LONDON (Reuters) - Late goals from Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott spared Arsenal’s blushes and kept them top of the Premier League in a 2-0 victory over Cardiff City as title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea also won on Wednesday.
The conclusion of the congested festive schedule saw a tired display by the Londoners who looked set to draw a blank for the second straight home game before Bendtner bundled home in the 88th minute and Walcott wrapped up the points in stoppage time.
Manchester United’s difficulties returned as the champions were beaten 2-1 by Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford, their sixth league defeat and fourth at home in a stuttering season.
Their rivals Manchester City briefly went top after subduing a battling Swansea City 3-2 away while Chelsea beat Southampton 3-0 on the road and Liverpool won 2-0 at home to Hull City.
Arsenal, with 45 points from 20 games, stayed one point clear of Manchester City and two ahead of Chelsea in third with Liverpool a further four points off the pace.
Everton’s Leighton Baines converted an added time penalty to rescue a 1-1 draw at Stoke City as the Merseysiders dropped to fifth, while 10-man Newcastle United stumbled to a 1-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion.
Spurs, who took a 2-0 lead with goals from Emmanuel Adebayor and Christian Eriksen before Danny Welbeck pulled one back for United, moved above their opponents into sixth. David Moyes’s United team are now 11 points adrift of the leaders.
After Arsenal’s last home game ended in a goalless draw against Chelsea, the fans were fearing another shutout at The Emirates that would have shunted them off top spot.
Cardiff City, playing in front of former Manchester United forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who sat alongside owner Vincent Tan and is expected to become their new manager, defended stoutly before the home side’s pressure told late on.
“I think we were mature, intelligent and resilient,” Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said. “We want to make this place a fortress and take the points no matter what the others do.”
The result kept Manchester City at bay after they showed their title credentials with a fifth consecutive league win.
City came out on top thanks to second-half strikes from Yaya Toure and Aleksandar Kolarov after Swansea’s Wilfried Bony had canceled out Fernandinho’s early opener.
Bony grabbed a stoppage-time consolation for Swansea who are now without a win in six league games.
Chelsea’s misfiring forwards had failed to find the target away from Stamford Bridge during the whole of 2013, but the hoodoo was broken on the hour at St Mary’s when Spaniard Fernando Torres headed home from close range.
Willian smashed home a second from the edge of the area and fellow substitute Oscar, who had a hand in all three goals, added the third with a clinical finish after being sent racing through on goal.
If Chelsea’s strikers have been struggling, Liverpool have one who cannot stop finding the back of the net.
Luis Suarez made the game safe against Hull with a stunning free kick into the top corner for his 15th goal in seven home games this season. It was the seventh successive match at Anfield that the 20-goal Uruguay striker had found the net.
A Daniel Agger header had put Liverpool on their way to victory after back-to-back away defeats by Manchester City and Chelsea over the Christmas period.
“It was arguably our best win of the season, on the back of what was a tough schedule for us with a light squad,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. “The energy, as you’d expect, was not what it has been but we showed great resilience today.”
Manchester United came into their clash with Tottenham having won six games in a row in all competitions, but any optimism generated by that revival drained away as their home form again let them down.
Togo striker Adebayor, whose Tottenham career has been revitalized since Tim Sherwood took over from sacked manager Andre Villas-Boas in mid-December, opened the scoring when he headed home a deep floated cross after 34 minutes.
The visitors drew United’s sting and were well on top when Eriksen got in front of his marker to head in a deflected cross from Aaron Lennon after 66 minutes before a defensive lapse allowed Welbeck to chip goalkeeper Hugo Lloris a minute later.
Stoke’s Liverpool loanee Oussama Assaidi scored the opening goal against his parent club’s local rivals Everton but Baines coolly equalized from the spot.
West Ham went ahead after seven minutes against relegation rivals Fulham but Steve Sidwell leveled in the 32nd and 12 minutes later visiting captain Kevin Nolan was sent off for kicking out at Fernando Amorebieta.
Fulham’s Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov poked home midway through the second half to make it 2-1.
Gabriel Agbonlahor got the only goal as Villa won 1-0 at Sunderland while Newcastle had Mathieu Debuchy sent off against West Brom, who recorded their first league win in 10 games thanks to Saido Berahino’s late penalty.
Norwich City also had a man sent off at fellow strugglers Crystal Palace with Leroy Fer dismissed late on for a second booking. Palace’s Jason Puncheon equalized with a penalty after Bradley Johnson had curled in the opener for the Canaries.
Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Ken Ferris