Seventh-place Arsenal has their work cut out for them on Saturday Dec. 29 when Newcastle United visits the Emirates Stadium as every team in front of them except Manchester City managed to win their Boxing Day matches. League-leading Manchester United had to battle from behind three separate times before edging Newcastle 4-3 at Old Trafford on a last-minute goal by Javier Hernandez.
Second-place Manchester City wasn’t as fortunate as they fell 1-0 to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on an Adam Johnson goal in the 53rd minute. Third-place Chelsea managed to grind out a 1-0 win at Carrow Road in Norwich on a 38th-minute goal by Spanish international Juan Mata.
Fourth-place Tottenham headed to Birmingham and gave Aston Villa their second straight thumping with a 4-0 victory. Villa had been hammered 8-0 on the weekend by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. All of the goals came in the second half as Jermaine Defoe opened the scoring in the 57th minute. Welsh international Gareth Bale then took over the spotlight with a natural hat trick in the 61st, 73rd, and 84th minutes.
Fifth-place Everton earned a 2-1 win at home at Goodison Park over a woeful Wigan side. Leon Osman put the Toffees ahead in the 52nd minute and defender Phil Jagielka doubled the score 25 minutes later. Wigan managed to get on the scoreboard when striker Arouna Kone buried a ball past Everton keeper Tim Howard in the 82nd minute.
And finally, sixth-place West Brom waltzed into London and earned all three points with a 2-1 win at Loftus Road over Queens Park Rangers. Chris Brunt put the Baggies in front in the 29th minute and QPR keeper Robert Green scored an own goal in the 49th minute. Djibril Cisse pulled one back for QPR in the 68th minute, but it was too little too late.
Man United now sits at the top of the table with a seven-point lead over Man City. United has 46 points to City’s 39 with each team having played 19 games. Third-place Chelsea has 35 points and a game in hand while Spurs sits in fourth place with 33 points and is hanging on to the fourth and final European Champions League spot.
Everton and West Brom also have 33 points each and sit in fifth and sixth place. Spurs and Everton have a goal difference of nine while West Brom’s goal difference is five. Arsenal sits behind these six reams with 30 points and a goal difference of 14. The Gunners have a game in hand on all teams ahead of them except Chelsea and need to beat Newcastle on the weekend to take keep pace with everybody ahead of them.
Of course, Arsenal has the game in hand due to the postponement of their Boxing Day London derby with West Ham. The Gunners should have forward Olivier Giroud and midfielder Tomas Rosicky back in the squad after they both missed last weekend’s 1-0 win at Wigan due to illness. Manager Arsene Wenger is also hoping that midfielder Abou Diaby and defender Andre Santos can rejoin the team for training sometime next week.
Diaby has been out of action since injuring his thigh back on Sept. 29 in a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea and Santos has been sidelined since Nov. 17 with a muscle problem. The only other player the squad is missing is Polish international goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski who is out long term because of an ankle injury. With the January transfer window about to open there are dozens of rumours circulating around the Gunners and every other team, but there’s no point commenting on anything until they become facts.
The fact for the Newcastle game is that the visitors are just five points out of the relegation zone and will be looking to duplicate their fine performance against Man United on Boxing Day when they reach the Emirates. The Gunners will need to take advantage of their week off and work hard to pull off their fourth league win in a row.