Even with a reduced slate of matches due to the FA Cup semi-finals, Matchweek 33 proved to be yet another crucial week in the Premier League. With Wigan, Manchester City and Chelsea involved in the FA Cup, that left Tottenham, Swansea City and West Brom with a weekend of rest. Saturday featured a fixture list of Arsenal v. Norwich City, Aston Villa v. Fulham, Everton v. QPR, Reading v. Liverpool and Southampton v. West Ham.
The match of the day was a no brainer. After falling behind Norwich 1-0 courtesy of a 56th minute header by Michael Turner, Arsenal were awarded a controversial penalty in the 85th minute that Mikel Arteta dispatched in the left corner. The goal invigorated the Gunners to a seven minute purple patch where goals by Olivier Giroud (’88) and Lukas Podolski (’92) vaulted Arsene Wenger’s side to a 3-1 victory and third spot in the table.
At Villa Park, Paul Lambert’s side needed three points to provide some relegation breathing room and things looked good in the 55th minute when Charles N’Zogbia put the ball on his left foot and hooked it into the left corner. But eleven minutes later Fabian Delph’s own goal ensured the Cottagers a draw bringing them to that magic 40 point safety mark. For Lambert, the single point puts the Villains even with Stoke City and Sunderland on 34 points, just three ahead of relegation threatened Wigan, who have two games in hand.
In the north-west goals by Darron Gibson (40′) and Victor Anichebe (56′) handed Everton a comfortable 2-0 victory against a lifeless QPR, who remain in 19th place, seven back of the Latics. With five matches to play Harry Redknapp’s squad isn’t mathematically eliminated but they have a defeated look to them and appear bound for the Championship next season.
Joining the R’s in the second flight will be 20th place Reading, also on 24 points. The Royals earned a 0-0 draw against Liverpool at the Madejski on Saturday behind a mammoth performance by goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, who earned 11 saves after the Reds tagged him with 28 shots. With the single point, Brendan Rodgers’ side are now five points behind 6th place Everton, who have a game in hand on their neighbors.
Over at the formidable St. Mary’s Stadium, a Gaston Ramirez opener (59′) was nixed by a 66th minute strike by Andy Carroll to give West Ham a hard-earned point ensuring both sides stay seven points clear of the drop zone.
With Wigan, Manchester City and Chelsea all in FA Cup action, Sunday’s reduced slate was reduced to two matches, Newcastle v. Sunderland and Stoke City v. Manchester United.
After crashing out to Benfica in the Europa League, Newcastle limped into the Tyne-Wear Derby and were punished 3-0 by a Paulo Di Canio inspired Sunderland side that received goals from Stephane Sessegnon (27′), Adam Johnson (74′) and David Vaughan (84′).
At the Britannia Stadium, United ensured their cushion at the top of the table with a 2-0 win as Robin van Persie (66′) ended his 10 match goal drought with a well-taken penalty after Michael Carrick (4′) opened the scoring to heap worry on a Potters side that sits just three points above relegation.