/ 16 September 2007

Gunners pull clear as Liverpool, Chelsea stumble

Arsenal pulled clear at the top of the English Premier League after coming from behind to beat north London rivals Tottenham 3-1 on Saturday.

The victory at White Hart Lane left Arsene Wenger’s unbeaten side two points clear of Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United as the upper end of the table took on a predictable look after a month of the new season.

Both Chelsea and Liverpool were held to goalless draws, by Blackburn and Portsmouth respectively, but champions United continued to recover from their shaky start to the season by racking up a third straight 1-0 victory courtesy of a late winner at Everton.

Elsewhere, there were home wins for Birmingham, Sunderland and West Ham while Wigan and Fulham shared the points in a 1-1 draw at the JJB Stadium.

Gareth Bale’s superb first-half free-kick had put Spurs on track to claim their first derby win in eight years.

But Arsenal displayed the resilience that has been a recurring theme in their strong start to the campaign with three goals in the final 25 minutes of the match.

Emmanuel Adebayor scored twice either side of a superb Cesc Fabregas solo effort, prompting a rave review from Wenger of the way his side is ”blossoming and growing”.

The Frenchman insisted: ”There is something in the side — quality, of course, but also mental strength.”

Manchester United appeared to be heading for their third draw in six matches as Everton matched them for long periods at Goodison Park.

But with seven minutes left, Nemanja Vidic got his head to a near-post corner from new signing Nani to clinch all three points.

Cristiano Ronaldo returned to the United line-up after serving a three-match suspension and Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed after the match that Wayne Rooney would make his return from injury in the Champions League match away to Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday.

After a shaky start to the season, Ferguson has been relieved to see his squad start to grind out results in tight matches.

The Scot said: ”We all know we have not got our strongest side out at the moment due to injuries, but there is a good togetherness in the squad and it was a strong team effort, which it has to be at the moment.”

Chelsea could count themselves unlucky to have been held by Blackburn after having a Salomon Kalou effort disallowed because of an offside decision that television replays indicated was mistaken.

Jose Mourinho’s side were also frustrated by an inspired performance from Blackburn goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who saved an Andriy Shevchenko header at point-blank range in the 85th minute.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez’s fears that, at the end of a gruelling international week, his players could struggle in a lunchtime kick-off at Portsmouth proved well-founded.

A lacklustre Liverpool rarely threatened and had Jose Reina to thank for their point, the Spanish goalkeeper saving a first-half penalty from Nigerian playmaker Nwankwo Kanu.

Sunderland put some breathing space between themselves and the relegation zone with a 2-1 win over Reading that ended a run of three successive defeats for Roy Keane’s side.

Kenwyne Jones marked his home debut for the club by opening the scoring just before the half-hour mark and Ross Wallace doubled the lead before Dave Kitson headed in a late consolation effort for the visitors.

Dean Ashton scored for the first time since the 2006 FA Cup final as West Ham climbed into the top half of the table by beating Middlesbrough 3-0.

Asthon’s strike was preceded by a Craig Bellamy volley and an own goal by Luke Young.

French midfielder Olivier Kapo was Birmingham’s match-winner with the only goal against second-from-bottom Bolton, while a Jason Koumas penalty allowed Wigan to salvage a point at home to Fulham, who had taken an early lead through American striker Clint Dempsey. — Sapa-AFP