|Mikel Arteta celebrates (picture from Yahoo)|
The main story this week was, of course, Sir Alex Ferguson’s 25th Anniversary as Manchester United manager. Sunderland’s (and former-United defender) Wes Brown gave Fergie the perfect present, heading into his own net from a Nani corner to score what proved to be the only goal in a dire game.
In truth, there were more important on-pitch matters this weekend in games that didn’t involve Manchester United.
For instance, yesterday saw Arsenal stroll to a comfortable victory which leaves them seventh in the table. Granted, West Brom sat back and offered very little but, as the old cliché goes, you can only beat what is in front of you. And, thanks to Robin Van Persie’s close-range finish (11 goals in 11 games, now), Thomas Vermaelen’s thumping header and Mikel Arteta’s drive from the edge of the box, they did.
The Vermaelen/Lorient Koscielny partnership may not have been really tested on Saturday but is, potentially, a brilliant pairing. Carl Jenkinson was also impressive at right-back, while Aaron Ramsey is beginning to become more of a Cesc-replacement than the man who was presumably brought in to do such a job – Arteta.
The win means that Arsenal haven’t lost a game since the start of October (the 2-1 loss in the London derby) and have only lost three matches since the 8-2 thrashing from Manchester United at the end of August. The Gunners have Norwich, Fulham and then a crunch match with Manchester City next – with Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League in between – but maybe, just maybe, Arsenal really have turned a corner.
If Arsenal have turned the corner, Newcastle have sped round a bend, accelerated past everyone on the motorway and then climbed the impossible hill at great speed – because their current form is magnificent.
Unbeaten in the League this season and currently sitting third in the table, the Toon squeezed past Everton on Saturday, with Fabricio Coloccini putting in yet another superb performance at the heart of their defence. Full-back Ryan Taylor scored a storming volley after John Heitinga’s own goal and, despite Everton pushing hard and getting one back just before half-time through Jack Rodwell, Alan Pardew’s side held on for their seventh win of the season.
As mentioned in the Sunday preview, Owen Coyle has been under some intense pressure recently after a string of poor results and performances. Wanderers, though, recorded their second victory in six games at home to Stoke as they smashed five goals past a clearly tired Potters side.
Asmir Begovic had a bit of a nightmare in goal but Chris Eagles – a player who has also come in for criticism from his own fans – put in a superb performance, scoring twice. Ivan Klasnic also scored two, while Kevin Davies notched his second league goal of the season. Bolton remain in the relegation zone but are the only team in the bottom seven to record a win this weekend. Stoke drop to 12th, with that away trip to Israel clearly adding extra fatigue to a squad which already looks quite stretched anyway.
Manchester City also seemed to struggle after their European game midweek, only just managing to beat QPR at Loftus Road. The two megabucks sides battled out what turned out to be the most entertaining game of the weekend for the neutral, with City lacking in creativity and Rangers flourishing with commitment and extreme desire.
Jay Bothroyd had given the Hoops the lead after half-an-hour but Edin Dzeko scored his 10th goal in nine League appearances just before half-time and David Silva just after it to restore normality. Heidar Helguson equalised from close range with twenty minutes to go but Yaya Toure’s goal, his 3rd in two games, gave City the three points.
Aston Villa haven’t had the most promising of starts to the season – despite, on paper, it appearing not the most challenging either – but another superb display from Gabriel Agbonlahor helped Alex McLeish’s side overcome a resilient Norwich.
The pacey winger made two assists – one from the left, one from the right, both of the highest quality – with Darren Bent the beneficiary, finishing well on both occasions. Agbonlahor also grabbed a goal himself, chasing down a poor back pass and slotting home with ease. Goals from Steve Morison and a stunning free-kick from Anthony Pilkington were not enough for the Canaries, who still sit 9th in the table after an impressive start. Villa are 8th.
With Arsenal proving to be so impressive in recent weeks the race for fourth now looks a lot more open. Swansea held Liverpool to a 0-0 draw at Anfield, with Kenny Dalglish’s side failing to win at Anfield for the 3rd successive game, thanks largely to a late wonder save from Swansea ‘keeper Michael Vorm.
Tottenham, though, stormed past Fulham, although a Jermain Defoe 90th minute goal was appreciated by Spurs fans everywhere after intense pressure deep into added-on time with the score at 2-1. Tottenham are 5th, with a game in hand, level on points with Chelsea and three ahead of Liverpool and Arsenal.
The real relegation contenders may have been sought out this weekend with Wigan and Blackburn putting in appalling performances against Wolves and Chelsea respectively. Neither side can defend nor does neither side look particularly promising going forward either. Chelsea, though, only managed to score one – a Frank Lampard header – while Wolves eased to a 3-1 win.
Dave Whelan said last season that he wouldn’t sack Roberto Martinez even if the club were relegated, presumably for stability reasons. He may want to re-think that, though, if performances carry on as they are – because, otherwise, Wigan could be down before the end of the January transfer window.