LONDON (AFP) – Leaders Chelsea and nearest rivals Manchester City preserved the status quo at the top of the Premier League table with a pair of unspectacular victories on Saturday.
Eden Hazard and Diego Costa scored as Chelsea won 2-0 at home to Hull City, who had Tom Huddlestone sent off, while champions City beat Leicester City 1-0 despite losing Edin Dzeko and Vincent Kompany to injury.
Chelsea remain three points clear of City, who opened up an eight-point lead over Manchester United ahead of Louis van Gaal’s side’s home game with Liverpool on Sunday.
West Ham United squandered an opportunity to claim third place after drawing 1-1 at Sunderland, while fifth-place Southampton’s downturn in form continued as they fell to a fourth straight loss at Burnley.
Arsenal drew level on points with Southampton, two points below the Champions League places, after Olivier Giroud and birthday boy Santi Cazorla each scored twice in a 4-1 win at home to Newcastle United.
A minor injury to Thibaut Courtois meant that Petr Cech made his first league start of the season in goal for Chelsea, who were bidding to bounce back from last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Newcastle.
Jose Mourinho’s side went ahead in the seventh minute at Stamford Bridge, with Hazard ghosting in from the right flank to head home Oscar’s in-swinging cross from the left.
Hull lost centre-back Michael Dawson to injury shortly after, with Alex Bruce coming on, and saw Huddlestone given his marching orders on the hour for a sly stamp on Filipe Luis.
Costa made it 2-0 eight minutes later, gathering a pass from the influential Hazard and drilling a shot past Allan McGregor to claim his 12th goal of the campaign.
“It was not a special performance; it was just a good-enough performance,” said Chelsea manager Mourinho. “We were never in trouble.”
Manchester City registered a seventh successive win in all competitions, but victory at Leicester’s King Power Stadium came at the cost of injuries to striker Dzeko and captain Kompany.
Having previously lost top scorer Sergio Aguero to a knee injury that will keep him out until next year, City saw Dzeko withdraw from the starting XI after hurting himself in the warm-up.
It meant that 18-year-old Spaniard Jose Pozo started up front on his own, but after a laboured start, the champions went ahead in the 40th minute when Frank Lampard tucked away a pass from Samir Nasri.
It was the former Chelsea midfielder’s 175th league goal, taking him level with Arsenal great Thierry Henry in fourth place in the all-time Premier League scoring chart.
But the afternoon ended on a sour note for Manuel Pellegrini’s side when Kompany, who was making his return from a hamstring injury, had to go off after apparently aggravating the problem in the latter stages.
“It is impossible that Vincent and Edin will be ready before the New Year,” said Pellegrini, who was also without forward Stevan Jovetic due to a muscular problem.
“We will see with Vincent, but I think it will be very difficult for them to both play again this year.”
Giroud’s 15th-minute header put Arsenal in front against Newcastle and he completed his brace with a delightful near-post flick in the 58th minute after Cazorla had marked his 30th birthday with a classy dinked finish.