Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool
Walcott stunner completes outstanding Gunners comeback
Arsenal came from two goals behind to draw 2-2 against Liverpool in a thriller at Emirates Stadium.
Jordan Henderson had added to Luis Suarez's 17th league goal of the season to put Brendan Rodgers’ team in control at the hour mark but, just when it looked like the Reds were going to shed their flat-track-bully tag, the Gunners produced a storming revival, scoring two goals in three minutes through Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott.
In a grandstand finish, Arsene Wenger’s team went all-out for the winner but Liverpool remained resolute through a combination of grit, fortune and poor finishing from the hosts.
The draw means that Arsenal remained four points behind fourth-placed Tottenham in the race for the Champions League positions and it will agitate Wenger that they have mustered only a single point in league fixtures against Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool in January after some more abject defending on a marquee occasion.
The hosts recalled Jack Wilshere, Walcott, Santi Cazorla, fit-again Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna, Santi Cazorla and Kieran Gibbs to the team that began the 3-2 FA Cup win at Brighton.
For Liverpool, Rodgers also rung the changes, with skipper Steven Gerrard returning to the team alongside fit-again pair Pepe Reina and Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Lucas Leiva, Jamie Carragher and Stewart Downing.
It was like football in fast-forward in the early exchanges as the two teams traded lightning-quick attacks and clear goalscoring opportunities.
Suarez, starting on the left of the three attacking midfielders behind centre forward Daniel Sturridge, caused havoc with his uncanny ability to find space and also for some spectacular passes from out wide.
The Uruguayan's goal owed much to some calamitous defending from the home side. Sagna's slip allowed Johnson to run clear on the left and, after a hashed clearance from Vermaelen and a smothered shot from Sturridge, Jordan Henderson tapped the rebound to Suarez, whose shot deflected off a defender and in.
Arsenal responded by carving open Liverpool’s defence seemingly at will with some excellent combination play. The menacing Walcott (twice) and Giroud both coming close to scoring an equaliser.
Somehow, Liverpool held firm, although they had Gerrard to thank for an excellent last-ditch clearance that followed another zippy Arsenal attack.
Rodgers’ pre-match sermon appeared to have fired up the visitors, who were incisive in possession and pressed the hosts’ jittery defence into making mistakes as they ended the opening period the better team.
The one let-down was Henderson, who made a series of wonky passes when well placed. Yet the midfielder kept getting in good positions and came close to doubling the visitors’ advantage with a chipped shot on the cusp of half-time that landed on the roof of the net with Wojciech Szczesny stranded.
Following 15 minutes of second-half dominance from Arsenal, Henderson made another excellent run and finally made it count with a fine solo goal.
After turning past Per Mertesacker and outmuscling the substitute Andre Santos, the midfielder collected a lucky rebound after his first shot was saved to pass the ball into an empty net.
Arsenal were momentarily demoralised but were soon back in the game following two goals in three minutes.
The comeback began when Giroud headed in Jack Wilshere’s right-wing free kick for his fifth goal in three games and his 14th of the season.
But the best goal of the night came after 67 minutes, when Walcott, who had been lively all game on the wing, received a lay-off on the right side of the box and sent the ball flying into the far corner of the net with a shot of tremendous speed and precision.
Arsenal threw bodies forward as they went all out for the winner with some wonderful attacking play.
Giroud got in some excellent positions but was guilty of missing a hat-trick of chances late on, including a sitter with only a few minutes left on the clock.
Reading 2-2 Chelsea
Benitez on brink after injury-time collapse
A superb cameo from Adam Le Fondre sparked a remarkable late fightback as the Blues let a two-goal lead slip and saw more pressure piled on their interim manager
Second-half substitute Adam Le Fondre scored an injury-time winner as Reading staged a stunning comeback from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Chelsea at the Madejski Stadium on Wednesday night.
Juan Mata grabbed the opener, driving home from close range after a superb through-ball from Fernando Torres, before Lampard belted a header into the top corner halfway through the second half only for Le Fondre to hit twice in three minutes to stun the London side.
Brian McDermott made seven changes from the FA Cup win over Sheffield United, with Pavel Pogrebnyak returning to the starting line-up after being rested. Ryan Bertrand replaced the suspended Eden Hazard for Chelsea, Cesar Azpilicueta and Juan Mata also coming in at the expense of John Terry and Marko Marin.
The away side started to control the flow of the game after a turgid start, keeping possession for long periods, but were unable to make a quick impact on the Reading defence.
Ashley Cole blasted a long-range effort over the bar in the visitors’ first half-chance of the game, before Torres was shut out by Adrian Mariappa and Federici after a looping ball caused problems for the Reading defence.
Frank Lampard had a shot blocked as Chelsea continued to press, but Torres was penalised later on for clipping Mariappa after the defender sliced a simple clearance.
Gary Cahill then wasted a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock from a Lampard free kick, failing to connect with the ball when unmarked inside the penalty area as the missed chances started to mount up.
Cole blasted another speculative effort way off target, with Chelsea looking thoroughly out of idea heading into the break but, with with practically the last kick of the half the away side took the lead.
Torres collected the ball and scooped a delightful pass into the path of Mata, who fired the ball first time low past Federici.
Oscar should have made it two just five minutes in the second half when he sprung the offside trap to meet Lampard’s floated ball, but the youngster opted for an acrobatic finish when he had plenty of time to take a touch in the box.
Chelsea were not to rue the missed opportunity for long though as Lampard rose highest to meet Mata’s corner delivery to double his side’s lead and seemingly confirm all three points.
As the half went on, Reading continued to spurn their own rare opportunities with Ross Turnbull untested heading into the final 10 minutes.
But that record was not to last long as second-half substitute Le Fondre latched on to a through-ball from Hope Akpan to notch what looked like a consolation with the hosts first shot on target.
Ramires then forced a fine stop from Federici 30 yards out, before Le Fondre was there to equalise with a first-time volley from the edge of the area to send the home crowd into raptures and pile further pressure on Chelsea’s interim boss Rafael Benitez.
Manchester United 2-1 Southampton
Rooney fires twice to extend league lead
The Red Devils move seven points clear at the top of the Premier League while a first defeat in six games leaves the Saints only three points above the relegation zone
Manchester United came from a goal behind to take a seven point lead at the top of the Premier League with a 2-1 win over Southampton at Old Trafford.
Jay Rodriguez capitalised on a mistake from Michael Carrick to give the Saints a shock early lead but a double from Wayne Rooney had the hosts in front by half-time.
The Saints improved in the second half, with Rickie Lambert testing David de Gea on a couple of occasions, but the league leaders were worth their win despite a nervy end.
Sir Alex Ferguson reinstated Robin van Persie back into his attacking-looking starting line-up, with Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa and Rooney supporting the Dutchman while Nemanja Vidic returned in defence.
Mauricio Pochettino made two changes from the draw against Everton, Danny Fox and Rodriguez replacing Luke Shaw and Guly do Prado.
The hosts got off to an awful start when Carrick's backpass put De Gea in all sorts of trouble in the third minute. Rodriguez pounced, taking a touch to beat the United keeper before passing it into an open net.
The Saints' lead didn't last long, however, as Rooney fired the hosts level five minutes later when he timed his run on to Kagawa's lobbed pass and stroked the ball easily past Artur Boruc.
The Japan international was involved again moments later, getting down the left flank and cutting inside before striking a shot on to the near post.
Southampton were pegged back in their own half from then on and could only hold off the Red Devils' attacking onslaught until the 27th minute.
Van Persie drifted a deep free kick towards Boruc's back post, where Evra was on hand to head the ball back across the box for Rooney to turn into the net from a yard out.
The Saints started the second period brightly, with Lambert forcing De Gea to make his first save with a tame volley.
Pochettino's men continued to apply pressure and could have gone ahead on the hour mark when Lambert hit the target with a fierce free kick. De Gea spilled the initial effort but cleared before Adam Lallana could pounce on the loose ball.
United weathered the Saints' storm and then created some chances of their own with Rooney and Kagawa combining to drive Sir Alex Ferguson's side forward.
Van Persie thought that he had added his name to the scoresheet in the 75th minute when he headed past Boruc at the second time of asking but the Dutchman had his celebrations cut short by a harsh offside decision.
Lambert then came close to grabbing the equaliser with another free kick; the Saints striker curled an effort perfectly over the wall only to see De Gea make an outstanding low save.
Rooney then wasted a chance to seal his hat-trick when he was slid through by Van Persie but the England forward took a bad touch, allowing Boruc to smother.