Chelsea stayed atop the Premier League table with an unexpectedly tough 2-1 win over London rivals Queens Park Rangers thanks to a penalty tucked away by Eden Hazard. But Southampton, the surprise team so far in this young season, kept up their chase thanks to a super early goal from Victor Wanyama to see off Hull 1-0.
Arsenal remained in the top four after they downed bottom-feeders Burnley 3-0, but West Ham recovered at Stoke, 2-2, to keep the pressure on their London rivals. They are level on points with the Gunners, but sit in fifth only by virtue of goal difference.
The results increase the pressure on Manchester City ahead of tomorrow’s derby against Manchester United: the champions sit seven points behind the Blues and are in ominous form, with a draw at CSKA followed by losses to West Ham and then Newcastle, the latter eliminating the holders from the League Cup.
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London derbies are never easy, but Jose Mourinho will feel lucky tonight to have come away with three points against a battling Rangers side that seemed to do enough to at least deserve a point.
Chelsea had played the game at a canter after Oscar had opened the scoring in spectacular fashion on the half hour. It was a goal that will be considered as one of the best of the season, a curling shot struck with the outside of his right boot that bent away from the despairing Richard Dunne and then tucked past the diving Robert Green to nestle into the net at the far post.
But Rangers did not give up, and after the break, their talisman, Charlie Austin, clawed them back into the match. Eduardo Vargas forced Thibaut Courtois to parry the ball out with a stinging shot from out wide right on the hour, but the keeper only punched as far out as Leroy Fer. Fer’s volley was then cunningly backheeled to the near post by Austin, and Courtois was picking the ball out of the back of his net.
But Vargas, who has a goal and two assists in his three Premier League starts, would become the goat late. Needlessly hacking down Hazard in the box with 15 minutes to play, he allowed the Belgian to pick his spot, sending Green the wrong way on the penalty. That ended up killing the game, and even if Harry Redknapp will see plenty of bright spots from his team’s performance today, it still leaves Rangers in the drop zone, with a game against Manchester City next up on the docket.
Across London at the Emirates, Alexis Sanchez put on a clinic to drag a depleted and at times depressed Arsenal side past Burnley, 3-0. Sanchez had two goals in a game that was far closer than the scoreline suggests, with the Clarets frustrating Arsenal for long stretches. Waves of Arsenal pressure saw shots fly in, but they were blocked, parried or just plain missed.
Alexis finally broke the deadlock with twenty to play, rising to head home a Calum Chambers cross. Chambers would nick his first goal for the club three minutes later, bundling a deflected shot from Danny Welbeck over the line. Alexis then got his third at the death, past keeper Tom Heaton, who deserved far better on the day.
Stoke looked as though they had halted West Ham’s fine recent form, only to let a two-goal lead slip and allow the Hammers a 2-2 road draw.
Victor Moses had given the Potters a deserved first half lead, tucking home a throw-in from Geoff Cameron that pinballed about in the area, just past Adrian. Mame Diouf nicked Stoke’s second when Jon Walters beat Aaron Cresswell out wide, and simply lofted a ball up that the big man leapt to head home.
With Diafra Sakho sidelined, Enner Valencia had been kept quiet for much of the match, but he gave the Hammers a lifeline with a half hour to go when he headed home a cross from Stewart Downing. Then, Downing drew the Hammers level for good with a scorching shot from the top of the box.
Southampton rode a freak goal in the third minute from Wanyama to see off Hull. Third string keeper Eldin Jakupovic showed why he is not a regular starter, sending a dreadful outlet right to Wanyama’s feet for him to hit a first-time shot into an open net from 40 yards out.
Everton and Swansea ended in a 0-0 draw that saw Jonjo Shelvey ejected late in the game for a professional foul. Swansea will argue they should have had more out of the game: Shelvey saw his shot in the first half handled by Antolin Alcaraz, but ref Kevin Friend declined to give what appeared to be a clear penalty.
But after Shelvey was sent marching for hauling down Ross Barkley, Everton began to ratchet up the pressure. It was just one of those days for the Toffees, however, summed up best at the death when Samuel Eto’o whipped in a cross that just eluded the wide-open Romelu Lukau at the post.
West Bromwich Albion collected an unlikely 1-0 win over Leicester off a freak goal that left the Foxes without a win in their last five games. Since the Foxes knocked off Manchester United in a 5-3 stunner in September, they have been impotent, scoring just two goals - unless, of course, you count the ones they have put into their own net.
Esteban Cambiasso became the latest Fox to be bit, knocking the ball past Kasper Schmeichel. It was hardly his fault: Saido Berahino had crossed a ball in that Wes Morgan - with time to clear - panicked on, diving to head the ball right at his fellow defender. Cambiasso could not get out of the way, the ball was in the net and Leicester are now just a point above the drop zone.