Saturday, March 19, 2016

It Happened in England: Arsenal, Leicester get big wins at the top

Everton 0-2 Arsenal
Arsenal were in desperate need of a win to get off their skid and get back into the title conversation, or at least save their fall towards landing outside the top four. They got exactly the start they needed, too. A wonderful team passing effort led to Danny Welbeck slipping through on goal for an easy slide home in the seventh minute. They spent the majority of the first half in control, too. Their play wasn't anything I would call dominating, but it was enough to earn themselves a second goal before the break. In the 42nd minute, Alex Iwobi picked p his first Arsenal goal by latching onto a Hector Bellerin long ball before knocking a shot through Joel Robles's five hole.

Things took a turn for the dark shortly after the hour mark for Arsenal. As David Ospina dove to claim a through pass aimed at Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian slid into the Arsenal keeper, causing a lengthy injury delay. Ospina favored his lower back after the collision and, although he remained in the game, he was rather immobile between the posts and was hardly able to stand upright. Mesut Ozil was subbed off with an injury in the 74th minute. With that, Arsenal's attack time was surely finished, and they still had the problem of a hobbled goalkeeper.

Those problems never seemed to cast any shadow on their victory efforts. Everton's inability to create opportunities was enough to allow Arsenal some breathing room with their questionable substitution policy. Arsenal even had chances to attack, including one that saw Olivier Giroud score, but have it called back for a shove to Phil Jagielka as he headed the ball home.

This was a much needed win for the Gunners, who still find themselves three points back of Tottenham, who are yet to play this weekend. The Gunners do have a game in hand over their North London rivals after the weekend is through. As for Everton, their awful league campaign continues despite their run to the FA Cup semi-finals.

Crystal Palace 0-1 Leicester City

The curring leaders got themselves a favorable matchup here as they took on a Crystal Palace side that has slid into the relegation conversation.It looked early on like this would be another match where the Foxes would have to gut out a result against a lesser opponent on the road. Crystal Palace was in a little more control over the first half hour and the only great chance for Leicester was a Riyad Mahrez breakaway that was saved by Wayne Hennessey before it trickled wide. Things changed after that opening 30 minutes. In the 34th minute, Leicester had a controlled attack that resulted in a low Jamie Vardy coss finding the powerful boot of Mahrez for the first, and only, goal of the game.

The second half saw pressure continue to mount upon Leicester. Palace began collecting half chances left and right. Crosses, corners, and a few sustained attacks all led to Palace looking more and more like equalizing. All of their shots were off target or off the woodwork though and Leicester scrapped themselves another win to stretch their lead to eight points at the top with Tottenham in action tomorrow. We also need to start thinking about Palace as a relegation candidate. They are only eight points clear of the drop and seemingly fading fast.

Chelsea 2-2 West Ham
West Ham's sights on a shock spot in the top four ran into a Chelsea side that really wonders what their season would be like if they had canned Jose Mourinho earlier on. It was West Ham striking first with wonderful curler from Manuel Lanzini in the 16th minute. they were only able to contain the lead until seconds before the halftime whistle when Cesc Fabregas blasted home a free kick, The first half would be kind at the start for West Ham. The tie was preserved with a wonderful diving save from Adrian just before the hour mark. Then, in the 62nd, Andy Carroll finished off a pacy counter attack to return the lead to the Hammers. It looked like they would hold out for the win until Michail Antonio clattered into Ruben Loftus-Cheek on the very edge of the penalty area in the 88th minute. Fabregas defiantly hammered home the penalty to level the score and earn his club a share of the points.

Watford 1-2 Stoke City
One of the more meaningless games of the weekend, Watford hosts Stoke in a clash of irrelevant mid-table clubs with nothing much to play for anymore. Jonathan Walters tapped home a lost cross in the 18th minute to open the scoring for Stoke here. Their lead would double early in the second half thanks to a cheeky chip from Joselu that floated over a helpless Heurelho  Gomes and into the net. Troy Deeney tried to make a game of it late. His 86th minute goal gave Watford a shot at pulling out a result here.

West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Norwich City
Norwich's fight against relegation heads to West Bromwich Albion, who's hot streak of late has taken them out of that drop zone conversation. After a scoreless first half, the visiting relegation candidates jumped in front int he 50th minute with a well timed poke from Robert Brady. That would be enough for Norwich as they get the win and lift themselves out of the bottom three with tomorrow morning's Tyne-Wear Derby poised to have an effect on their fate.

Swansea City 1-0 Aston Villa
What a marquee matchup for the day. Swansea City, who are likely safe from the drop, welcome last place Aston Villa to Wales. The match began with a couple of Aston Villa half chances, but more interesting was the 17th minute scuffle between the two sides that includes half punch thrown by Ashley Williams.Overall, Aston Villa looked a little more aggressive than we have come to expect from them. They held an early advantage in possession, but Swansea was able to even it out by the break. Neither team was able to provide us with a goal, however,

Swansea took control of the match early on in the second half. After pretty much ending Aston Villa's attacking ambition, they scored the go ahead goal in the 54th minute. Brad Guzan launched himself towards a free kick, missed it entirely, and allowed Federico Fernandez to shoulder the ball into an empty net. That turned out to be Swansea's only shot on goal of the entire match. That was only one fewer than Villa could muster for the duration. After the goal, saying Villa had given up would have been an understatement. At a time where you would expect them to be scraping for any chance at goal to earn any sort of result here, they were simply done playing. It was almost as if they had resigned themselves to their last place fate.

It is only a matter of time until Villa's fate is sealed. With seven matches remaining, they sit 12 points away from safety with only 21 points left to play for. Swansea will take the win as another boost to their likely chance to stay up. They are 11 points clear of the bottom three.

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