Premier League wrap

Manchester clubs emerge victorious

January 22, 2012
By ESPN staff

Mario Balotelli dealt a huge blow to Tottenham's Premier League title aspirations on Sunday as he scored the winner deep into injury time in a 3-2 win for Manchester City.

Danny Welbeck celeb Arsenal v Man Utd
GettyImagesDanny Welbeck struck late on to secure a 2-1 win for United against Arsenal

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Tottenham recovered from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 on Sunday, but a 94th-minute penalty from Mario Balotelli earned Manchester City a miraculous 3-2 victory at the Etihad Stadium.

Nine unbelievable minutes produced four goals, two for City followed by two for Spurs, as both Roberto Mancini and Harry Redknapp were left shaking their heads in disbelief. Samir Nasri in the 56th minute and Joleon Lescott in the 59th appeared to have entered City into a two-horse title race, but Jermain Defoe a minute later and then Gareth Bale levelled in a see-saw period.

Balotelli was then arguably lucky to stay on the pitch after he appeared to stand on Scott Parker's head, having already been booked, and it was he who won and converted the last-gasp spot-kick, conceded by Ledley King.

Spurs welcomed back defensive lynchpin King ahead of kick-off following a four-week absence due to a hamstring injury, and the movement of Sergio Aguero looked capable of exploiting the defender's rustiness in an intriguing first half. Aguero constantly found himself space around the edge of the Tottenham box, but he blasted his best chance straight at Brad Friedel after Micah Richards squared the ball from the right flank.

Tottenham looked threatening down the flanks on the counter, but without the services of the ineligible Emmanuel Adebayor - who was not allowed to face his parent club - the away side lacked a central focal point with Defoe partnering Rafael van der Vaart.

The game never really caught fire until that crazy nine-minute period early in the second half, and typically it was former Arsenal man Nasri who inflicted the initial damage for City, sweeping a glorious strike past Friedel after David Silva's inch-perfect through-ball. Two minutes later Tottenham looked completely beaten when Lescott bundled home an inswinging corner, but City quickly helped Spurs back into the match.

Stefan Savic, much maligned this season, flicked the ball on for Defoe to run clean through, and he calmly rounded Joe Hart for 2-1. And then, five minutes later, Bale swept home a quite majestic curling effort from the edge of the box to make it 2-2 with 25 minutes still to play.

Both sides went in search of a winner, but Balotelli may then have felt fortunate to have escaped a red card when he appeared to stamp on Parker. The Italian may face retrospective FA action after referee Howard Webb failed to deal with the incident during the game.

Defoe then missed an open goal in injury-time for Spurs, failing to stretch enough to turn home Bale's cross, and City went straight up the other end to win it through Balotelli who celebrated in typically understated manner.

In the day's other game, Danny Welbeck scored the winner ten minutes from time as Manchester United claimed a 2-1 victory over Arsenal at Emirates Stadium.

Sergio Aguero Mario Balotelli
GettyImagesSergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli rejoice after grabbing all three points

Antonio Valencia had put United ahead on the stroke of half-time with a well-placed header, before Robin van Persie equalised as the game entered the final 20 minutes with a precise first-time shot. Arsenal paid the price for continuing to push forward, however, as Welbeck profited on an incisive run into the box from Valencia to turn the ball beyond Wojciech Szczesny and wrap up all three points.

Ahead of the game Arsenal were buoyed by the return of Thomas Vermaelen in defence, while Arsene Wenger caused something of a surprise as he opted for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ahead of Andrei Arshavin - although there was a certain tinge of disappointment that Thierry Henry's injury kept him out of the squad. United, meanwhile, named a settled side - with Anders Lindegaard preferred to David De Gea in goal once again.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was making his impact felt with his pace and trickery, although he struggled to turn good attacking positions into attempts on goal. That was not always his fault, however, with Walcott guilty of wasting a good opening eight yards out, after Oxlade-Chamberlain had beaten his man with some great skill at the byline.

Other than that, however, the opening half hour of the contest was uneventful, with both sides seemingly taking their time to assess the opposition. But with the game entering the last 15 minutes of the first half United began to move into the ascendency, and soon created the best chance of the match. Patrice Evra shrugged off a half-hearted tackle to get in behind the defence and cut the ball back to Nani - who had a clear sight at goal. The Portuguese winger side-footed the ball just inside the near post, but Szczesny had his angles correct and successfully kept out the shot.

Minutes later it was Nani shaking off a defender - Johan Djourou - but he perhaps made the wrong decision to go it alone as his shot from an acute angle went well wide with Danny Welbeck peeling off into space.

United continued to press as the game headed for half-time, and eventually they got their reward. Once again United were gifted far too much space down the left flank, and Ryan Giggs took advantage of it to swing in a beautiful deep cross that Valencia met at the far post - rising ahead of Vermaelen and sending it across Szczesny with unerring accuracy as it nestled in the corner of the net.

Arsenal came out the brighter in the second half - after Wenger withdrew Djourou in favour of youngster Nico Yennaris - but nevertheless wasted a glorious opportunity that was virtually handed to them by their opponents. Chris Smalling's slip enable Tomas Rosicky to run through on goal, before he unselfishly squared the ball for Van Persie. The Dutchman steadied himself and found a clean sight of goal, but shockingly blastered his left-footed attempt well wide of the post with Lindegaard struggling to get across.

The Gunners could have been demoralised by the miss - with Welbeck narrowly failing to get on the end of a cross seconds later - but instead they responded positively, with Aaron Ramsey soon worrying Lindegaard with a well-hit effort from 15 yards that arrowed inches over the crossbar. Soon after Rosicky had a chance of his own, but a toe-poke attempt was charged down by the unwavering Evra.

By now it was all one way traffic, as Arsenal roamed forward. Oxlade-Chamberlain was the next player to have a go, striking a low attempt from 20 yards that beat both Lindegaard's outstretched hand and the outside of the post.

United are not the champions without reason, however, and they very nearly doubled their advantage shortly after the hour-mark. Danny Welbeck stayed on his feet as he rode Per Mertesacker's challenge and slipped a shot beyond the onrushing Szczesny - but Mertesacker recovered to chase down the ball and clear it away off the line.

That intervention would prove crucial, as with just 20 minutes left in the match Arsenal would restore parity. Koscielny started the move, making a fine intervention on Valencia as he bore down on goal, as the ball proceded to move upfield in rapid fashion. Oxlade-Chamberlain took the ball towards the box and slipped in a fine pass across Van Persie, who hit a first-time effort across Lindegaard that just flicked the goalkeeper's fingertips as it hit the inside of the post and rolled in.

Arsenal continued to press - Walcott taking a hit to the head in his attempts to find a winner - but United then punished them - and punished Arsene Wenger's substitute. The Emirates crowd booed when Wenger took off Oxlade-Chamberlain for Andrei Arshavin, and the Russian's defensive play looked horribly suspect as Valencia evaded his attentions and lured the goalkeeper from his line before slipping the ball back to Welbeck - who notched his third goal in as many games as he slotted the ball past the out-of-position Szczesny from eight yards.

That gave Arsenal ten minutes - and then five minutes of injury time - to find a second equaliser, but in truth United looked just as likely to find a third on the counter-attack as the game lost its structure somewhat. Arsenal did create half chances - Mertesacker's header was blocked by Evans - but could not seriously threaten Lindegaard as they slumped to defeat.