Gregg Davies evaluates the day's Premier League action, including Chelsea's second-half Schurrle show, more Stoke woe for Wenger, Big Sam's Barry rage and an overshadowed Toon triumph...
Fulham 1-3 Chelsea
Felix Magath claimed his side "forgot how to defend" in the second half against their neighbours (many would argue they have yet to figure it out this season) as Chelsea overcame a sluggish first 45 minutes to extend their lead at the summit.
Jose Mourinho and Frank Lampard had used the pre-match build-up to criticise the scheduling of Saturday's derby, three days after their Champions League trip to Galatasaray. And the Blues failed to get to grips with their lowly local rivals in the first half, mustering just 1 shot on target, while former Blue Scott Parker was proving influential in both halves of the pitch - making the most attacking third passes and ball recoveries for the Cottagers before the break.
The Chelsea boss revealed he said nothing to his troops at half-time ("because I would have needed more than 10 minutes") but his silence clearly did the trick as Fulham were ruthlessly put to the sword upon the restart.
Andre Schurrle's clinical 16-minute hat-trick ended the contest with more than 20 to spare; the Germany international finishing the day with 8 attempts and Eden Hazard setting up 8 chances in an overwhelmingly one-sided second half in which Chelsea moved through the gears and fashioned 13 efforts at goal.
"Schurrle's in a learning process in the Premier League but he has cold blood, in front of goal he is cool," said Jose. "He's a good finisher and that's what I expect from him. This was a real game of two halves, the first half was very poor and the second was brilliant, it was a great three points for us."
Match report • Magath reaction • Mourinho reaction • Analyse it with Stats Zone
Stoke 1-0 Arsenal
Chelsea's lead is now four points over Arsenal (and Liverpool) after the Gunners' customary stumble at Stoke, further denting their title hopes and vindicating the many insisting all along that Arsenal would mess it up.
The Gunners have now won just one and lost four of their last seven visits to Staffordshire, and rarely looked like beating Asmir Begovic between the sticks; the Bosnian stopper forced into making just 2 saves all afternoon.
"Offensively we didn't create enough," lamented Arsene Wenger. "I feel going forward we were not good enough to create chances and that's why we got punished."
Stoke have now claimed the scalps of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United at the Britannia, the latest victory helping City climb six points clear of the drop zone. The Potters more than worked for their win, dominating the defensive statistics with Erik Pieters, Marko Arnautovic and match-winner Jonathan Walters in particular putting in standout shifts. Pieters and Arnautovic made the most ball recoveries (9), while Pieters won 4/5 tackles and Walters made a joint game-high 4 interceptions.
At the top of the pitch, Peter Crouch enjoyed more success against the north Londoners. Only against Blackburn Rovers has the former Spurs trainee scored more Premier League goals than the Gunners, and while he failed to find the net on this occasion, Crouch kept Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny on their toes by winning 10 of his 14 aerial duels - double the amount of any Arsenal player.
"The stars were aligned and it came together," said manager Mark Hughes. "I thought we were excellent on the day to be honest, going up against a very accomplished Arsenal side with a lot of talent and a lot of ability, but I thought we matched that and in the end we've won the game courtesy of a penalty."
Match report • Hughes reaction • Wenger reaction • Analyse it with Stats Zone
Southampton 0-3 Liverpool
"And now you're gonna believe us, we're gonna win the league," sang the Liverpool supporters as the Reds cruised to a fourth consecutive league win to lift them above Arsenal into second spot.
Despite their defensive deficiencies, the Reds have slowly but surely, win after win, fired themselves into genuine title contention with just 10 games remaining during which they host Chelsea and Manchester City.
But boss Brendan Rodgers still won't admit it. "Everyone speaks about Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City. We're just concentrating on ourselves," he said. "We just want to keep improving, mentally we're getting stronger all the time. With 10 games to go, we'll just see where it takes us. I just want to enjoy watching the team. We only want to win the next game, there's no point getting ahead of ourselves."
Luis Suarez slotted home the opener on his 100th Premier League outing but Saints could feel hard done by at the break after a spirited response, spearheaded by the ever-impressive Adam Lallana.
Half-time arrival Gaston Ramirez breathed new life into the home side, winning 2/3 take-ons within 10 minutes of the restart and ending the game as Saints' second best passer in the attacking third. However, the home side's threat faded away after 58 minutes when Suarez set up Raheem Sterling to score with his first touch.
Mauricio Pochettino's translator said afterwards: "We created a lot of chances in the first half and we deserved a lot more from the half. It should have been a different result but we just have to be a lot more clinical."
FFT noted after Liverpool's 3-2 win at Fulham they would need to tighten up if they really were to win the title, and while Suarez stole the show for having a hand in all three of the Reds' goals, Jordan Henderson and the fit-again Glen Johnson shone on the flanks. Henderson attempted and won the most tackles of the game (7/9 on the right wing), with Johnson making 9 ball recoveries on the left.
Everton 1-0 West Ham
For 80 minutes it looked like another textbook Hammers away display; Everton huffing and puffing but failing to find a way past Adrian until the returning Romelu Lukaku steered in a winner.
Roberto Martinez's men mustered 22 attempts on goal and enjoyed almost 70% possesion over the 90 minutes, yet only 3 of their shots were on target while 6 were blocked by Big Sam's typically resilient rearguard action.
Barcelona loanee Gerard Deulofeu, making his first start since November, was at the heart of the home side's assault, attempting 8 take-ons (all in the first half) and firing in 4 shots to the delight of his manager. "You need to remember it was very difficult for Gerard. He found a good level and then he got injured. I feel now he is ready again," said Martinez. "As you could see for the first 10 minutes they (his team-mates) were really demanding of him and he grew into the game. He is a really special footballer for us."
Gareth Barry bossed the midfield at Goodsion Park, completing a game-high 75/81 passes, creating 5 chances for team-mates (bettered only by Leighton Baines' 8) and winning all 8 of his aerial duels. But Allardyce was convinced the Man City loanee should have been sent off after 20 minutes for upending Kevin Nolan.
"There is no doubt in my mind," said Allardyce. "Gareth Barry at the time, from my position, a bit behind the ref's position, there was no obscured view of Barry pulling Kevin Nolan down. That was a key moment in the game which would have meant Kevin was perhaps scoring another goal. He probably would have put that away. By looking at it, it is stopping a goal-scoring opportunity, so it's a red card. But we didn't get anything, so I'm really disappointed with that. I can't control that. We did a sterling job at defending, but it wasn't enough."
Match report • Martinez reaction • Allardyce reaction • Analyse it with Stats Zone
Hull 1-4 Newcastle
Oh Alan. What should have been a celebration of back-to-back wins to relieve the pressure on the Newcastle boss instead sees the Londoner hit with a £100,000 club fine and facing an FA charge and succession of poor pun headlines after nudging his head in the direction of David Meyler's.
"It was a heat of the moment thing," said Pardew. "I massively regret it and I will have to sit down from now on. Of course, I didn't mean to do anything aggressive. I did move my head forward and that's enough. Perhaps I need to sit down from now on. It's a shame because it's taken the gloss off a terrific performance."
Well, quite. Now Loic Remy is over his suspension the Toon have a spring in their step once again, scoring four Premier League goals away from home for the first time since March 2008 at Tottenham and Moussa Sissoko notching his first two goals for the club away from St James' Park.
Vurnon Anita was one of many standout performers for United. The former Ajax midfielder made the most attacking third passes in the game and ball recoveries for his side before capping the display with a goal.
Hull boss Steve Bruce was far from amused, bemoaning his side's mistakes in their heaviest home defeat since their last Premier League campaign (1-4 vs Burnley, April 2010). "We've made more mistakes today than I remember us making in six months and when you play at this level you can't do that," he said. "Collectively and individually, we've made just basic, bad schoolboy errors, we've basically give them three goals in my opinion and when you do that it's always going to be a difficult afternoon and we rightly got punished."