Saturday analysis: Arsenal's composure and patience keeps them on top
Sunderland 2-2 Southampton
It's about time Gus Poyet had some luck. The Uruguayan certainly won't have been delighted with what his Sunderland side served up at the Stadium of Light in the day's early kick-off, but after a string of frustrating mishaps he won't care that they were fortunate to escape with a point against Southampton.
Mauricio Pochettino's team, though, will be kicking themselves that their first-half dominance wasn't enough to see them making the long journey home the North East with all three points in the metaphotical bag. The Saints peppered the hosts' goal with 10 shots in the first half (scoring twice), but let Sunderland in with their only shot on target in the first 45 minutes. Overall they enjoyed almost 64% possession and outpassed the Black Cats more than twice over - but what's the use in that if you can't make it count?
Jay Rodriguez's case for a World Cup spot doesn't look like fading away any time soon, however, after the 24-year-old netted his ninth league goal of the season with an excellent finish inside four minutes. He was the most active player in the first half, having registered half of the south coast side's efforts on goal (5, of his eventual 7). Jack Cork's distribution was excellent and Morgan Schneiderlin was his usual busy self in midfield, but Southampton's profligacy made it all irrelevant. Two precious points dropped.
Arsenal 2-0 Fulham
Patience is a virtue, as the old saying goes, so it's a good thing that it's also Arsenal's middle name (don't bother looking that up, it's definitely true). For nearly an hour, Gunners fans could be forgiven for thinking the Cottagers' rearguard would resist their tiki-taka travails around the box, until Santi Cazorla netted not once but twice inside five glorious minutes.
A swift glance at the below will reveal what you need to know - this was Arsenal at their frustrating best. A first half of sweet nothings around the area ultimately proved fruitless as Rene Meulensteen's visitors shut up shop and hoped for a goal on the break. They nearly got it through Steve Sidwell - their only effort on target in the first 45 minutes - but for a fine Wojciech Szczesny save. In the end Fulham allowed Arsenal too much comfort - Arsene Wenger's men completed 620 passes with 91% accuracy - and Cazorla made them pay.
The classy Spaniard didn't need encouragement to test Maarten Stekelenburg (he attempted 5 shots, a joint game high) and was gifted too much time to do just that. With just six misplaced passes in 86 attempted and only Mesut Özil recording more in the attacking third, Fulham made it all too easy for the Gunners' instrumental midfield to conquer. Cazorla created a game-high 5 chances for his team-mates, while no player completed more than his 4 take-ons. He hasn't enjoyed his best form recently, but this confident display from the 29-year-old typified the Gunners' sterling campaign to date.
Crystal Palace 1-0 Stoke
There won't be many happier men around than Tony Pulis tonight, after the cap-wearing coach took top honours in what he would probably modestly call The Tony Pulis Derby. Jason Puncheon might breathe a sight of relief too, after his goal proved decisive in an otherwise difficult week for the winger.
Unsurprisingly, this was no beauty contest, but Palace will be no less thrilled with the win that skyrockets them back out of the bottom three with a two-point advantage over West Ham. They were outpassed overall but recorded one more in the attacking third than Mark Hughes' men, while enjoying a useful 50% shooting accuracy to the visitors' paltry 12%. Wing play was the name of the game for the south Londoners at Selhurst Park, but after 71 minutes only 1 of their 21 attempted crosses had actually found a blue and red shirt. Never mind.
But Pulis will be chuffed with his side's defensive diligence. The Eagles thumped out 61 clearances as Stoke looked to use Peter Crouch's aerial advantage (10/16 aerial duels won), and even that of the more inconspicuous Jon Walters (6/10). It didn't work, though, as Pulis' plucky troops walked away with three points and a hard-earned clean sheet.
Man City 4-2 Cardiff
Manuel Pellegrini's fearsome frontline put on another attacking show to behold at the Etihad Stadium as Edin Dzeko, Jesus Navas, Yaya Toure and the returning Sergio Aguero helped themselves to goals against Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's battling Cardiff side. But while the hard-working visitors were outplayed for most of the game (they completed 37 attacking-third passes to the hosts' 167), the (mostly honorary) Welshmen issued a timely reminder to City's title rivals that the free-scoring Citizens still have question marks defensively - and that's good news for Wenger & Co.
Craig Noone briefly instilled hope into Cardiff hearts after stumping Vincent Kompany with a fine individual goal midway through the first half, before Fraizer Campbell proved lessons still haven't been learned after netting his third goal from a third corner against the Etihad side this season. The former Manchester United graduate has bagged five goals this season (one against his former club) - go figure.
Against lesser opposition, City can afford a slack afternoon, but there might just come a time when their we'll-score-five-more-than-you approach doesn't quite come up trumps. That said, just try stopping them on home soil. Nobody looks like doing it anytime soon.
Norwich 1-0 Hull
Well it was never going to be a white-knuckle ride now, was it? In the end just desserts were served as Norwich's dominance paid dividends at Carrow Road. If the result itself wasn't enough to please Chris Hughton, doing it on home soil certainly did the trick - before this game the Canaries had won only two of their previous eight on the ground which served them so well last term.
Hughton has Robert Snodgrass to thank. For a long time it seemed like the Scot was the only player capable of settling this deeply uninspiring tussle in Norfolk and, sure enough, it was his corner that teed up Ryan Bennett for the game's match winner. His link-up play with full-back Russell Martin down the right was excellent (the duo's pass combinations tallied 32, a comfortable game high) and in tandem they proved Norwich's greatest attacking threat.
Snodgrass's positive wing display was admirable; he attempted 5 shots on goal (a joint high alongside Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who didn't hit the target), completed 34 of 43 passes, carved out a highly respectable 5 chances - 3 more than any other player - and tested the full-back with another 5 attempted take-ons. In the end he got his assist, unlocked Hull's typically stern backline and won three points for his side. Norwich could do with that a bit more often.
West Ham 1-3 Newcastle
Oh, Sam. What's life going to throw at you next? A collective tumble off the team bus which injures six of your threadbare squad? A desperate Deadline Day lunge for Bobby Zamora?
This was not good. Even Andy Carroll making another half-hour cameo for the Hammers didn't help - indeed, the big Geordie skied a huge opportunity for an equaliser from eight yards out against his boyhood club. That's after Carlton Cole did the same just before. Eleven shots on goal, two on target - sound familiar? If West Ham fans thought their side had turned a corner after beating Cardiff in South Wales last weekend, they were quite wrong.
Sure, Newcastle are enjoying an impressive season to date and have excellent game-changers in Yohan Cabaye and Loic Remy to call upon. The truth is, though, that Alan Pardew has set his side up so well on so many occasions this year to make it happen. And that's more than you can say for Sam Allardyce. Here's the harrowing reading for Hammers fans: Newcastle were forced into a jaw-dropping 74 clearances at Upton Park (Mike Williamson with 22, as many as Sunderland's entire team earlier the same afternoon) thanks to the hosts' all too familar brand of lump-it-long hoofball.
Injuries aren't helping their cause, but the Hammers have only themselves to blame. Something has to give - and that might just be Allardyce.
Liverpool 2-2 Aston Villa
What a difference a few seconds makes. Had Daniel Sturridge not marked his first start since November with a crucial goal on the stroke of half-time, Brendan Rodgers may well have been staring an embarrassing defeat in the face. The Northern Irishman knows as well as anyone that his tactics were horribly wrong in a first half Aston Villa dominated at Anfield.
Electing to demote Lucas to the bench against a Villa side well renowned for their counter-attacking away from home was a bad idea. It took Steven Gerrard 20 minutes to make a successful pass, and with no recognised defensive midfielder in action, Paul Lambert's pacy frontmen made the most of space in behind the Reds' engine room. When Andreas Weimann slid in an opener there was no element of surprise, nor when Christian Benteke notched his second goal in as many games after costly hesitation from Simon Mignolet.
But when Sturridge latched onto Jordan Henderson's pass, Liverpool had their foothold. On came Lucas to shore up Rodgers' porous midfield, and within eight minutes the Anfield side were level when Gerrard converted from the spot after Luis Suarez was "brought down" by Villa keeper Brad Guzan. Deflated, the visitors failed to test Mignolet after that as Liverpool took control.
There would be no winner from Rodgers' men, though, as they left Anfield with their behinds somewhat singed and lessons learned.