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City & Utd scrape to wins, Walcott hat-trick sinks Toon

ESPN staff
December 29, 2012 « Dodson chasing pigs & squirrels to prepare for Johnson | Chartbeat test »
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Hard-fought wins for Manchester United and Manchester City maintained the status quo at the top of the Premier League table on Saturday, as Theo Walcott's hat-trick helped Arsenal beat Newcastle 7-3.

Tottenham rose to third thanks to a come-from-behind victory against Sunderland, while Aston Villa dropped to within one place of the relegation zone after a third successive heavy defeat, this time at the hands of fellow strugglers Wigan. Stoke City grabbed a late draw with Southampton, Fulham succumbed to Swansea and Reading picked up a nervy but much-needed win against West Ham.

Premier League results & table
Plays of the Day: Walcott echoes Thierry as Nasri plays pantomime villain

Theo Walcott scored his second hat-trick of the season as Arsenal moved up to fifth with a 7-3 victory at home to Newcastle.

The Magpies clawed their way back on three occasions before two late goals from Olivier Giroud put the game beyond them at Emirates Stadium for the Gunners' fourth successive league win.

Walcott gave the Gunners the lead after 20 minutes, beating the offside trap before stroking a cool finish past Tim Krul, but Newcastle went into the break on level terms after Demba Ba's free-kick took a wicked deflection off the head of Jack Wilshere.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored his first Premier League goal since February, drilling a low effort past Krul after Podolski intercepted a Newcastle throw, feeding Santi Cazorla who found Oxlade-Chamberlain on the edge of the penalty area.

Newcastle equalised for the second time through Sylvain Marveaux, poking home from close range after Gabriel Obertan sent a low ball across the face of goal.

Podolski was on hand to nod home after Fabricio Coloccini managed to save Jack Wilshere's looping effort off the line as Arsenal took the lead for a third time, but their advantage lasted just five minutes as Ba netted his second - taking advantage of some sloppy defending to finish from close range.

Walcott scored his second with an emphatic finish into the roof of the net, and substitute Giroud gave the Gunners much-needed breathing room with a diving header between the legs of Krul.

Giroud made it six with a low finish from Walcott's run down the right, before the England international completed his treble, clipping the ball over Krul after beating four defenders.

Sergio Aguero helped settle the nerves as Manchester City held off Norwich City © PA Photos
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A classy finish from Sergio Aguero settled Manchester City's nerves against Norwich City, as Edin Dzeko scored twice and was instrumental in a third to help City secure a 4-3 win - despite seeing Samir Nasri sent off towards the end of the first half.

Dzeko - handed a rare start by Roberto Mancini - rewarded his manager for the selection with two goals in the opening four minutes at Carrow Road, after being handed two great chances on a plate by the influential Aguero.

Norwich were then gifted a route back into the match after 15 minutes, as Anthony Pilkington's free-kick on the edge of the box deflected off Gael Clichy and beyond Joe Hart. And their hopes were raised further by the dismissal of Nasri, who was - perhaps harshly - given his marching orders by referee Mike Jones after appearing to lead with his head as he reacted angrily to a poor Sebastien Bassong challenge.

Just minutes after half-time, however, the champions eased their fears - Aguero showing his class to take on Yaya Toure's pass and flick the ball over the on-rushing Mark Bunn with aplomb.

That looked like being enough until Russell Martin pulled the Canaries back within one, after being in the right place to capitalise on Bassong's flick-on from a Robert Snodgrass cross. But Dzeko popped up again minutes after that, with his shot rebounding off the post and in off the back of the unfortunate Bunn.

But Martin was not about to lie down and accept defeat, the Scot scoring once again following a flapped clearance from Hart. After messing up his punch the England international saw two Norwich attempts at goal blocked, but at the third time of asking Martin made no mistake to run the ball in and set up a tense conclusion.

City would see the game out, however, ensuring they would not lose further ground in the title race.

Gareth McAuley's own goal gave Manchester United room to breath © PA Photos
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That was because a 90th minute goal from substitute Robin van Persie belatedly secured all three points for league leaders Manchester United, as they beat West Brom 2-0 at Old Trafford.

In a game that was only confirmed to go ahead after a 1.15pm pitch inspection following heavy rain in Manchester, an own goal from Gareth McAuley gave a somewhat anaemic United a much-needed early lead, in a game where Van Persie was rested and Shinji Kagawa returned to first team action.

The lively Romelu Lukaku occasionally threatened the United backline, but it was not until late in the second half that Sir Alex Ferguson's side finally put the game to bed - as Van Persie stepped off the bench to curl a beautiful volley beyond Ben Foster and wrap up the three points.

In the day's early kick-off, Aaron Lennon completed a quick second half turnaround for Tottenham, as the north London club scored twice in three minutes to beat Sunderland 2-1.

Having fallen behind to John O'Shea's close range first-half finish, Spurs found themselves on level terms three minutes into the second half - as Carlos Cuellar headed into the back of his own net from a corner he had also conceded.

And after 51 minutes Andre Villas-Boas's side had a lead they would maintain until the final whistle - Lennon bursting between defenders to finish beyond Simon Mignolet.

The result, temporarily at least, lifts Spurs into third - with the supplanted Chelsea facing Everton on Sunday.

At the Britannia Stadium, a magical strike from Cameron Jerome extended Stoke City's unbeaten run at home to 17 games, as the 10 men came from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with Southampton.

Rickie Lambert gave the Saints the lead after just 10 minutes, but that was cancelled out soon after as Kenwyne Jones found himself in the right place at the right time to prod home. But two minutes after that the struggling south coast side were ahead again thanks to Jay Rodriguez's close range finish from a corner - before 10 minutes later Andy Wilkinson diverted the ball into his own net from another dead ball situation to put the visitors on course for all three points.

With 25 minutes remaining Matthew Upson gave Tony Pulis's side a route back into the match, before the home side were perhaps unfortunate not to receive a penalty after Jose Fonte - already booked - appeared to handle the ball inside the box.

But their hopes of claiming something from the game then seemed dashed by the dismissal of Steven Nzonzi, who was handed an early bath after getting tangled up with Jack Cork.

That was not factoring in the intervention of Jerome, however, who conjured up one of the goals of the season to hit a half-volley from 30 yards that deservedly grabbed a share of the spoils - although it could have been all three but for Kelvin Davis's remarkable save from Peter Crouch at the death.

Aston Villa's woes continued as they were handed a chastening 3-0 defeat against fellow strugglers Wigan, a result that dropped Paul Lambert's side to the precipice of the relegation zone.

Southampton remain the final side in the bottom three, a point adrift of the Villans, but Adkins' men have a game in hand on their rivals.

Having conceded 12 goals in their previous two league games, Villa's defensive woes continued after just three minutes as Ivan Ramis, restored to the starting lineup after returning from injury, bundled home from Jean Beausejour's corner.

Despite creating chances Wigan did not extend their lead until minutes after the second half restart, as Emmerson Boyce profited from Arouna Kone's through ball to bury beyond Brad Guzan. Just four minutes later it was 3-0, Kone this time the scorer from a difficult angle after latching onto Franco di Santo's assist.

The scoreline threatened to get worse for Villa but further goals did not transpire - although Lambert's future will now be the subject of much conjecture after a horrendous home display.

Danny Graham got airborne to set Swansea on the way to victory © Getty Images
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In another defeat for the home side, Swansea continued Fulham's recent poor run of results with a slender 2-1 victory.

Danny Graham - rumoured to be unsettled and looking to leave the club in January - opened the scoring at Craven Cottage with an acrobatic close range finish, before Jonathan de Guzman doubled the Swans' advantage shortly after half-time.

But Bryan Ruiz halved the deficit just moments later, the Costa Rican presented with a straightforward chance after strike partner Dimitar Berbatov had seen successive efforts strike the bar and be blocked respectively.

That gave Martin Jol's side over 30 minutes to find an equaliser, but they could not conjure up that crucial second strike as Michael Laudrup's men held on for the victory.

Finally, Pavel Pogrebnyak's fifth minute goal proved the difference as Reading won a drab game against West Ham 1-0.

In truth it was James Collins that Reading boss Brian McDermott should be thanking, the Hammers defending woefully under-hitting a backpass that the Russian gleefully capitalised on, stealing in to slot past Jussi Jaaskelainen.

The result lifted Reading within five points of Aston Villa in 17th.

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