LONDON: Olivier Giroud’s thunderbolt helped Arsenal see off the challenge of West Ham and cement their place in the top four of the Premier League with a 3-0 victory.
The Gunners recorded an eighth home league success to keep the pressure on second-placed Manchester City after finally seeing off what was a spirited second-half effort from the Hammers.
Theo Walcott, recalled to the starting line-up after injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, had missed a couple of early chances before goalkeeper Adrian was beaten on the stroke of half-time by a fierce angled drive from French striker Giroud, which cannoned in off the far post.
West Ham, who have plummeted down the table after a poor run of results, regrouped for the second half and would have been good value for an equaliser.
However, Arsenal finally broke then down again with nine minutes left when Aaron Ramsey fired in after a neat one-two with Giroud and substitute Mathieu Flamini rolled home a third to send Arsene Wenger’s side into next week’s Champions League tie away to Monaco with renewed hope of an unlikely comeback.
Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor combined to leave Gus Poyet’s job hanging by a thread as Aston Villa thrashed Sunderland 4-0 at the Stadium of Light.
Villa, who had scored only four league goals on the road all season, doubled their tally inside 44 remarkable minutes, and but for a glaring miss by Scott Sinclair, could have led 5-0 at the break.
However, doubles from Benteke – his first ended a 614-minute wait for an away goal in the league – and Agbonlahor gave them a commanding lead they never looked like surrendering as they ran out easy winners.
That left Poyet, who was confronted by angry supporters close to his dug-out, to walk the gauntlet as the locals among a crowd of 45,746 – the biggest of the season – at the Stadium of Light, voted with their feet with many leaving long before the final whistle.
Villa’s third successive win, two of them in the league after seven defeats on the trot, eased Tim Sherwood’s men further clear of the drop zone, but left Sunderland deep in trouble and the Uruguayan, whose side has now won just one of its last 11 league games on home soil, facing a no-holds-barred inquest with the Black Cats’ season unravelling alarmingly.
Brown Ideye’s first-half winner sealed a narrow 1-0 victory for West Brom as Tony Pulis returned to haunt Stoke again.
The striker’s seventh goal of the season settled the game to move the Baggies 11 points clear of the relegation zone.
Ex-Potters manager Pulis – who also beat Stoke 1-0 while at Crystal Palace last season – saw Albion recover from back-to-back defeats against Aston Villa.
They were also denied a penalty after Craig Dawson appeared to be fouled in the box and Ideye had a goal disallowed.
Bottom club Leicester failed to see off Hull after Tom Huddlestone’s sending-off handed them a huge opportunity at the King Power Stadium.
With both sides struggling at the wrong end of the table, this laborious 0-0 draw lived down to expectations, but the Foxes had both home advantage and the greater need for points and will be frustrated not to have gathered a desperately-needed win.
They were second best for most of the game, but when Huddlestone was dismissed for a second booking in the 71st minute they had a priceless chance to redefine their faltering campaign.
Manager Nigel Pearson, a less-than-beloved former Hull boss, emptied his bench of attackers in pursuit of three points but the stalemate endured.
Tigers skipper Michael Dawson was outstanding at the back, marshalling Hull’s defence throughout, and without his organisation they might well have creaked under pressure.
In the lunchtime fixture, three first-half goals helped Crystal Palace increase QPR’s relegation fears after a 3-1 victory at Selhurst Park, where the only positive for the Rs was a contender for goal of the season from Matt Phillips.
Wilfried Zaha opened the scoring after meeting a low Yannick Bolasie cross at the back post, and painfully collided with the post for his troubles.
The Rs were in disarray at the back, and Bolasie again was allowed too much room to cross for James McArthur to double his side’s lead five minutes before half-time.
Then just three minutes later Joel Ward notched a rare goal to complete a miserable opening 45 minutes for QPR.
Julian Speroni had one of his least eventful afternoons of the season in the Palace goal, until Phillips notched an incredible strike from 45-yards out with ten minutes left.
The result sees Chris Ramsey’s side face an even tougher challenge to pull themselves out of the relegation mire, while Palace pulled further clear of the bottom three, and now sit comfortable in 12th.
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