Premiership Super Sunday Delivers

Triumphant outcomes for the two Manchester sides, while gloom descended on the north side of London after Sunday’s highly anticipated Premiership fixtures more than exceeded their pre-match billing. The second half of Man City – Spurs was as exhilarating a tie as any witnessed in the Premiership this season, a dramatic result that saw City take all three points in play moments after it appeared that Tottenham had claimed them. Spurs only consolation perhaps was seeing Arsenal’s misery extended by a late Man United winner and Arsene Wenger in an unprecedented defensive posture, the pressure from fans piling up relentlessly. The Premiership crown now appears surely destined for Manchester.

Manchester City – Tottenham Hotspur 3-2

LONDON (AP) — Manchester City turned the Premier League into what looks like a two-horse race Sunday with a dramatic 3-2 win over Tottenham, leaving Manchester United its only likely rival for the English title.

Third-place Tottenham fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Etihad Stadium, but Jermain Defoe missed an injury-time chance for the visitors and Mario Balotelli won the game for City with a penalty he had earned himself. Fouled by Tottenham captain Ledley King, the Italy striker took a step, paused and shot calmly past goalkeeper Brad Friedel to give City an 11th win from 11 home matches in this season’s Premier League.

City is eight points clear of Spurs but defending champion United is still only three behind after a 2-1 win at Arsenal. But Balotelli was fortunate to still be on the field to score after referee Howard Webb missed an apparent stamp by the already-booked striker on the head of grounded Tottenham midfielder Scott Parker.

Accidental?  No.  Reflexive?  Yes.

Accidental? No. Reflexive? Yes.

“Shouldn’t have been on the pitch,” Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said. “He kicked Scott Parker in the head. He does it a lot. He back heeled him in the face and cut his head. No one can make excuses that he didn’t do it. “Anyone can see he did do it.”

The game came to life in the 56th with a flurry of four goals in 10 minutes. David Silva split the visiting defense with a pass into Samir Nasri’s feet, leaving the France midfielder to rifle a rising shot past Friedel from about 12 meters (yards). Joleon Lescott then bundled the ball across the line from close range following a cross from Nasri.

But Defoe got a goal back within a minute with a shot into an unguarded net from a narrow angle and it was 2-2 five minutes after that, Bale equalizing with a spectacular left-foot shot from a central position that curled away from diving goalkeeper Joe Hart and into the top right corner.

Spurs could have closed to within two points of City had Defoe managed to knock in Gareth Bale’s low injury-time pass across goal, but the England striker could only poke the ball past the far post at full stretch.

Arsenal – Manchester United 1-2
Report from BBC Sport

Danny Welbeck’s late strike gave Manchester United victory at Arsenal and kept them three points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City. After a quiet opening Ryan Giggs picked out Antonio Valencia to head United in front at the far post. Arsenal improved after the break and although Robin van Persie missed a clear chance, he made amends by finding the bottom corner from 15 yards out. But United won it as Valencia ghosted through and Welbeck lashed home. A third successive defeat was harsh on the Gunners, who were in the ascendancy for much of the second period.

Whilst there was never any danger of a repeat of their 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford in August, defensive concerns were evident again and they remain in danger of not qualifying for the Champions League, in which they have competed for the last 14 seasons. Two of the great returning characters in the serial drama between two sides with 15 Premier League titles between them did not have lead roles, Thierry Henry failing a fitness test and Paul Scholes on the bench.

Arsene Wenger focused on his younger generation, former Southampton widemen Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain supporting Van Persie in attack against a United defence missing Rio Ferdinand because of back trouble.
The visitors were given added inconvenience defensively in the early stages by an injury to Phil Jones, who was stretchered off after twisting his ankle.

Despite the occasional burst from the lively Oxlade-Chamberlain the opening half an hour was played at a surprisingly low tempo. With Arsenal unable to find their fluency it was United who began to pose more threat with their patient build-up play. Patrice Evra eluded Alex Song and cut back from the byeline to Nani whose first-time effort from 10 yards was well kept out low to his right by Wojciech Szczesny. Nani then exposed Johan Djourou’s positional weakness down the United left, but produced neither a telling pass nor shot as the ball drifted harmlessly across goal. However, United were ahead when Giggs was given time to curl in a delicious centre that Valencia attacked with more vigour than Thomas Vermaelen, again employed at full-back.

Such was Wenger’s concern with Djourou on the opposite side that he brought on 18-year-old Nicholas Yennaris to replace him at half-time. A slip by Chris Smalling should have given Arsenal an equaliser, Tomas Rosicky unselfishly laying the ball back to Van Persie, who weaved round two defenders but blazed his shot wide.

Arsenal finally began to construct some useful passing patterns and after Oxlade-Chamberlain squared to Aaron Ramsey the Welshman jinked into a shooting position, only to fire over. United still presented concerns to Arsenal’s fragile backline and Welbeck outpaced Per Mertesacker. The Arsenal defender appeared to clip Welbeck outside the area but the England striker stayed on his feet and touched past Szczesny, though Mertesacker was able to hook off the line.

A classically constructed move then brought Arsenal level. Laurent Koscielny calmly played his way out of defence and found Rosicky, who picked out Oxlade-Chamberlain with a crossfield pass. The winger jinked inside and delivered a perfectly-timed pass for Van Persie to dispatch.

To the dismay of the Arsenal faithful, who could sense victory, Oxlade-Chamberlain was withdrawn in favour of the rather less popular Andrey Arshavin, and the Russian did nothing to endear himself by failing to halt Valencia’s marauding run into the box, with Welbeck slamming home the loose ball nine minutes from time.