United replaces stumbling Chelsea as league leader

STEVE DOUGLAS AP Sports Writer Published:

LONDON (AP) -- Manchester United ousted Chelsea from the top of the Premier League on Saturday by beating Arsenal 2-1 coupled with the former leaders being held to a 1-1 draw at Swansea.

Robin van Persie was United's inspiration against his former club, punishing poor defending in the third minute with a league-high eighth goal of the campaign before Patrice Evra's header sealed a deserved victory at Old Trafford.

Chelsea's 10½-week stay at the summit was ended in the driving rain at Liberty Stadium when Spanish winger Pablo Hernandez grabbed an 88th-minute equalizer for Swansea, canceling out Victor Moses' opener.

Manchester City can join United in leapfrogging the stumbling European champions by beating West Ham away later Saturday.

Everton conceded in the last minute in a 2-2 draw at Fulham but climbed a place to fourth above Tottenham, which was jeered off after surprisingly losing 1-0 at home to Wigan.

Norwich and Aston Villa moved clear of the bottom three by grinding out 1-0 victories, against Stoke and Sunderland respectively.

Van Persie has settled seamlessly into the United team since his 24 million pound ($38 million) move from Arsenal in August, and he showed his old employers just what they are missing this season.

The prolific Dutchman pounced on a fluffed clearance by Thomas Vermaelen to drive a right-footed shot into the bottom corner from outside the box, although he refused to celebrate the goal having spent the past eight years at Emirates Stadium.

"I had a fantastic time there. I have respect for the fans, the players, the manager and the whole club," Van Persie said. "It's the first time I've ever played against a former club, so it's a special day."

Wayne Rooney missed a penalty in first-half injury time after Santi Cazorla was adjudged to have handled the ball, but the England striker made amends by crossing for Evra to nod home the clinching second goal in the 67th.

Jack Wilshere, playing his second game back after 17 months out injured, was sent off for Arsenal two minutes later for picking up a second booking. But the visitors managed a late consolation through Cazorla in stoppage time.

Arsenal stayed sixth on 15 points -- the team's worst start to a Premier league season since Arsene Wenger joined in 1996.

"We had a lot of the ball, but we were not very efficient in our final third or in their final third," Wenger said. "Then you feel the domination was a bit illusionary -- they created more chances and deserved to win the game."

Chelsea hasn't been headed in the league since Aug. 22, but Hernandez's low strike means the team has won just one of its last four matches in all competitions.

After two straight draining matches against United -- a 3-2 loss in the league and a 5-4 win in the League Cup -- Chelsea lacked spark, especially with Juan Mata out injured and captain John Terry serving the final match of his four-game suspension for racially abusing an opponent.

"Mentally and physically, it was very demanding playing two times against United," said Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo. "When you are so close to winning away from home, you are always disappointed."

Tottenham lost touch with the leaders by slumping to a lackluster loss to Wigan, leading to the home supporters venting their anger toward the team and manager Andre Villas-Boas.

Ben Watson scored the winner in the 56th minute for Wigan, which could easily have won by a bigger margin. Having lost to Chelsea in the league two weeks ago, Spurs have lost back-to-back Premier League games at White Hart Lane for the first time in four years.

"The performance was more pleasing than the result today," Wigan manager Roberto Martinez said. "It was a perfect performance."

Steve Sidwell scored Fulham's last-gasp equalizer against Everton, pegging the visitors back after a double from Marouane Fellaini had helped them recover from conceding an early own goal by goalkeeper Tim Howard.

"It feels like a defeat ... we're as sick as it gets," Everton manager David Moyes said.

Bradley Johnson grabbed Norwich's winner at home to Stoke, extending the team's unbeaten run to three matches, and Gabriel Agbonlahor was Villa's scorer at Sunderland.