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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Despite a string of summertime flops, Hollywood is expected to have a banner year at the domestic box office, coming in just shy of $11 billion, the largest annual take ever. But because of higher ticket prices, actual attendance at North American theaters remained flat after a decade of decline.

With the current domestic box-office tally nearly 1 percent ahead of last year at this time, 2013 could surpass 2012's overall haul of $10.8 billion by more than $100 million, according to box-office tracker Rentrak.

High-profile flops such as "The Lone Ranger," "After Earth," "R.I.P.D." and "Turbo" were offset by mega-hits like "Fast & Furious 6" and "Iron Man 3," which consistently filled theaters last summer.

More recently, Warner Bros.' space epic "Gravity" has earned $254 million domestically, Lionsgate's sci-fi sequel "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" has grossed $378 million and fantasy prequel "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" has brought in $150 million for Warner Bros.

A strong holiday slate is also boosting the year's box-office total. "There has virtually been every kind of genre of film available," said Rentrak box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "You have blockbusters like `Hobbit' and esoteric, challenging films like `Nebraska,' `Dallas Buyers Club' and `Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.' All of these films get people to the movies."

But the National Association of Theater Owners projects that the actual number of tickets sold domestically in 2013 will remain about the same as last year's 1.36 billion. That's down from the all-time high of 1.57 billion admissions in 2002.

In 2011, the domestic box-office gross sunk to a 16-year low, dropping 3.5 percent from 2010 to $10.2 billion. But 2012 saw the industry rebound with a $10.8 billion total, thanks to hits like Disney's "The Avengers" and Warner Bros.' Batman finale "The Dark Knight Rises."

Both films screened in 3-D, a profit-boosting perk that saw a huge increase in popularity following 2009's "Avatar." But the public's appetite for the heightened technology has eased, leaving Hollywood to search for other ways to counter audience drain.

Entertainment available on countless portable devices continues to threaten multiplex attendance, as do advanced home theater systems and video-on-demand services offering original premium programming and feature films the same day as their theatrical release.

But Hollywood is fighting back with the premium multiplex experience. Movie attendance may be tepid, but the audience is willing to pay more for theater extras, which keep the bottom line growing, even as admissions remain flat.

"Theaters are offering IMAX, bigger chairs, dine-in options and alcohol," said Don Harris, head of distribution at Paramount. "It's kind of like the difference between staying at a Hilton or a Ritz Carlton. I think what you saw this year was a growth in a segment of the audience that isn't as worried about the price of a movie ticket as they are interested in the out-of-home premium experience. I think you're going to see that going forward."

And with all of the bells and whistles now offered at theaters, movie-going is still one of the least expensive ways to be entertained, compared to concerts, sporting events and live theater," notes Richie Fay, Lionsgate's president of domestic distribution. (So far this year, the average cost of a movie ticket in North America has been $8.05, according to NATO.)

Social media has also helped boost sales, Fay observed, with Twitter and other services providing a powerful marketing tool for studios and a faster way for fans to spread that all-important word of mouth. "People don't have to wait a day for a print story anymore. It's an important part of the growth of the industry."

Studios are hoping to continue that growth in 2014 with such anticipated releases as "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "Transformers: Age of Extinction," "Dumb and Dumber To," "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again."

"I think the fact that attendance is at least holding its own is impressive, given the number of other media options in the mix," said Rentrak's Dergarabedian. "Going out to the movie theater is clearly as attractive, relevant and viable as ever with audiences."

Although year-end figures for the overseas box office are not yet available, foreign receipts are typically two to three times higher than domestic earnings. So fan-driven hits like "The Hangover Part III," which grossed $112.2 million in North America, are expected to earn more than double their domestic takes overseas.

"With all of its ebbs and flows, ups and downs, the theatrical experience just continues to resonate," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution at Sony.


AP Film Writer Jake Coyle in New York contributed to this report.


Follow AP Film Writer Jessica Herndon on Twitter at: HTTPS://TWITTER.COM/SOMEKIND


Christmas 2013


A&E celebrates Christmas with ‘Duck Dynasty’ super marathon

By Leora Arnowitz
A&E may have given “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson the heave-ho when they suspended him from future episodes of the show last week, but the network is still welcoming him home for holidays.

The channel is celebrating Christmas with a staggering 25 consecutive episodes of their No. 1 show, beginning at 3:30 p.m. on Christmas Day and running until the wee hours of Dec. 26.

According to the schedule on A&E’s website, the Robertsons will take over the channel until 4 a.m., and then paid programming —meaning infomercials—will kick in.
And don’t think controversial papa Phil will be left out of the Christmas Day airings. He is a key character in plenty of the episodes scheduled to air, including “Quack-O-Lantern” and “Drag me to Glory.”

For Christmas, A&E is just giving the fans what they want, said Cate Meighan, senior writer for Celeb Dirty Laundry.

“I think, honestly, it’s A&E trying to play both sides of the coin,” she said. “They’ve come out and not supported Phil’s statements… however they’re also looking at the backlash from the fans, and they have a huge amount of backlash from the fans.”

Plus, in the TV world, it all comes down to money, she said. “Duck Dynasty” is the networks top show, and it has reeled it more than 14 million viewers at its peak, which means big advertising bucks for the network.

“It is really a money thing,” Meighan explained. “You’re going to have the same people tuning into ‘Duck Dynasty’ that always have and the same people not watching that always have.”

She said at the end of the day, the series will likely continue if the advertisers continue rush to air ads during the series. If they don’t, the spotlight will likely fade.

“Unfortunately people are secondary,” she said. “At the end of every single thing that we see it’s about the money and the advertising.”

So will the fans tune in on Christmas to celebrate with the Robertson clan?

“I think the same people that watch will find themselves gravitating in after holiday dinner… after 10 Christmas movies you’re [ready to watch something else.]”

Phil Robertson and the series came under fire last week when GQ published graphic comments he made about his condemnation of homosexual sex. He was subsequently suspended from the series indefinitely, and the family has stated they are hesitant to continue with the show if Phil will not be part of it.

Season 5 of “Duck Dynasty” premieres Jan. 15. Phil is slated to appear in several episodes that have already been filmed.

A&E did not respond to FOX411’s request for further comment.

Network quiet amid petitions calling for boycott over 'Duck Dynasty' move

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
(CNN) -- While boycott petitions against "Duck Dynasty" home A&E take off, the network itself is staying quiet.

Since its Wednesday decision to "indefinitely" suspend Phil Robertson, one of the stars of its highly rated reality series, A&E has yet to publicly clarify what the future of the show might be, what they'll do with their block of reruns, or even what it really means to be "indefinitely" suspended.

The network's lack of communication has done nothing to stem the tide of detractors who strongly disagree with its decision to put Robertson on the bench over remarks quoted in GQ magazine, in which he called homosexuality a sin, citing the Bible. A Change.org petition demanding that Robertson be reinstated and the network issue an apology was steadily climbing toward 100,000 signatures Friday.

A separate petition at a website called IStandWithPhil.com makes a similar appeal. Hosted by the online community Faith Driven Consumers, the website helps its members spend their money with companies that fall in line with their spiritual beliefs. The petition on IStandWithPhil.com had surpassed 130,000 signatures by Friday evening.

Those who've signed the IStandWithPhil.com petition are asking for their "views (to) be treated with equality and respect in America's rich rainbow of diversity," and for the "network to immediately reinstate Mr. Robertson to 'Duck Dynasty,' and to formally apologize to him, his family, and the millions of viewers who tune in every week, stand by him, and share his worldview."

"While the LGBT community may be offended by his opposing viewpoint," that webstite continues, "your rash, discriminatory, and unfair treatment toward Mr. Robertson -- a recognized symbol of the faith community -- is a slap in the face to Faith Driven Consumers and everyday Americans alike."

Both websites are urging people not to watch A&E programming in the meantime.

So far, the number of petitioners doesn't compare with the millions that "Duck Dynasty" has drawn to A&E -- its fourth-season premiere in August set a record with 11.8 million watching, and the season finale in October brought in 8.4 million -- but those signatures would give any network exec flop sweat. Especially when the rest of the Robertson family has stoked the fire with a statement that suggests the future of the show might be in jeopardy.

"We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm," the family said in a statement. "We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of 'Duck Dynasty.'"

According to CNN Senior Media Correspondent Brian Stelter, conventional wisdom in the industry holds that this current disagreement between A&E and the family will resolve itself in time, in part because the two sides benefit so much from being in business with the other. A person with close ties to A&E noted that the Robertson family is under contract, thereby reducing the chances that the family will show up on another channel anytime soon.

An A&E executive who spoke to Stelter on condition of anonymity, because the channel was avoiding any new public comments about the controversy, said that conversations with the Robertson family would likely resume after the Christmas holiday.

"Everybody just needs to take a breath," the executive said.

The A&E executive insisted that there has been no second-guessing at the channel about the decision to suspend Phil Robertson.

All of which gives rise to the question: What would happen to A&E were "Duck Dynasty" to go away? This is, after all, the show that helped the network to raise its total viewership 10% this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Stelter can't see the Robertsons or A&E wanting to end the televised hunting-business fun so soon, but if it were to happen, it would undoubtedly be a blow to the network, he said.

"There's just nothing else on the channel that's nearly as popular as new episodes of 'Duck Dynasty,'" Stelter said. "It would be like AMC losing new episodes of 'The Walking Dead' or like Fox losing 'American Idol.' That's why it is very, very unlikely. The show is hugely important for the channel and for the family. Not just Phil, but the whole family," which, Stelter notes, isn't affected by the suspension.

Given that Robertson is "a main character" on the fifth season, which is scheduled to premiere January 15, Stelter believes the increased attention thanks to the uproar might even give "Duck Dynasty" a ratings boost in 2014.

But if something were to happen to the show in the long run, then yes, A&E would certainly need to regroup.

On the other hand, it's not like the network hasn't bounced back before -- and it's never been a one-show network. Over the past 10 years alone, it's transitioned from being the prime place to find a rerun of "Biography" to the home of the Emmy-winning "Intervention," to the site of reality shows like 

"Storage Wars" as well as original programming like "Bates Motel."

In October, A&E unveiled a new branding strategy centered around the tagline "Be Original." The campaign, The Hollywood Reporter noted at the time, was scheduled to debut during -- what else? -- a "Duck Dynasty" special on December 11.

And yet, as industry trade Variety emphasizes, it is not unusual for a network to make a bold move in severing ties with a controversial figure, no matter how popular. MSNBC bid adieu to Alec Baldwinafter the actor fired off another unprintable outburst at a photographer, and the Food Network declined to renew its contract with one of its most well-known personalities, Paula Deen, after she admitted to using the "N" word in the past.

A&E itself previously put another fan-favorite reality star, Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman, on hiatus after he used a racial slur.

With its response to the "Duck Dynasty" situation, the network "has been able to establish its progressive corporate values, maintain its relationship with advertisers, and not collapse an entire reality show in the process," Variety TV reporter AJ Marechal observes. "The bullet wasn't entirely dodged, but it at least didn't hit a main artery."

Merry Christmas!

Manning sets one-season touchdown passes record

Houston (AFP) - Peyton Manning broke the National Football League's single-season touchdown passes record on Sunday with his 51st of the year, throwing four touchdowns to spark Denver's 37-13 triumph at Houston.
"It's probably a temporary record. Brady will probably break it next year," Manning said. "But it is very special. It is a team accomplishment."Manning broke the record of 50 touchdown tosses by New England's Tom Brady in 2007, reclaiming the mark he had owned previously with 49 touchdown throws in 2004 while playing for the Indianapolis Colts.
Manning threw three of his touchdown passes Sunday in the fourth quarter, including two to Eric Decker and the record-breaker, a 25-yard toss to tight end Julius Thomas, with 4:28 remaining in the game.
The son of retired NFL quarterback Archie Manning and older brother of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning had a brief moment with his coaches and teammates to acknowledge the feat before leaving the field after the game concluded.
"I have celebrated with the team. I had a very special moment with my teammates and coaches congratulating me," Manning said. "It was a team achievement."
Manning completed 32 of 51 passes for 400 yards against the hapless Texans, who lost their 13th game in a row while Denver improved to 12-3 and clinched a first-round playoff bye.
He has 5,211 passing yards this season, the most of any season in his career at age 37 and after four surgeries on his neck.
Manning is within reach of the NFL single-season records for completions and passing yardage, marks he could challenge next week when the Broncos visit Oakland in their final game of the regular season.
In addition, the Broncos are 17 points shy of the NFL's one-season scoring record, a mark set by Brady's New England Patriots in 2007.
Manning, making a strong case for his fifth NFL Most Valuable Player award, won his only Super Bowl crown with Indianapolis in February, 2007.

'X Factor' U.K. Draws Lowest Season Finale Ratings Since 2005

by Georg Szalai

Sunday's season 10 finale of the Simon Cowell-created show on ITV drew an average of 9.7 million viewers.

LONDON – The U.K. season finale of The X Factor on Sunday drew an average audience of 9.7 million, becoming the lowest-rated season-ending episode of the show since 2005, according to ratings consultancy Attentional.

Sunday night's episode of the SimonCowell-created singing competition on ITV brought to an end the 10th season of the talent show in Britain and was the most-watched show of the night in the U.K. despite its drop from previous seasons.
Last season, the finale had attracted 10.9 million, or 11.1 million when including the audience for the re-airing. In 2011, ITV had reached an average audience of 13.1 million for the final episode, while in 2010, an audience of 17.2 million had tuned in for the show's highest-rated finale ever.
Sunday's audience performance beat out 2005 when the finale drew an average of 8.1 million viewers, according to data from back then, following 9.7 million in 2004.
A peak audience of 11.9 million watched this Sunday, again falling behind last season when the finale had peaked with 12.8 million.
The first part of the X Factor season finale on Saturday night had also drawn fewer viewers, becoming the lowest-rated Saturday finale episode since the show's launch in 2004. The average Saturday audience amounted to 8.5 million, including viewers catching up on the show with an hour delay, down about 1 million on the final Saturday last year. But it was enough to make the episode the highest-rated Saturday night live show of the 10th season.

The first part of the X Factor season finale on Saturday night had also drawn fewer viewers, becoming the lowest-rated Saturday finale episode since the show's launch in 2004. The average Saturday audience amounted to 8.5 million, including viewers catching up on the show with an hour delay, down about 1 million on the final Saturday last year. But it was enough to make the episode the highest-rated Saturday night live show of the 10th season.
ITV has seen the show remain one of the highest-rated entertainment shows on British TV, but it has been drawing weaker ratings in recent years. Cowell had an on-air role through the 2010 season. BBC's dance competition Strictly Come Dancing, ITV's own I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!and Downton Abbey have beaten it this season, at least in some instances.
The U.K. audience average for the full The X Factor season generally trended higher from the 7.4 million in the first season until a high of 14.1 million in season seven. But the average fell to 9 million last season from 12.4 million in 2011.
The 10th season featured judges Gary Barlow, Nicole Scherzinger, Sharon Osbourne andLouis Walsh. Changes to the panel and format are expected next season.
ITV recently renewed X Factor and Britain's Got Talent for three more years.  
"Thank you to the entire production team who worked on X factor   uk. And of course the judges and the talent. And to everyone who watched," tweeted Cowell on Monday. "And next week it's the X factor USA final. You have no idea what goes on behind the scenes! It's going to be a great final. Watch and see."
Twitter: @georgszalai

ESPN Reverses Decision to Reject 'Jesus' Ad (Video)

by Paul Bond

The sports network was under assault for refusing to air a Christmas commercial for a children's hospital, allegedly because the spot was too religious.

After relentless attacks from the political right, ESPN on Thursday has had a change of heart about airing a Christmas commercial using "God" and "Jesus" in the audio.
Previously, ESPN had rejected the ad, reportedly due to the use of the two religious references, though the giant sports network owned by the Walt Disney Co. hadn't publicly acknowledged the specific reason for its rejection."We have again reviewed the ads submitted for the SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and have concluded that we will accept the original requested commercial," the network said in a statement. "It will run in Saturday's VCU at Northern Iowa basketball game on ESPNU. This decision is consistent with our practice of individual review of all ads under our commercial advocacy standards."
Instead, ESPN told reporters that, "As originally submitted, the spot did not meet our commercial advocacy standards. We have since been supplied with a different commercial, which will air on the 14th."
That statement, which was also at the ESPN website, included video of the new ad, but not the one that was originally rejected. Later on Thursday though, ESPN took down the second ad and put up the original one, complete with the words "God" and "Jesus," and that is the ad that will continue to run on television.
The original ad for Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, and the one that was initially rejected, included the line, "We celebrate the birth of Jesus and the season of giving, bringing hope to the many children, parents and families that we serve."
It also had the line: "Help us reveal God's healing presence this Christmas."
The new ad -- the one ESPN accepted -- did not contain those two lines.
ESPN's about-face on Thursday afternoon means the ad mentioning "Jesus" and "God" will run after all. ESPN changed its mind after stories that appeared at The Drudge Report and Breitbart.com put the issue front-and-center in conservative and religious circles.
Those stories were in part based on a Wednesday night report from the Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, who blasted both ESPN and the hospital, the former for waging "a war on Christmas" and the latter for not sufficiently standing up for itself, given that the hospital was refusing to talk publicly about its dispute with ESPN.
Others who were criticizing ESPN on Thursday included Glenn Beck's TheBlaze.com and MichelleMalkin's Twitchy.com, a website recently acquired by Salem Communications.
Also, Sarah Palin weighed in via her Facebook page, writing: "ESPN, you've come a long way, baby ... from your known wholesome, bold Americana 'persona' to now being afraid to support freedom and not being bold enough to allow acknowledgment of the 'Reason for the Season.' So disappointing."
ESPN's original decision to reject the ad was based on its guidelines stating that, "ESPN does not accept advertising that consists of, in whole or in part, political or religious advocacy or issue-oriented advertising."
Those guidelines, though, were also being picked apart by the political right on Thursday, given that ESPN often runs political ads, including one that recently promoted the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. 
Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

Peter O'Toole Dead at 81

By GREGORY KATZ Associated Press
Peter O'Toole, the charismatic actor who achieved instant stardom as Lawrence of Arabia and was nominated eight times for an Academy Award, has died, his agent said Sunday. He was 81.

O'Toole died Saturday after a long illness, Steve Kenis said in a brief statement.

The family was overwhelmed "by the outpouring of real love and affection being expressed towards him, and to us, during this unhappy time. ... In due course there will be a memorial filled with song and good cheer, as he would have wished," O'Toole's daughter Kate said in the statement.

O'Toole got his first Oscar nomination for 1962's "Lawrence of Arabia," his last for "Venus" in 2006. With that he set the record for most nominations without ever winning, though he had accepted an honorary Oscar in 2003.

A reformed — but unrepentant — hell-raiser, O'Toole long suffered from ill health. Always thin, he had grown wraithlike in later years, his famously handsome face eroded by years of hard drinking.
But nothing diminished his flamboyant manner and candor.

"If you can't do something willingly and joyfully, then don't do it," he once said. "If you give up drinking, don't go moaning about it; go back on the bottle. Do. As. Thou. Wilt."

O'Toole began his acting career as one of the most exciting young talents on the British stage. His 1955 "Hamlet," at the Bristol Old Vic, was critically acclaimed.

International stardom came in David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia." With only a few minor movie roles behind him, O'Toole was unknown to most moviegoers when they first saw him as T.E. 

Lawrence, the mythic British World War I soldier and scholar who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks.

His sensitive portrayal of Lawrence's complex character garnered O'Toole his first Oscar nomination.
O'Toole was tall, fair and strikingly handsome, and the image of his bright blue eyes peering out of an Arab headdress in Lean's spectacularly photographed desert epic was unforgettable.

Playwright Noel Coward once said that if O'Toole had been any prettier, they would have had to call the movie "Florence of Arabia."

In 1964's "Becket," O'Toole played King Henry II to Richard Burton's Thomas Becket, and won another Oscar nomination. Burton shared O'Toole's fondness for drinking, and their offset carousing made headlines.

O'Toole played Henry again in 1968 in "The Lion in Winter," opposite Katharine Hepburn, for his third Oscar nomination.

Four more nominations followed: in 1968 for "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," in 1971 for "The Ruling Class," in 1980 for "The Stunt Man," and in 1982 for "My Favorite Year." It was almost a quarter-century before he received his eighth and last, for "Venus."

Seamus Peter O'Toole was born Aug. 2, 1932, the son of Irish bookie Patrick "Spats" O'Toole and his wife Constance. There is some question about whether Peter was born in Connemara, Ireland, or in Leeds, northern England, where he grew up.

After a teenage foray into journalism at the Yorkshire Evening Post and national military service with the navy, young O'Toole auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and won a scholarship.
He went from there to the Bristol Old Vic and soon was on his way to stardom, helped along by an early success in 1959 at London's Royal Court Theatre in "The Long and The Short and The Tall."
The image of the renegade hell-raiser stayed with O'Toole for decades, although he gave up drinking in 1975 following serious health problems and major surgery.

He did not, however, give up smoking unfiltered Gauloises cigarettes in an ebony holder. That and his penchant for green socks, voluminous overcoats and trailing scarves lent him a rakish air and suited his fondness for drama in the old-fashioned "bravura" manner.

A month before his 80th birthday in 2012, O'Toole announced his retirement from a career that he said had fulfilled him emotionally and financially, bringing "me together with fine people, good companions with whom I've shared the inevitable lot of all actors: flops and hits."

"However, it's my belief that one should decide for oneself when it is time to end one's stay," he said. "So I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell."

In retirement, O'Toole said he would focus on the third volume of his memoirs.

Good parts were sometimes few and far between, but "I take whatever good part comes along," O'Toole told The Independent on Sunday newspaper in 1990.

"And if there isn't a good part, then I do anything, just to pay the rent. Money is always a pressure. And waiting for the right part — you could wait forever. So I turn up and do the best I can."

The 1980 "Macbeth" in which he starred was a critical disaster of heroic proportions. But it played to sellout audiences, largely because the savaging by the critics brought out the curiosity seekers.

"The thought of it makes my nose bleed," he said years later.

In 1989, however, O'Toole had a big stage success with "Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell," a comedy about his old drinking buddy, the legendary layabout and ladies' man who wrote The Spectator magazine's weekly "Low Life" column when he was sober enough to do so.

The honorary Oscar came 20 years after his seventh nomination for "My Favorite Year." By then it seemed a safe bet that O'Toole's prospects for another nomination were slim. He was still working regularly, but in smaller roles unlikely to earn awards attention.

O'Toole graciously accepted the honorary award, quipping, "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, my foot," as he clutched his Oscar statuette.

He had nearly turned down the award, sending a letter asking that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hold off on the honorary Oscar until he turned 80.

Hoping another Oscar-worthy role would come his way, O'Toole wrote: "I am still in the game and might win the bugger outright."

The last chance came in, for "Venus," in which he played a lecherous old actor consigned to roles as feeble-minded royals or aged men on their death beds. By failing again to win, he broke the tie for futility which had been shared with his old drinking buddy, Richard Burton.

O'Toole divorced Welsh actress Sian Phillips in 1979 after 19 years of marriage. The couple had two daughters, Kate and Pat.

A brief relationship with American model Karen Somerville led to the birth of his son Lorcan in 1983, and a change of lifestyle for O'Toole.

After a long custody battle, a U.S. judge ruled Somerville should have her son during school vacations, and O'Toole would have custody during the school year.

"The pirate ship has berthed," he declared, happily taking on the responsibilities of fatherhood. He learned to coach schoolboy cricket and, when he was in a play, the curtain time was moved back to allow him part of the evenings at home with his son.
AP writer Raphael Satter contributed to this report.

Man City humble Arsenal, Chelsea move second

London (AFP) - Manchester City asserted their Premier League title credentials with an extraordinary 6-3 defeat of leaders Arsenal on Saturday that took them to within three points of Arsene Wenger's side.

Sergio Aguero gave City a 14th-minute lead, with Alvaro Negredo restoring the hosts' advantage after Theo Walcott had marked his first start for Arsenal since September by equalising.
City lost Aguero to injury early in the second half, but a brace from Fernandinho, a David Silva strike and a Yaya Toure penalty secured victory for the 2012 champions, with Walcott and Per Mertesacker replying in vain.

Chelsea's striker Fernando Torres celebrates after …"It's not easy to score six goals against Arsenal, the best defence in the Premier League, the best team this year," said City manager Manuel Pellegrini.

"We are three points behind. We must continue working and improving because we have a lot more things to improve."

Having won all eight of their home games this season -- scoring 35 goals -- City climbed to third place in the table, with Chelsea moving up to second by narrowly beating Crystal Palace 2-1.
Liverpool could reclaim second place by winning at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, when Manchester United are also in action at Aston Villa.

Arsenal, meanwhile, have now lost three times this season, and manager Wenger said: "Overall, they deserved the win. We have to go home and recover and come back for the next time. We made too many technical mistakes today."

Held 1-1 at Southampton last weekend, City made a determined start at the Etihad Stadium and took the lead in the 14th minute.

Samir Nasri's right-wing corner was headed on by Martin Demichelis and Aguero hooked home a waist-high volley at the back post to notch his 15th goal in 13 games.

Southampton's striker Jay Rodriguez celebrates …Walcott levelled in the 31st minute, bobbling a shot home from a Mesut Ozil pass after Aaron Ramsey robbed Toure, but Negredo restored the hosts' advantage when he tucked in a low cross from Pablo Zabaleta.
To make matters worse for Arsenal, centre-back Laurent Koscielny had to be stretchered off after cutting his knee as he slid in alongside Negredo, with the club announcing via Twitter that he had suffered a "deep laceration".

City saw Aguero limp off early in the second half, but they extended their lead in the 50th minute when Fernandinho picked up a loose pass from Ozil and curled a sublime finish around Wojciech Szczesny.

Walcott struck again in the 63rd minute, collecting a dinked pass from Ramsey and shaping a shot into the top-right corner, but Silva immediately converted a low cross from Jesus Navas to restore City's two-goal lead.

Fernandinho then scored his second goal before Mertesacker headed in an injury-time consolation for Arsenal, only for Toure to complete the scoring from the spot after Szczesny tripped James Milner.
Victory momentarily took City up to second place, but they slipped to third after Chelsea's win at home to Palace, which left Jose Mourinho's side two points behind Arsenal.

Ramires struck the winning goal with a sweet 20-yard drive 10 minutes prior to half-time, after Fernando Torres's close-range opener for the hosts had been cancelled out by Marouane Chamakh's volley.

"We created a lot of chances, but did not kill off the game," said Chelsea manager Mourinho, whose side visit Arsenal a week on Monday.

"Everyone is in there, but next weekend is between the first and the second and this country is waiting for that."

Everton clambered above local rivals Liverpool and into the top four after winning 4-1 at home to Fulham.

Dimitar Berbatov equalised for Fulham with a 67th-minute penalty after Leon Osman had curled Everton ahead in the first half, but Seamus Coleman, Gareth Barry and Kevin Mirallas scored late goals to secure the points for Roberto Martinez's side.

Fulham slipped below Palace to 19th, with both sides now a point behind fourth-bottom West Ham United, who were held 0-0 by bottom club Sunderland at Upton Park.

Newcastle United moved above Spurs on goals scored after drawing 1-1 at home to Southampton, for whom Jay Rodriguez netted a 65th-minute equaliser after Yoan Gouffran had put the hosts in front.
Meanwhile, Cardiff City moved four points clear of the relegation zone after Peter Whittingham's brave second-half goal gave the Welsh side a 1-0 win at home to West Bromwich Albion.

In the day's late game, mid-table Hull City and Stoke City were left to rue missed opportunities to move further away from the relegation zone after they played out a goalless draw at the KC Stadium.