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Arsenal celebrates New Year with a bang
by Paul Kennedy, January 3rd, 2008 7AM

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[WINNERS & LOSERS] The big question regarding the English Premier League's hectic holiday season was whether surprise leader Arsenal could maintain its form, but the Gunners actually extended their lead over Manchester United.

WINNERS

ARSENAL. Following up on its 1-0 victory over London rival Chelsea on Dec. 16, Arsenal won three games and tied one during the annual rush that concluded with a 2-0 win over West Ham on New Year's Day. The Gunners' only blemish was a 0-0 tie at Portsmouth on Boxing Day, but they regained their lead over United last Saturday when they won, 4-1, at Everton and Manchester United lost to West Ham, 2-1. Arsenal has 50 points after 21 games for a two-point lead over defending champion Man. United.

NICOLAS ANELKA. With a pair of goals for Bolton over the holiday season, Frenchman Nicolas Anelka has 10 for the season to put him in a tie for third place behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Emmanuel Adebayor on the English scoring charts. Anelka's fine form has sparked the interested of rival EPL clubs, and Bolton has begun an auction for the 28-year-old striker who has already played at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City, in addition to Bolton. Anelka's preference is Chelsea, but the Blues are reportedly looking to get Bolton asking price of $30 million reduced.

ASTON VILLA. Villa was the only team in the top 10 that improved its position over the holiday season. It began the festivities in eighth place and finished tied with Everton for sixth following its 2-1 win over Tottenham on Tuesday. Martin Laursen's goal five minutes before the end secured the three points for Villa.

LOSERS

NEWCASTLE. Only last-place Derby did as poorly as Newcastle over the holiday season. The Magpies' 2-0 loss to Manchester City at St. James' Park on Wednesday left them with only one point in four games and increased the pressure on Manager Sam Allardyce. Newcastle left the field to a chorus of boos, and Allardyce said the fans "have every right to be angry."

JOE BARTON. The bad boy of English soccer spent New Year's in a Liverpool jail after being arrested, along with his 19-year-old brother and a 27-year-old woman, last Thursday at 5.30 a.m. for assault after an incident outside a McDonald's in downtown Liverpool. Already facing other outstanding charges of assault, Barton remained in jail under his hearing scheduled for Friday and missed the Magpies' games with Chelsea and Manchester City.

FULHAM. A managerial change was supposed to shake up the Cottagers, but they managed only two points in four games following the dismissal of Manager Lawrie Sanchez and dropped to 19th place in the EPL. Roy Hodgson's first game in charge was the same old story. The Cottagers lost, 2-1, after leading at the half. They have blown nine leads, throwing away 22 points. Americans Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey went the full 90 against Chelsea.



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