
City constantly looked dangerous on the break, with Aguero's play particularly ominous as the Argentine tricked his way into the box and with no Fulham players wanting to make a challenge, cut the ball back to Silva who prodded wide.
Fulham were feeding off scraps, although Duff worried Hart with a searching effort that almost crept in at the far post.
However, City went straight up the other end and doubled their lead. Kolarov's deep cross from the left fell to Johnson who fired the ball back across goal and with Baird unfortunately positioned, the Ulsterman was only able to cannon a deflection past Schwarzer.
The home side had another shout for a penalty moments later as Silva went down under Dickson Etuhu's challenge in the box, with the Nigerian not seeming to contact the ball, but referee Dean declined the hosts' pleas.
Mancini's men continued on the offensive for the rest of the first half but were unable to breach the Fulham backline another time before half-time.
Aguero fires City on their way to three points with early penalty
The west Londoners started the second half better, keeping the ball well but ultimately unable to break down City's defence, with Savic looking much improved from his previously nervy outings.
The home side were also forced into making an early change, Nasri limping off with just eight minutes gone in the second-half, getting replaced by James Milner.
Snow had fallen throughout much of the game, and the groundstaff were summoned to clear the lines of the pitch that had become obscured under a wintery blanket.
As the snow became stronger, the action failed to warm up, although Stephen Kelly almost troubled an off-balanced Hart with a toe-poked effort, before the England number one dealt comfortably with Baird's rifled free-kick.
City were stunned into action, Aguero turned neatly in the box, but saw his shot blocked by Danny Murphy before Kolarov curled a close-range free-kick over the bar.
Soon after, City had their third. Aguero picked the ball up on the left flank, darted into the box, breezing past Senderos and Davies before squaring to the unmarked Dzeko, who tapped home from eight yards.
With the game all but won for City, Mancini brought off Aguero to a standing ovation and replaced the Argentine with Nigel de Jong to shore up the midfield for the final ten minutes.
Fulham continued to chase a late goal, Riise stinging Hart's palms, but they were unable to find the net and City kept yet another home clean sheet as they move three points clear of Manchester United at the top of the table, with the Champions in action at Chelsea on Sunday.
... to be followed ...
The matches: Chelsea vs Man Utd will be played today and Liverpool vs Tottenham will be played tomorrow.