zaterdag 24 maart 2012

"Premier League" Report: March 24

Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa
Gibbs, Walcott & Arteta strikes see Gunners extend lead over Champions League rivals
Wenger's men saw off their opponents in a fine team display that never looked in doubt, forcing Given into a number of good saves and topping it off with a clean sheet

EPL, Arsenal Vs Aston Villa, Kieran Gibbs 

Arsenal pulled away from top-four chasing rivals Tottenham and Chelsea after a comfortable 3-0 win against Aston Villa at the Emirates.

The Gunners were dominant in the first-half and took the lead when Kieran Gibbs netted his first ever Premier League goal thanks to an unconvincing attempt of a save from Shay Given. 

Theo Walcott doubled the score later in the half before a confident display in the second which brought a third from a Mikel Arteta free-kick.

Gervinho returned for the home side in his first league start since returning from the African Cup of Nations, leaving Aaron Ramsey to drop to the bench.

As for the visitors, Alex McLeish went with Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor to lead the line with the match-winner against Fulham, Andreas Weimann, left out. Charles N'Zogbia was still missing with a knee problem.

Wenger was dealt an early blow before kick-off when Laurent Koscielny injured himself in the warm-up, Johan Djourou replaced him in the line-up.

Things got worse for the Gunners' boss when the Swiss defender himself was then down for a prolonged period, just three minutes in, after a challenge with Emile Heskey left him with a blood stained jersey. However the 25-year-old played on after getting a new shirt.

When play got flowing, it was a usual day at the office for the Gunners, who dominated opening spells of possession at the Emirates, although the visitors mustered the first chance after a swift counter-attack from an Arsenal corner. Marc Albrighton rushed clear, as Villa had three on two, but smashed his effort high and wide.

From then on though it was very much one way traffic. 

Great work from Bacary Sagna and Walcott on the right-flank saw the full-back advance forward before finding Robin van Persie in the box. The Dutchman flicked it with his heel into the path on Walcott, who had continued run, but the winger's shot was straight at Given. Sagna lashed the follow up wide.

The deadlock was broken rather easily for Arsenal after quarter of an hour, Gibbs received the ball from Gervinho inside the opponents' box, he was given far too much room and was allowed to hit it with the ball slipping under the Villa keeper, who will feel he should have done better.

And it wasn't long before the hosts doubled their lead.

Carlos Cuellar gifted the ball to Alex Song with a poor pass from the back, the Cameroon midfielder then found Walcott with a delightful ball over the top before the winger controlled wonderfully and produced a calm finish 25 minutes in.

That second goal signalled a period of meltdown for Mcleish's men.

A minute later Thomas Vermaelen fired a low cross towards Van Persie who, in his current form, you would have backed to score but he caught it with his shin and missed the target.

Then, Given was forced into a top save from Arteta, the Irish keeper doing well to tip over the Spaniard's long range drive.

Villa did manage to get a slight foothold in the game after that, seeing their share of possession rise, but it was Arsenal who conjured up the last chance of the half. 

With just over five minutes until the break, Song played Van Persie in beyond the visitors' defence. Initially the ball got stuck under his boots, but a lovely drawback helped the captain beat a scrambling Given presenting him with an open goal, however the striker was denied by some brilliant positioning from Stephen Warnock who blocked his shot off the line. 

Villa looked more lively at the start of the second-half but failed to create any real chances, although they did have a shout for a penalty turned down when Agbonlahor appealed for handball from Djourou. 

The 15 minutes after the restart were open but didn't bring any clear chances.

Gary Gardner brought down Tomas Rosicky in a dangerous area but Arteta's free-kick hit the wall. Wojciech Szczesny then gave the ball straight to Villa when trying to launch a quick move, before catching the cross and managing to successfully start a counterattack but Gervinho's end cross was too far ahead of his team-mates.

Arsenal looked very happy to just keep the ball as the hour mark approached and the home crowd certainly appreciated a lovely bit of showboating from Van Persie as he teased James Collins on the left-flank.

Rosicky, then had two decent chances in the space of five minutes. Firstly Gibbs whipped in a cross from the left with the ball falling to the Czech midfielder after Walcott was beaten in air, but his volley was deflected wide.

The second effort forced another decent stop from Given, the 31-year-old's swerving effort parried away by the keeper.

Villa had a golden opportunity to get back into the match, with 20 minutes left, Andre Santos gave the ball to Weimann with his first touch of the game, but the visitors' substitute crossed to no-one when shooting himself would have been a better option.

Arteta was next in line to test Given, but his free-kick from a wide left position was tipped over by the 35-year-old - although no corner was awarded. Steven Ireland giving away the foul when on a booking, after a jinxing run from the lively Walcott.

And lining up they were, Aaron Ramsey then fired a low shot towards goal after a neat turn away from his man, however the shot went narrowly wide of the mark.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was introduced with just over ten minutes to play and was convinced he should have had a penalty after a lunge from Ireland. The winger accelerated through the gears down the right before the Villa man lunged it right on the edge of the box, however replays showed he got the ball.

Weimann had one final chance for the visitors as the ball fell to him behind the defence, the forward hesitated though and allowed Djourou to get back and block the shot.

The Gunners then rubbed salt in the wounds by adding a late third in stoppage time with a fantastic free-kick from Arteta that left Given with no chance.

The result sees Wenger's men go three points ahead of bitter rivals Tottenham, who drew 0-0 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier in the day, and five points clear of Roberto Di Matteo's side in the race for fourth spot.

Chelsea 0-0 Tottenham
Visitors maintain five-point gap over Di Matteo's men to boost top four chances
Juan Mata crashed a free-kick off the bar for the hosts before Spurs' Gareth Bale headed onto the bar as a hotly-contested London derby ended in a stalemate

Emmanuel Adebayor & Frank Lampard  

Tottenham maintained their five-point lead over Chelsea in the Premier League with an action-packed 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Juan Mata came closest for the hosts in the second half, curling a free-kick onto the upright with Brad Friedel rooted to the spot.

However, Spurs had perhaps the best of the chances, with blocks on the line from Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor, and a Gareth Bale header off their bar their biggest openings.

In his sixth game in charge of the Blues, Roberto Di Matteo made five changes to the side which lost 2-1 to Manchester City in midweek. Captain John Terry and full-back Jose Bosingwa returned in defence in the place of Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz, whilst former Liverpool duo Raul Meireles and Fernando Torres made way for Daniel Sturridge and Didier Drogba respectively. Elsewhere, Jon Obi Mikel dropped to the bench as Michael Essien took up his place in midfield.

Spurs skipper Ledley King dropped out of the visitors’ starting lineup for ex-Chelsea defender William Gallas, due to his inability to complete consecutive games in a short space of time, as Sandro replaced Niko Krancjar in midfield. Adebayor, who missed the midweek game against his parent club, came in for Louis Saha.

Tottenham came into the match having never won a Premier League game at Stamford Bridge, and they looked like a side bereft of the confidence to buck that trend during the opening exchanges. Several nervy passes saw the visitors lose possession and they were very nearly opened up within five minutes as Ramires passed inside to Drogba only for the Ivorian’s clever flick to run just beyond Frank Lampard’s burst into the box.

Though the early threat had at first appeared to settle Harry Redknapp’s side, they were almost caught cold again just 10 minutes in as Terry’s long pass almost found Drogba alone in the box. Unfortunately for the hosts, the African forward failed to control but the opportunity to utilise his presence had been underlined.

With the sun shining down on west London, Stamford Bridge gave the appearance of an end-of-season fixture and, within 20 minutes, the game had settled into that pattern. Both sides were content to pass the ball along the back, refraining from bursting forward in fear of leaving themselves exposed.

Chelsea provided one moment of menace though, in which Drogba cleverly flicked a first-time ball behind the Spurs defence which just escaped Mata’s intelligent run, but this proved to be a highlight of a one-paced opening.

Runs from deep seemed to provide the hosts’ best chance of breaking a stubborn Spurs backline, but Lampard saw his penalty claims waved away as he made contact with William Gallas whilst trying to shoot following a late burst. 

After a slow start, the match came to life on the half-hour mark as some desperate defending from Spurs led to a breakneck counterattack which saw Adebayor deceive two defenders before just failing to pick out full-back Kyle Walker’s back post run.

Following a brief interlude for a Drogba injury, Ashley Cole then found acres of space down the left hand side but failed to make sufficient contact with the ball and saw his cross bounce limply into the arms of Friedel.

For much of the half Spurs had failed to show the gung-ho attacking nature for which they have been widely praised this season but they almost went in at half-time with a barely deserved lead. The previously anonymous Luka Modric turned cleverly in the box before setting up Van der Vaart, only for the Dutchman to see two efforts blocked brilliantly by Petr Cech and then Ashley Cole on the line before Adebayor headed agonisingly over.

In truth, neither side’s contribution to the game warranted a lead and both sets of fans will likely have hoped for more entertainment after a cagey first period.

They very nearly got their wish as early Tottenham pressure led to a Chelsea break which saw Scott Parker just get enough on Drogba’s cross-field ball to Ramires, who would have been in on goal.

Gallas’ inability to control Drogba then again led to a chance as the forward headed powerfully into the path of the onrushing Sturridge, who powered wide of the far post on his favoured left foot.

Bale has at times been crucial for Redknapp’s men this term but much of their attacking malaise could be put down to the Welshman’s failure to have an impact. That was until his jinking run from a central position allowed Walker to find space in the box, but the defender could only shoot into the side-netting with more time than he perhaps expected.

With his defence looking under more pressure from an increasingly adventurous Spurs in the second half, Di Matteo replaced Bosingwa with Luiz only for the Brazilian to see more of the ball in an attacking sense within five minutes of his introduction.

Given the cautious nature of the match, it was clear that it would take something special to break the deadlock and Mata almost provided that with 20 minutes remaining. The Spaniard stepped up to hit a free-kick from 25 yards and curled the ball onto the post with Friedel stranded.

The Blues’ frustration at failing to gain a lead led to the introduction of the much-maligned Torres in place of Essien, whilst Van der Vaart and Sandro made way for Saha and Jake Livermore as the visitors looked to freshen things up.

The substitutions did seem to add more attacking impetus to both sides but Drogba typified the toothless nature of both forward lines as he shot tamely when given the opportunity to turn in the box. 

Spurs’ African forward, Adebayor, then showed equal wastefulness at the other end moments later as he rounded Cech following a ball over the top only to allow Cahill to slide in and clear a low and weak shot. Bale, who had grown into the game as space began to open up, was then unfortunate to see his header crash back off the bar from the subsequent corner.

Both sides attempted to push forward in the closing stages, with a generous four minutes of added time given, but they tempered their attacking instincts with a loss seen as a potentially disastrous result.

Bale's low free-kick almost caught Cech by surprise at the death but the Blues defence held firm to earn a hard-earned point.

Liverpool 1-2 Wigan
Maloney & Caldwell cancel out Suarez strike to consign Dalglish's men to fifth league defeat in six
A first-half penalty from the Irishman and a superb finish from the central defender give the Latics hope in their attempts to stave off relegation from the Premier League

EPL: Steven Gerrard - Gary Caldwell, Liverpool v Wigan Athletic  

Wigan Athletic earned their first ever victory at Anfield thanks to a hard-earned 2-1 victory over Liverpool after goals from Shaun Maloney and Gary Caldwell.

The first half was initially a quite cagey affair, and possession was largely dominated by the home side. However, they found themselves frustrated by a sturdy Wigan defence, and it was the away side who took the lead after they were awarded a penalty for a foul by Martin Skrtel on Victor Moses. Shaun Maloney stepped up for the Latics, and put it away to give them a 1-0 lead, which they held on to until half-time.

By contrast, the second half begun with an instant equaliser for Liverpool thanks to a good finish by Luis Suarez from a Steven Gerrard cross. However, the Uruguayan then had a goal disallowed after punching the ball over the line. But, after a superb finish by central defender Gary Caldwell, the away side took the lead again, and held on for a famous victory.

The home side made two enforced changes to their starting side from their 3-2 loss to QPR in their last game. Martin Kelly and Charlie Adam were both forced to withdraw, and were replaced by 19-year-old John Flanagan and Jordan Henderson respectively. Meanwhile, Wigan were unchanged from their 1-1 draw against West Brom last Saturday, with Franco di Santo retaining his place as the lone striker.

It was a positive start by Wigan, who looked enterprising and were keeping the home side pinned in their own half in the opening few minutes, as the Reds struggled to keep hold of possession. Any breaks forward by Liverpool were well-contained by the Latics, with Jean Beausejour in particular impressing in the opening ten minutes for Wigan.

The away side were doing a good job of frustrating Liverpool and breaking up their attacks, and in the 11th minute it was Wigan that had the first clear chance. Victor Moses broke in to the penalty area, and took the ball onto his favoured left foot for a shot that was blocked, but he could have played in Shaun Maloney for a tap-in. It was by the far the best opening for either side, and Maloney’s frustration at not receiving the pass was evident.

As the half wore on, the home side were beginning to dominate the possession far more, with their captain Steven Gerrard beginning to grow into the game in the centre of midfield and the Liverpool attacking play. However, Wigan were defending stoutly and keeping the ball well to frustrate their opponents and silence their vociferous home support.

However, Liverpool were able to find their best chance of the afternoon in the 24th minute after some superb build-up play around the Wigan penalty area. A cheeky flick by Luis Suarez played in Stewart Downing unmarked in the box, but his shot flashed across the face of goal when he should probably have hit the target.

Within seconds, Wigan had a free kick, and after some confusion in the home side’s penalty area, the dangerous Moses received a boot in the face from Martin Skrtel, and the referee Lee Mason awarded a penalty to the Latics. After some confusion due to the absence of regular penalty-taker Hugo Rodallega and the injury received by Moses in that passage of play, Maloney stepped up and placed the ball into the net superbly, giving the away side a 1-0 lead.

 The frustration was growing among the Liverpool fans at their inability to hold onto the ball and get any decisions in their favour from the referee, and despite some speculative long-distance efforts, were unable to create any clear openings and ended the first half a goal down.

The second half began with Andy Carroll being brought on for Liverpool in place of Jordan Henderson, and the home side immediately found an equaliser. Gerrard played a superb ball into the box, and it was tucked away by Suarez to bring the scores level at 1-1. It was a great finish from the Uruguayan, and gave Ali Al-Habsi no chance in the Latics’ goal. 

Suarez was then back in the action a few minutes later, as after a great deal of congestion in the Wigan penalty area, he managed to bundle the ball home from close-range. However, to the fury of the Liverpool bench, the goal was disallowed and Suarez was deservedly booked after punching the ball over the line with his hand.

After few chances in the following minutes, Wigan made a break forward in the 63rd minute, and after selling Andy Carroll a superb dummy, central defender Gary Caldwell found himself in acres of space in the penalty area and finished coolly past Liverpool’s Jose Reina to give the Latics the lead again. This gave the away side a much-needed lift, and breathed new confidence into their play.

Frustration then began to creep into Liverpool’s play as they struggled to break down the Wigan defence, which continued to hold firm in the face of increasing pressure. However, despite a free kick in the 83rd minute just outside the penalty area that went straight into the wall, the home side were unable to create any clear chances, and were condemned to a second straight Premier League defeat.

Stoke City 1-1 Manchester City
Yaya Toure screamer salvages point to move visitors top after Crouch wondergoal
Roberto Mancini's side go ahead of rivals United in the league, with the Red Devils playing Fulham on Monday, after a hard-earned draw with a battling Potters team

EPL: Yaya Toure - Kolo Toure, Stoke City v Manchester City 

Manchester City returned to the top of the Premier League with a 1-1 draw against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.

The Potters took the lead in the second half through Peter Crouch, as the England international volleyed in a stunning strike.

However, City recovered as Yaya Toure smashed home from range, his effort helped in thanks to a slight deflection off Ryan Shawcross.

Stoke made three changes to the team that drew at Tottenham during the week, with Matthew Etherington coming in for Jermaine Pennant, Dean Whitehead starting in place of Salif Diao and Wilson Palacios dropping to the bench for Glenn Whelan.

The visitors came into this match on the back of their 2-1 win over Chelsea and they made just two changes to that side. In midfield Nigel de Jong took a place on the bench, being replaced by Gareth Barry, and Edin Dzeko replaced Sergio Aguero in attack after the Argentine picked up a foot injury at the team’s hotel.

The match made a very slow and tentative start, with neither side creating any real chances in the opening moments, but Cameron Jerome almost made the breakthrough in the 12th minute as he looked to get on the end of Crouch’s header, but his attempted scissor-kick just missed the ball.

City began to assert control on the possession, but both sides continued to cancel each other out, and a head injury to David Silva hardly helped matters as play was halted for several minutes.

As the match closed in on the half-hour mark the Stoke fans were yelling for a penalty as Kolo Toure barged Crouch to the floor to allow Joe Hart a chance to collect the ball at a corner, but Howard Webb wasn’t interested.

City should then have opened the scoring in the 34th minute. Samir Nasri cleverly played Gael Clichy down the line and the left-back whipped in an excellent cross to the far post, but Dzeko couldn’t get his header on target, when he should have at least forced Asmir Begovic into a save.

Soon after it was Pablo Zabaleta who should have scored, receiving a pass from Nasri as he marched into the right side of the penalty area, but the Argentine decided to take a touch rather than shoot first time and Stoke were able to clear.

Thankfully the action had begun to quicken as the first half went on and the visitors were forced to clear off their goal line as half-time approached. Etherington’s left-footed corner managed to go through everyone and towards the far post, but Zabaleta was there to hook the ball out from under the crossbar.

It didn’t take long after the break for City carve open the Stoke defence. Dzeko got himself on the end of a long ball from midfield, and after taking it down he proceeded to take it round Begovic, but the Bosnian goalkeeper was able to get enough on his compatriot’s shot to concede a corner.

Stoke almost had a reason to shout for themselves five minutes later as Whelan’s cross from deep was headed back across the goal by Jerome, but Hart blocked a combined headed effort from Jonathan Walters and Shawcross.

Both sides continued to struggle to truly control the match, but Stoke opened the scoring just before the hour, and what an incredible strike it was.

Begovic smashed the ball up field, for Pennant to nod the ball back to Crouch, and the former Liverpool man chested the ball down onto his knee and then let rip a stunning volley from the right-hand side that dipped into the top far corner, leaving Hart no chance.

Stoke’s goal forced City to attack with more purpose, but after Mario Balotelli was denied by Begovic, and Yaya Toure had a strike easily saved, they looked to Carlos Tevez to work his magic from the bench.

With 15 minutes left, the visitors levelled the score, but it didn’t come through Tevez, rather Yaya Toure. The Ivorian let fly from about 35 yards and despite getting two hands to it, Begovic could keep it out as the ball nestled in the goal.

Replays suggest Shawcross deflected the strike slightly, therefore perhaps taking some of the blame off Begovic, but the Bosnian will be extremely disappointed with his effort.

As full-time got closer, it became evident that the home team were looking to sit back and catch their opponents on the counterattack, and it almost worked perfectly as Walters broke and the ball eventually found its way to Pennant on the right, he crossed only for Wilson Palacios’ header to be knocked behind by Adam Johnson.

Substitute Palacios was acting as an effective driving force in the centre after coming on and he went close again as stoppage time approached, attempting to curl an effort round Hart into the top corner, but it whistled just wide.

Hart almost gifted Stoke the three points in the closing stages as he failed to keep a hold of a free-kick, but Kenwyne Jones was penalised and City held on for the point that takes them top until at least Monday.


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