Arsenal cruise with ease win over Villa and go top

LONDON – Seventeen years ago to the day Aston Villa were 2-0 down at home against Arsenal at half-time and came back to win 3-2. While the scoreline was the same at the interval here, history never looked like repeating itself as Arsenal took their place at the Premier League summit and condemned Villa to a defeat that leaves them looking desperately lonely at the other end of the table.

Football Soccer - Aston Villa v Arsenal - Barclays Premier League - Villa Park - 13/12/15 Aaron Ramsey scores the second goal for Arsenal

Olivier Giroud’s 50th Premier League goal, via a penalty kick after some strange refereeing from Kevin Friend, put Arsenal on their way and a routine victory was effectively wrapped up when Aaron Ramsey broke away and added a second seven minutes before half-time following yet another Mesut Özil assist. It was a superb team goal, showed Arsenal at their counterattacking best, and emphasised the chasm in class.

While Villa improved in the second half, when they at least played with some intensity, the damage was done and there was no way back for a team who look destined to start next season in the Championship. Villa have now gone a club-record 15 league games without a win, they remain eight points adrift of safety, and Rémi Garde could be forgiven for privately wishing that Arsène Wenger, his mentor, had talked him out of, and not into, this thankless job.

As for Arsenal, this was the sort of match they had to win if they are going to mount a legitimate title challenge. Özil, who has created 13 Premier League goals this season, showed some splendid touches, Giroud followed his midweek hat-trick against Olympiakos with his 11th goal in his past 13 appearances and Ramsey, who was playing in a more withdrawn role, never stopped running throughout. Wenger described the Welshman as “outstanding”.

Arsenal, in truth, were coasting. At times, especially in the second half, they seemed to be playing within themselves, taking their foot off the pedal and almost winding down in preparation for Manchester City’s visit on 21 December. Theo Walcott was withdrawn in that period and Özil also came off as Wenger’s mind started to turn to that intriguing meeting with Manuel Pellegrini’s team at the Emirates.

Through to the last 16 of the Champions League and able to enjoy the view from the top of the Premier League four days later, Wenger joked that he has had worse weeks in the job. Garde, on the other hand, is in charge of a team stuck in a permanent rut and there was a wry smile afterwards when the Villa manager was asked if he could find some positives. “Every week I am asked the same thing after defeats, which is not easy,” he said.

Bereft of confidence, the last thing Villa needed was to concede early, yet they were behind within eight minutes and from that moment on the outcome was never in doubt. Giroud’s opener arrived in slightly odd circumstances and only Friend knows why he took so long to point to the spot after Walcott, running on to Mathieu Flamini’s inviting pass, was pulled back by Alan Hutton and then bundled over for good measure.

Standing no more than 10 yards from the incident, the referee could not have been in a better position and it was curious how he retreated initially, prompting a protest from Walcott, before then awarding the penalty. There was no indication that he received any help from the assistant referee covering that half of the pitch – the official was standing 60 yards away on the opposite touchline – and it can only be assumed that the referee reconsidered his own decision.

Either way, he got it right in the end and Giroud, sending Brad Guzan the wrong way, dispatched his kick with the minimum of fuss. Wenger’s side spent the next half an hour controlling possession for long periods without threatening too much, although Giroud did come close to adding a second when he met Özil’s free-kick with a glancing header only for Rudy Gestede to nod clear.

The visitors were almost toying with Villa and it was no surprise when they doubled their lead. The goal was a beauty, started and finished by Ramsey in a breathtaking piece of free-flowing football that saw Arsenal sweep from one end of the pitch to the other in a blur of fluid passing and movement. Villa were left wondering what had hit them.

Giroud makes no mistake from the penalty spot as Villa keeper Brad Guzan is sent the wrong way in the eighth minute of the match

Ramsey, deep inside his own half, robbed Idrissa Gana and Giroud nudged the ball on to Özil, who quickly found Walcott. Cutting in from the left, he threaded a lovely pass into the path of the German, who was breaking into the inside-right channel, and he could have decided to go it alone and shoot. Instead, Özil unselfishly squared for Ramsey, who had charged from one end of the pitch to the other, to sweep home emphatically.

Frustrated with Friend’s refereeing as much as their team in the first half, Villa supporters finally had something to cheer after the restart. Playing with much more belief, Garde’s team started to take the game to Arsenal.

Gestede’s glancing header drifted wide, Scott Sinclair should have done better with another headed chance – he was totally unmarked inside the six-yard box – Leandro Bacuna curled a 25-yard shot that skimmed the roof of the net and Adama Traoré went close late on.

That spirited second-half display was never going to be enough, however, and the final whistle was greeted with the boos that have become the soundtrack to Villa’s season.

With three of their next four league matches against Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland, Garde admitted that Villa have now entered “must-win” territory. “We can still be safe,” he said, doing his best to sound upbeat.

Ayoze Pérez’s injury-time winner hands Newcastle victory over Tottenham

Elsewhere; Newcastle United had not won back-to-back Premier League fixtures since November of last year. They had not won three straight at White Hart Lane since 1911. And when they trailed at half-time to Eric Dier’s headed goal, the historians did not appear ready to be unduly troubled.

Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, described his team’s first-half performance as one of their best of the season, which was probably stretching the truth a little bit but the general point was sound. Spurs were in control. And they had not lost in their previous 14 league fixtures.

Newcastle, though, staged a revival to thrill their travelling supporters, who included the owner, Mike Ashley, up in the directors’ box, and it culminated in the substitute Ayoze Pérez embarrassing Hugo Lloris at his near post at the very last.

The Newcastle manager, Steve McClaren, could revel in the changes that he made because another substitute, Aleksandar Mitrovic, had earlier pounced to equalise from close range. It was also Mitrovic who flicked on to set up the winner. Pérez’s first touch was assured and his second, a rasping low shot, squirmed underneath Lloris.

It was remarkable how history had repeated itself in another sense. In the corresponding fixture last season Tottenham had led 1-0 at the interval only to cave in to lose 2-1 and it was Pérez who scored the winner then, too.

This was supposed to be the day when Tottenham won to move up into the top four, to set the seal on a period of burgeoning promise and achievement. But instead, they suffered their first league defeat since the opening day of the season, and it said everything about modern football that there were boos from a section of the White Hart Lane crowd at full-time.

It was Newcastle – driven by Moussa Sissoko in the second half – who were allowed to build on their home win over Liverpool from the previous Sunday and they are now up and out of the relegation zone. But for the first 45 minutes the prospect had looked slim.

Tottenham were the better team before the interval, playing some zippy passing stuff in patches, and McClaren had reason to curse the breakthrough, mainly because no manager ever wants to concede from a set piece. Christian Eriksen whipped over the corner from the left and Dier flicked his header towards the far corner. It was helped in by Rob Elliot’s fingertips. It was Dier’s third goal of the season, which is a pretty decent return thus far for a defensive midfielder.

The pickings had been slim until Erik Lamela, fresh from his hat-trick in last Thursday’s Europa League home win against Monaco, roused himself. He watched Elliot claw away his first-time effort on 36 minutes, after Danny Rose’s smart cut-back, and almost immediately afterwards, from Harry Kane’s flicked header, he surged through and prodded for the roof of the net.

Elliot produced an outstanding reflex save but from the ensuing corner Dier profited and, moments later, Rose flashed a low shot past a far post. Kane, sliding in, was inches from making a decisive contact.

Newcastle had previously scored only three times in seven away games and with Papiss Cissé labouring up front, things did not look good. He had got in the way of a goal-bound shot in the early running from Siem de Jong and also headed off-target from a Paul Dummett cross later in the first half. After the interval he fizzed narrowly wide of the far post, following Sissoko’s surge and pass, and headed weakly at Lloris from a Sissoko cross.

Kane worked Elliot from distance in the 53rd minute but the second half came to belong to Newcastle, who showed a hearty appetite for the fight. Sissoko broke on several occasions and it was surprising to see how many of Tottenham’s players faded or made errors to infuriate Pochettino. complained that Spurs were virtual imposters after the interval, impossible to make out from their first-half display. Sissoko bristled with pace and power and he deserved the plaudits that he later heard from McClaren.

Newcastle seemed to be building towards the equaliser and it came after Rose had been penalised for repelling Daryl Janmaat’s cross from the right with a hand. Jack Colback’s free-kick was deep and when Fabricio Coloccini headed back, Chancel Mbemba nodded goalwards. Lloris half-saved but the ball rolled away from him and Toby Alderweireld and, from all of 15 centimetres,, Cisse’s replacement, Mitrovic, stabbed home. As with the winner, Lloris looked slightly suspect.

There was only one team that was going to win from 1-1. Mitrovic ought to have settled it in the 90th minute only to somehow fail to get a touch to Sissoko’s low cross but Pérez ensured that there would be the happiest of finales for his team.

Divock Origi’s late goal spares Liverpool home defeat by West Bromwich

At Anfield; the manic reaction would not have looked out of place in the Sunday amateur leagues. Jürgen Klopp responded to Divock Origi’s 95th minute equaliser by beating his chest in front of the West Bromwich Albion bench, eyeballing Tony Pulis and leading Liverpool’s players in triumphant applause to the Kop. “Sometimes it takes more than a few seconds to cool down,” he explained. With the heartbeat slowed, the reality of Liverpool’s weaknesses in defence will not have escaped their overexuberant manager.

Klopp’s refusal to shake hands with Pulis after the final whistle and wild celebration of a point salvaged at home in stoppage time reflected a tense, ugly encounter at Anfield. Animosity built between the Liverpool manager and the Albion bench from the moment Dejan Lovren was taken off on a stretcher as a consequence of Craig Gardner’s dangerous challenge. It erupted spectacularly when the substitute Origi spared Liverpool a second successive Premier League defeat with a deflected goal and Klopp revelled in the visitors’ misfortune.

Klopp said: “We conceded from two set pieces. I don’t know how many of our goals are from set pieces but it feels like 98%. They only play long balls and only want set plays. Maybe the crowd were disappointed but they didn’t show it. It was only one point but it felt like three, an explosion. It was the best atmosphere in my time in England, absolutely great and I wanted to say thank you. Sometimes a point deserved in the right way is more important for the development of the style of play against a team like this. To stay in the game, that is a big moment in football. I really enjoyed this game, I enjoyed the atmosphere with my whole body.”

Klopp’s assessment glossed over Liverpool’s lack of creativity against a towering Albion defence and the instability that Simon Mignolet’s goalkeeping continues to spread throughout his back-line. The German coach had warned Liverpool of Albion’s strength at set pieces but two Chris Brunt corners yielded goals for Craig Dawson and Jonas Olsson, after Jordan Henderson had given the home side a merited lead, while Olsson had another effort disallowed for offside from Gardner’s free-kick.

Liverpool controlled the early stages, their willingness to mix the direct approach with the intricate work of Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana paying dividends. Coutinho played a quick, diagonal cross into the penalty area where Lallana of all people leapt above Brunt to head into the path of the incoming Henderson. The Liverpool captain marked his first league start since August with a sweeping finish beyond Boaz Myhill from close range. Pulis would have appreciated the style of the breakthrough had he not been on the receiving end.

Albion levelled when Brunt swept an inviting corner to the back of the six-yard box. Mignolet came for the cross but fatally did not collect, waving at thin air as the ball struck Salomón Rondón and Nathanial Clyne and dropped for Dawson to convert beyond the despairing challenge of James Milner. Klopp claimed: “I said to Simon at half-time: ‘If somebody says it was your fault, it is not true, it is my fault. I want a keeper who comes out and tries for everything.’”

The Belgium keeper almost gifted Pulis’s team a second goal when attempting to keep a Dawson cross in play and finding only James McClean. He survived on that occasion and when Olsson volleyed home from Gardner’s free-kick, he was eventually given offside by an assistant referee who did not raise his flag.

The second half developed into an increasingly bruising encounter that left Klopp raging at the Albion bench when Lovren was injured by a sickening tackle from Gardner. The midfielder won the ball in a 50-50 with the Croatian defender but followed through with a studs-first challenge that buckled Lovren’s knee. Liverpool’s central defender was carried off with his knee in a brace and an oxygen mask on his face. Gardner was not booked.

Moments earlier Olsson had given the visitors the lead with a glancing header from Brunt’s corner to the near-post. Myhill saved well from Lallana and the substitute Jordon Ibe went close as Liverpool pressed for an equaliser that arrived five minutes into eight minutes of stoppage time. Origi had been summoned from the bench when Lovren departed and Klopp’s boldness was rewarded as the striker’s shot deflected off Gareth McAuley and sailed beyond the wrong-footed Myhill. Cue bedlam in the technical area.

“He has got to do what he has got to do,” was Pulis’s diplomatic take on the finale. “I am more disappointed about the way they came back to make it 2-2. The great thing about this league is, irrespective of all the money, power and talent that clubs like Liverpool have, smaller clubs will come here and have a go and that is what we have done.” – The Gurdian

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