Premier League weekend review: Superb form of Arsenal and Newcastle continues

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.

Premier League round-up: Matchday 32

The game of the Premier League weekend undoubtedly came at the Stadium of Light where West Bromwich Albion came from behind twice to eventually win 3-2. Sunderland seemed to be in complete control as Nicky Shorey put through his own net for the away side before Asamoah Gyan wasted a great goalscoring opportunity, but Peter Odemwingie fired in from close range just before the half-hour mark to level the scores.

Within three minutes, though, Sunderland full-back Phil Bardsley smashed in a free-kick from thirty yards to restore the Black Cats’ lead. But then came the fightback. Roy Hodgson’s side scored first through Youssuf Mulumbu and then Paul Scharner to propel West Brom to 10th in the table.
It can be safely assumed that West Brom’s Premier League status is all but safe but, sadly, the same cannot be said of Wolves, who succumbed to a 3-0 home defeat to Everton. Despite Mick McCarthy’s side dominating the opening twenty minutes it was Everton who took the lead through a Jermaine Beckford header. Wolves’ ‘keeper Wayne Hennessey tried his best to keep his side in the tie but he could do nothing about Everton’s second and third goals, Phil Neville and Dinyar Bilyaleyetdinov firing in before half-time to condemn Wolves to yet another week in the relegation zone.
A Daniel Sturridge-led Bolton overcame West Ham, the on-loan striker brilliantly curling a shot into the top corner to give Owen Coyle’s side an early advantage. The young Englishman scored again just after half-time after Chung-Yong Lee had doubled their lead. Sturridge’s parent club Chelsea were kept at bay by an inspired Ali-Al Habsi in the Wigan goal but Florent Malouda scored with twenty minutes left to keep The Blues’ title hopes alive.
Manchester United are clear favourites for the title and they easily overcame Fulham at Old Trafford, Dimitar Berbatov rounding off a neat move to give them the lead after twelve minutes. Antonio Valencia then nearly finished for Rooney-less United on the half-hour, heading in from close range.
Two relegation candidates, Birmingham and Blackburn, fought out a tense 1-1 draw at Ewood Park. Lee Bowyer had given Birmingham the lead but Junior Hoillet equalised for Rovers just before half-time.
A quite incredible first half at White Hart Lane saw five goals, three of which went to Tottenham Hotspur as they attempted to recover from their crushing Champions League defeat to Real Madrid in the week. Peter Crouch scored two, going some way to making up for that ridiculous and pointless red card, with Luka Modric getting a goal in between. Matt Etherington scored a fine solo goal for Stoke and Kenwyne Jones scored just before half-time, but neither side could gain an advantage in the second half, leaving Spurs in fifth place.
Arsenal comfortably defeated Blackpool at Bloomfield Road thanks to goals from Abou Diaby, Emmanuel Eboue and Robin Van Persie. The Tangerines looked incredibly lax at the back and, within twenty minutes, Arsenal took the lead, Diaby finishing with great ease from a Van Persie cross, before Eboue doubled The Gunners’ advantage, firing past stranded ‘keeper Richard Kingson. Gary Taylor-Fletcher did get a goal back for Blackpool but Van Persie rounded off the victory, Theo Walcott squaring for the Dutchman to calmly slot home.
Blackpool manager Ian Holloway bemoaned the performance of referee Lee Mason (and, possibly, rightly so) but his side were soundly beaten at home by a team who, after being ruled out of the title race by most pundits just last week, seem to be right back in the mix after this weekend.
Sunday’s other game involved struggling Aston Villa host Newcastle United in a match that saw just one goal. James Collins headed home in the 25th minute to send Gerard Houiller’s side five points clear of the relegation zone.
Monday night’s game Liverpool walk all over Manchester City – the Anfield club scoring three first half goals, two from an impressive Andy Carroll and one from an outstanding Dirk Kuyt. The Dutchman finished off superbly with Carroll striking either side to leave Liverpool just five points off a Europa League spot, a quite phenomenal turn-around given where they were before Kenny Dalglish was appointed manager.
Matchday 32 results: Blackburn 1 – 1 Birmingham; Bolton 3 – 0 West Ham; Chelsea 1 – 0 Wigan; Manchester United 2 – 0 Fulham; Sunderland 2 – 3 West Brom; Tottenham 3 – 2 Stoke; Wolves 0 – 3 Everton; Aston Villa 1 – 0 Newcastle; Blackpool 1 – 3 Arsenal; Liverpool 3 – 0 Manchester City
Matchday 33 fixtures: Birmingham-Sunderland; Blackpool-Wigan; Everton-Blackburn; West Brom-Chelsea; West Ham-Aston Villa; Arsenal-Liverpool; (Tuesday) Newcastle-Manchester United; (Wednesday) Chelsea-Birmingham; Tottenham-Arsenal
This article originally appeared on sports website Sports Haze, which is now unfortunately defunct.

Steve Bruce signs new Sunderland contract

Steve Bruce has signed a new contract that could keep the manager at the Stadium of Light until 2014.


Bruce, who turned 50 in December, led Sunderland to a thirteenth place finish in his first season in charge and, with the club currently sitting in 7th position, the former-Birmingham City manager has put pen to paper on a contract extension that will reassure Sunderland fans of his commitment to the cause.
“I’m delighted to have signed a new contract,” said Bruce. “It’s a magnificent club from top to bottom.”
Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn was also pleased with the contract extension, saying: “It was hugely important to bring stability to this football club and I firmly believe that in Steve we have the man to do just that. He embodies the ethos of team-work and the importance of camaraderie in creating a wonderful spirit of togetherness amongst the players and staff.
“As someone born and bred in the north east he fully understands the unique passion for football in this region”, Quinn continued.
Bruce has been in charge for seventy-three Sunderland games and has overseen just twenty-seven losses, an impressive feat for a club who were in the second tier of English football just four years ago.
Sunderland face Everton this weekend in what is sure to be an interesting encounter, with David Moyes’ side looking to move up the table and build on their FA Cup victory over Chelsea last weekend.
Sunderland assistant manager Ricky Sbragia also commented on Bruce’s new contract, saying: “We have the makings of a fantastic young team. It’s been a great challenge so far and one that my backroom team and I have relished. So we’re looking forward to continuing with that over the next few years.”
The Black Cats are just eight points away from fifth-placed Chelsea and with players such as Jordan Henderson, Asamoah Gyan, Lee Cattermole and, now, Steve Bruce at the helm, the future certainly looks bright for Sunderland. 

This article originally appeared on sports website Sports Haze but is now unavailable due to the site closing down.
Picture from vagueonshow

Premier League Preview: Sunderland

My Premier League previews continue with Sunderland now in the spotlight. After a decent season under Steve Bruce last season, with the Black Cats finishing in 13th position, the Stadium Of Light club will be looking to break into the top half of the table.

Manager Bruce has strengthened his squad somewhat with Paraguay World Cup star Christian Riveros joining from Cruz Azul. The midfielder shone in the recent World Cup, scoring the second Paraguay goal against Slovakia. Bruce has also brought in Titus Bramble who, after being mocked at the start of his career for his clumsy style of play, seems to have got his act together and now looks relatively solid at the back. The former Wigan and Newcastle player gives Sunderland a strong set of central defenders.
Michael Turner and Anton Ferdinand will be likely first choices for the centre of defence but Bruce also has Matthew Killgallon and Bramble, who are more than able to fill any gap. Sunderland may not be very strong at right-back, though, with Phil Bardsley still yet to prove that he is a Premier League player after coming through the ranks at Manchester United. At left-back, though, they have George McCartney who is experienced at this level and will cause no concerns for Sunderland. The fact that Craig Gordon is out for the start of the season has prompted Bruce to Simon Mignolet from Sint-Truidense for £2 million. The goalkeeper, who has made four under-21 appearances for Benlgium, will be making his first appearances in the Premier League if he is picked ahead of Sunderland youngster Trevor Carson, which could cause problems for Sunderland at the back.
In midfield, though, creativity is the key. Steed Malbranque will roam in midfield as the Frenchman prepares for another top flight season, while Andy Reid and Kieran Richardson will go down the flanks, using their speed and quality of crossing to produce chances for the strikers. Riveros is likely to play a conservative role where he will start attacks from deep. He will be a big player for Sunderland if he can adjust to the pace of the English game. It is Lee Cattermole, though, who holds it all together for Sunderland. The former Middlesbrough midfielder is a hard-tackling, determined young man and controls the midfield whilst bridging the gap between defence and attack. Cattermole will be key to Sunderland’s success this season.
One to watch next season for Sunderland is Jordan Henderson. The young midfielder made nine appearances for Coventry City, where he spent last season on loan, before picking up an injury. Henderson will be looking to gain more first team action at Sunderland this season. Henderson is predominately used on the right wing but can come inside to play in the centre of midfield. The former Sunderland youth player has a good passing range and his versatility and consistency will be of big importance to Sunderland this term.
A major part in Sunderland’s success last season was Darren Bent and his twenty-five goals. The striker will be looking to improve on last season to help the side rise up the table. Kenwyne Jones also promises goals as the big striker can use his aerial presence and sublime finishing accuracy to put away the chances for Bruce’s side in 2010/11. Northern Ireland legend David Healy is also a born finisher and should be given his chance this season, while Fraizer Campbell looks to be growing into a fine player after his move from Manchester United. The future looks bright for Sunderland.
Where will they finish?: 10th
Official top ten finish odds: 5/4 (Bet365)
Star man: Lee Cattermole
One to watch: Jordan Henderson
Main weakness: The right-back position is a weak spot and they could struggle at the back without the commanding force of Craig Gordon in goal