The story of the weekend was the battle to keep up with Chelsea. Arsenal were first up with a tough game at Sunderland. A mixed performance ended 1-1, with Sunderland snatching the draw in stoppage time. Cesc Fabregas had put Arsenal ahead with a freakish goal from 40 yards. Closing down Anton Ferdinand as he went to clear, the ball cannoned off the Arsenal captain and looped into the net. Steve Bruce was at a loss as he watched on, his side having tested Arsenal up to that point. Unfortunately for Arsene Wenger, his side showed some of the traits he doesn’t like to advertise. Alex Song was sent off for two yellows and his teammates spurned several excellent chances. When Thomas Rosicky missed a penalty, the inevitable seemed to be approaching for Arsenal. In the 95th minute the ball fell to Darren Bent about 6 yards out, and he struck it with enough power to threaten to take the net off of the posts. Wenger complained afterwards, but the reality was his side should have been out of sight well before Bent got his chance.
Chelsea have absolutely no problems with putting chances away. In the second minute, Salomon Kalou knocked home a corner to set Chelsea on their way. Malouda scored a second not long after, and when Drogba had a shot deflected past Blackpool keeper Gilks people started checking the record books! Malouda added another before half-time and Blackpool where probably fortunate to be going in with the scoreline as it was. Ian Holloway deserves to be commended for motivating his side to put in the performance they did in the second half, but the reality was Chelsea were barely out of first gear.
The game of the weekend was undoubtedly the match at Old Trafford, where Manchester United hosted rivals Liverpool. While the performance was not one that will live in the memory, United were the better team. Liverpool were bogged down in defence and Fernando Torres never looked like causing Nemanja Vidic the sort of trouble he has done in the past. If Dimitar Berbatov was nineteen we would call this his coming-of-age performance: as it is, this was the moment he finally stepped up to the Stretford End’s expectations. A glorious hat-trick capped a performance that United’s defence had threatened to overshadow. John O’Shea and John Evans both had shocking moments that allowed Steven Gerrard to score twice. With 6 minutes to go, Berbatov headed home an O’Shea cross to send the home crowd into raptures, and leave Roy Hodgson sitting on the bench swearing at his assistant.
The surprise of the weekend was at Goodison Park. A promising Newcastle United side outclassed an Everton team that had fought so well against Manchester United seven days previously. Hatem Ben Arfa had talked about his desire to outshine David Ginola in his time at Newcastle, and if he continues to score goals like the 25-yard screamer he put past Tim Howard then he will have absolutely no problem convincing the Gallowgate.
Their last game following a midweek European outing had been a disastrous loss to Wigan, but Tottenham more than made amends by smashing Wolves. Rafael Van Der Vaart, Alan Hutton and Roman Pavlyuchenko all scored following Steven Fletcher’s opener. Fulham and Blackburn played out a 1-1 draw that was marked by poor refereeing. Mark Schwarzer was heavily involved too. The referee missed the Australian’s handball outside the area, but then missed the keeper being knocked over by El-Hadji Diouf in the build up to Chris Samba’s opener. Clint Dempsey levelled for Fulham to help them continue their unbeaten start to the season, but all the post-game talk was about the various decisions from the referee.
Kevin MacDonald signed off from his time at Aston Villa with a point at home to Bolton Wanderers. Ashley Young scored a goal that on any other weekend would be the talk of the games, before running to celebrating with MacDonald. Unfortunately for the caretaker manager, he couldn’t gift new manager Gerrard Houllier a win as Martin Petrov set up Kevin Davies to equalise.
Manchester City and West Brom both enjoyed their weekends as they each secured wins. City knocked two past Wigan in a game that has to be considered the definition of routine after spending £100m in the summer. West Brom however had a much more important win at home to Birmingham. Roberto Di Matteo’s side need to ensure they take three points from games such as this if they are to stay up, which on this form, they look like they will.