Saturday analysis: No horsing around from Hazard or Chelsea as Arsenal have mare
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Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal
Another ‘big test’ for Arsenal and another depressing failure, as the second best defence in the Premier League was left with egg on its face in the early kick-off.
Since being hit for six by Manchester City and frustrated by Chelsea before Christmas, Arsene Wenger’s men have waltzed to wins over West Ham, Cardiff, Aston Villa, Fulham and Crystal Palace, ensuring Match of the Day pundits continue to be quizzed over their title credentials.
But there was little to debate after the Gunners crashed through the first hurdle in a potentially season-defining run of fixtures over the coming 11 days. "The whole team failed to turn up with the right performance,” said Wenger. "Only our fans were good for 90 minutes, that's all.”
Liverpool dismissed Arsenal in a devastating first-half display akin to their dismantling of Everton in their previous home game.
Such was their efficiency on the counter-attack that the Reds registered almost as many shots as attacking third passes by the 20-minute mark, as Arsenal’s supremacy in possession counted for nothing.
With Liverpool five-up within seven minutes of the restart they could afford to sit back and see the game out, racking up 66 ball recoveries and making more than twice as many tackles as their opponents.
“We were brilliant, (it was) a wonderful performance in such a prestigious game," enthused Brendan Rodgers. “These games are normally very tight games, but I feel we could have gone on and scored more. I was really pleased with how we managed the game. At 4-0, the crowd are so excited and were wanting us to go for the throat, but it's important we can manage the game as well and that was a really pleasing aspect."
Aston Villa 0-2 West Ham
No Andy Carroll, no problem.
A week dominated by a convoluted, unsuccessful appeal process surrounding their star striker ended with another big win for Big Sam to lift them out of the bottom three.
Similarly to last weekend’s win over Swansea, captain Kevin Nolan was the man of the hour, bagging both goals before a diligent defensive display ensured all three points.
Nolan’s quick-fire brace shortly after the interval proved to be the only 2 shots on target of the game following an incident-free opening 45 minutes. A third successive clean sheet, and 12th overall this term, was secured courtesy of a whopping 69 clearances. James Collins contributed 23 of them by himself, the same number that the entire Villa team managed over 90 minutes.
“Professionally I thought we were outstanding and defensively, when they threw more men up front and started pumping high balls into the middle of the box, Winston Reid, 'Ginge' (Collins) and James Tomkins stood up to that aerial threat brilliantly," said Allardyce.
Chelsea 3-0 Newcastle
Jose Mourinho wants no more of talk of horses after a week of equine-based tit for tat with Manchester City counterpart Manuel Pellegrini, but he witnessed a thoroughbred performance from Eden Hazard as Chelsea jumped to the top of the table.
The Belgian bagged his first hat-trick since May 2012, for Lille, in an all-action display that drew praise from both his boss and Newcastle manager Alan Pardew.
“I think his performance today was not different to other performances he has," said Mourinho. "The only difference was he scored a hat-trick for the first time. He's playing really well, (he has had a) big evolution, (and has shown) consistency, ambition - (he is) fantastic."
Pardew was left rueing missed opportunities; his side fashioned 12 attempts at Petr Cech’s goal (6 on target), but the Blues were deserved winners with the style of Hazard complimented by the steel of Nemanja Matic.
"I've played against Chelsea teams under Mourinho many times and this is as good as he's had. They've got a good chance,” said Pardew. "The back four were tough, Matic in front of them gives the stability for someone like Hazard to create the damage that he did.”
Norwich 0-0 Man City
Wibble wobble. Two games and 0 goals for the divison’s free-flowing top scorers, as Norwich held out to restore some pride after their 7-0 Etihad humiliation in November.
Just 2 of the Blues’ 15 attempts at goal were on target, with 0 of the 11 they mustered in a dominant second-half display troubling Canaries keeper John Ruddy.
Pablo Zabaleta was an oft-used outlet down the right, making more passes than anyone else on the pitch, while the ever-scheming David Silva set up a game-high 6 chances for team-mates who could not convert.
“We are frustrated because we could not win but we did all we could do,” lamented Pellegrini. “But in front of us there was a team that defended very well, and we were not very creative. The team was more affected by the amount of players who were not 100% fit. Especially the three strikers, Sergio Aguero, (Alvaro) Negredo and (Edin) Dzeko. During the last weeks or the last week, they are not 100%.”
Crystal Palace 3-1 West Brom
Debut delight at Selhurst Park, as three players marked their first appearances for their club with a goal.
Tom Ince celebrated his deadline-day move to south London by firing Tony Pulis’ side ahead before crossing for Joe Ledley to do likewise inside the opening half-hour.
Baggies new boy Thievy Bifouma had not been on the pitch a minute before opening his account straight after half-time, but a controversial 68th-minute penalty, converted by Marouane Chamakh, crucuially swung the match in Palace’s favour.
West Brom boss Pepe Mel described the decision as “laughable”, adding: "In the previous piece of play Julian Speroni made a great save and that would have made it 2-2 so the penalty decision killed us off really. If it was a penalty then we wouldn't be able to say anything about it but it was an error from the referee."
The Midlanders enjoyed 66% of the possession, with the 6 best passers of the game all wearing blue and white, and fashioned 17 attempts at goal to Palace’s 10. A failure to capitalise on that supremacy leaves them in the bottom three with Chelsea up next…
Southampton 2-2 Stoke
A first-half goal-fest at St Mary’s, but neither side could force a winner in a second period that witnessed just 1 shot on target from Saints, and 0 shots at all from Stoke.
Central duo Morgan Schneiderlin and Steven Davis were standout performers; the latter topping the passing charts as well as seeing his cross-cum-shot briefly hand Saints a 2-1 lead.
Frenchman Schneiderlin proved an effective presence behind him, making a game-high 9 ball recoveries and 5 tackles, but the less said about his first half ‘shot’ the better…
“We showed great character and no little skill to get back on level terms and then in the second half both teams cancelled each other out,” said Stoke manager Mark Hughes.
"As an away team that's a good thing because we restricted a very good Southampton team, a side I've enjoyed watching this season, to very few clear-cut chances. That shows the quality of our performance."
Sunderland 0-2 Hull
Just a second away win all season for former Black Cats boss Steve Bruce, who brought his former employers back down to earth with a considerable bump.
Once again, Sunderland could not keep 11 men on the pitch against the Tigers, having seen both Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena dismissed in the reverse fixture. Wes Brown’s fourth-minute exit for a foul on Shane Long set the tone for a tepid display from Gus Poyet’s side, who were second best throughout.
Hull ended the day with 25 attempts on goal, with Nikica Jelavic making 1 of his 8 efforts count to score a Premier League goal for the first time since March 2013. Jake Livermore was the driving force in midfield for Bruce’s boys, completing 69 passes with 27 coming in the attacking third, while one bright spark for Sunderland came in the form of left-back Marcos Alonso who recovered the ball 11 times for his team.
“We know it was against 10 men, but it was so comfortable it was frightening," bellowed Bruce.
Swansea 3-0 Cardiff
Some half-time magic from Garry Monk got the better of the ultimate super-sub himself, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to swing the South Wales Derby in Swansea’s favour.
After a cagey first 45 minutes at the Liberty Stadium, Pablo Hernandez replaced Marvin Emnes at the interval and immediately played in Wayne Routledge to slot the Swans in front. The former Valencia winger may only have played half the game but created the most chances (3) and was fourth for attacking third passes.
The early goal at the start of the second period provided Swansea the perfect platform to play their football and frustrate Cardiff, who went close to levelling through Craig Bellamy’s blast that hit the crossbar but struggled to create any other openings of note.
“Confidence is the biggest thing,” said Monk. “Half the battle is the mentality, if you can get the mentality right the football takes care of itself. We need to take the belief from this game and into the games coming."