Gunners shoot to third; bottom three all edge closer to exit; Di Canio wins again
Arsenal further cemented their Champions League spot as they moved up to third with a win at Fulham, whilst elsewhere on a busy afternoon of Premier League action defeats for Wigan, QPR and Reading pushed them ever closer to the Championship.
Arsene Wenger will be the top flight's most relieved manager this evening as his Arsenal side stuttered to a less than convincing win in West London, while QPR and Reading are all but down as they lost to relegation rivals Stoke and Norwich respectively.
Click below for individual match reports and statsFulham 0 Arsenal 1
Norwich 2 Reading 1
QPR 0 Stoke 2
Sunderland 1 Everton 0
Swansea 0 Southampton 0
West Brom 1 Newcastle 1
West Ham 2 Wigan 0
Wigan will be favourites to join them in the second tier next season as they remain third from bottom after losing 2-0 at West Ham, while Paolo Di Canio's rescue act at Sunderland continues to gather momentum as they beat Everton at the Stadium of Light.
At the Liberty Stadium what should have been an entertaining game on paper proved to be a let-down as Swansea and Southampton could not muster a goal between them. West Brom and Newcastle could not be separated at The Hawthorns either, as they played out a 1-1 draw.
Fulham midfielder Steve Sidwell gave former club Arsenal's hopes of a top-four finish a shot in the arm when he lasted just 12 minutes on his return from suspension, before being shown a straight red card for a reckless if not malicious tackle on Mikel Arteta.
Rather than be buoyed at being handed numerical advantage Arsenal stuttered and were grateful for a lapse piece of Fulham defending just before half-time, which allowed Per Mertesacker to stoop to convert Laurent Koscielny's nod back across goal from a Theo Walcott set-piece.
Earlier Olivier Giroud had struck the post with a smart effort but on a disappointing afternoon for the Frenchman it proved to be his finest moment, as late on he was sent-off, perhaps harshly, for a slightly high but hardly dangerous tackle on Stanislav Manolev.
In truth Arsenal will count themselves lucky to escape Craven Cottage with maximum spoils on an afternoon in which they were often second best to a spirited Fulham side.
Norwich endured a nervy opening first half at home to Reading but once they found a way past Alex McCarthy just five minutes after the interval there was only ever to be one winner.
McCarthy did well to repel Grant Holt's header from a corner but could do nothing to stop substitute Ryan Bennett from dispatching the rebound from close range.
A further nail in Reading's top-flight coffin was hammered in by Elliott Bennett when again Nigel Adkins' side failed to deal with a Norwich corner. It was no goal of the month contender but nonetheless one that pushes Chris Hughton's side that bit closer to safety.
Garath McCleary's goal 15 minutes from time looked to have got Reading back into the contest, but ultimately proved to be nothing more than the scantest of consolations.
At Loftus Road, QPR were never really at the races as a former striker came back to haunt them wearing the red and white of Stoke City.
Peter Crouch's key contribution of an evenly contested game but one that lacked any real quality arrived three minutes before half-time. Cameron Jerome was the architect as he got in behind QPR's backline before heading for the by-line. His low cross was perfect for Crouch to convert for just his seventh goal of the season.
It got no better for QPR in the second half. Crouch was involved in Stoke's second too as he was tugged back by Clint Hill in the penalty area after Robert Huth's header had hit the post. Referee Chris Foy had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, with Jon Walters dispatching confidently - with a retake - to pull Stoke away from the drop zone.
West Ham were full value for their 2-0 defeat of Wigan at Upton Park as Sam Allardyce's men were largely dominant in the capital sun.
The breakthrough came in the 21st minute when Matt Jarvis' low delivery from the left evaded everyone in the box, including Wigan goalkeeper Joel, to nestle in the corner.
Wigan improved in the second half as Paul Scharner headed straight at Jussi Jaaskelainen when free inside the area with the home fans starting to show their tension as their fragile lead continued to be threatened.
But those worries were put to bed with a little over 10 minutes remaining as Kevin Nolan latched on to Andy Carroll's flick to volley West Ham into a two-goal lead and score his seventh goal of the season. It was a landmark 100th goal of his career on a happy day for the Hammers.
Sunderland's love affair with Paolo Di Canio shows no sign of abating as the Black Cats followed up their derby day delight with an impressive 1-0 defeat of Everton.
Sebastian Larsson had twice sent Everton a warning shot with a pair of well struck set-pieces, the first of which clipped the top of Tim Howard's bar.
It was a warning the Champions League chasing Toffees failed to heed as Leighton Baines' blind square pass was punished by the in-form Stephane Sessegnon. There was still plenty to do when he stole possession but after making inroads was able to beat Howard with a toe-poked finish from the edge of the area.
Everton had half chances to get themselves back into the contest but resolute Black Cats defending repeatedly thwarted them.
All the pre-match previews had Swansea's hosting of Southampton as a stylish and likely engaging affair but the game proved to be a damp squib. In the first half, Michel Vorm saved a Rickie Lambert free-kick that looked to be heading for the top corner but otherwise there was precious little to report.
It barely improved thereafter as Swansea went closest to finding a breakthrough when Nathan Dyer thought he had scored only to find Maya Yoshida perfectly placed to clear off the line.
Newcastle were impressive on their travels to West Brom as they deservedly took the lead through Yoan Gouffan's header off Papiss Cisse's centre. Thereafter though they were left to rue profligacy in front of goal, as Cisse proved the chief culprit with some wayward finishing.
West Brom improved in the second half and punished Newcastle's wastefulness in drawing level on 65 minutes, when Billy Jones steered past Rob Elliot to round off a smart move that involved James Morison and Romelu Lukaku.