The most intriguing game of the weekend was at Eastlands. With Manchester City at last starting to look like a team, or rather a squad, capable of competing at the top the visit of Arsenal was a well-timed test. After Saturday’s results City were second whilst Arsenal had slipped to fifth, putting the pressure on Arsene Wenger’s side to show their credentials.
Dedryck Boyata made life a lot easier for the visitors when he felled Marouane Chamakh five minutes in. Samir Nasri and Andrei Arshavin demonstrated that although talk often centres on Cesc Fabregas, the quality at Arsenal runs wider and deeper than the Spaniard. The ease with which the London side dispatched City, winning 3-0 despite missing a penalty, will concern Mancini. Arsenal had a lot of success down the left, suggesting that for all the money spent, they are missing Alexsandr Kolarov. Maybe the squad still has some holes.
Earlier in the day, Manchester United had to try and shake themselves out of their recent stupor as they visited Stoke City. The side was Rooney-less thanks to an ankle injury suffered in mid-week training, but they were able to look to the young Mexican Javier Hernandez for inspiration. And inspiration was what he provided when, 27minutes in, he athletically back-headed past Thomas Sorenson. Unfortunately for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, Stoke turned to Sanli Tuncay for some inspiration of their own with 29 minutes left as the Turkish international curled a beautiful shot past Edwin van der Sar. But salvation arrived when United piled forward and Hernandez snuck a shot home to give the visitors three points.
Tottenham Hotspur and Everton opened the weekend’s action and provided an entertaining match. Leighton Baines curled a free-kick home to give Everton a lead despite not really being in the match. Alan Hutton continued his return to form as he marauded down the flank throughout the game and it was his cross that Tim Howard failed to clear and bounced off Peter Crouch into Rafael van der Vaart’s path. The Dutchman scored his fifth goal of his already impressive Tottenham career to rescue a point for the North London side.
Newcastle visited West Ham as Avram Grant’s side tried to get their season back on course. Grant took the game to the Toon Army as he started with Carlton Cole, Frederic Piquionne and Victor Obinna up front – the gamble paid off as Cole opened the scoring from a Piquionne cross. The Hammers soon switched off however and allowed Newcastle to take home the three points. Andy Carroll set Kevin Nolan up for the equaliser before the midfielder returned the favour for the Magpies’ winner.
West Bromwich Albion mounted a similar comeback after Fulham opened the scoring at the Hawthorns. Scott Carson was unfortunate to see a fantastic save rebound off the post onto his outstretched body and into the net. West Brom showed how mentally strong Roberto Di Matteo has made them as they mounted a comeback that took them to fourth spot.
Wolverhampton Wanderers visited Chelsea on Saturday afternoon and mounted an impressive challenge before succumbing to the almost inevitable loss. Florent Malouda’s 23rd minute opener and Salomon Kalou’s 81st minute effort sandwiched spells of excellent Wolves pressure. Mick McCarthy can take heart from a performance that showed his team can play decent football and hope for more in the next few weeks.
Gerrard Houllier took his Aston Villa side to Sunderland, where Steve Bruce insisted on starting with only Darren Bent up front again. Sunderland have struggled to score if Darren Bent does not get a goal and Richard Dunne obliged by finding the net for the Black Cats after 25 minutes. Villa showed promise but ultimately left with nothing.
Blackpool fell to 14th with a 2-0 loss at Birmingham City, with Alex McLeish’s side outwitting the Seasiders in every area. Ian Holloway had provided an internet hit with his midweek rant about the Rooney saga, and he will have to invoke similar verbal skills if he is to gee up his side after this performance.
Liverpool beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1 at Anfield, but more importantly for Roy Hodgson’s side, Fernando Torres found the net for the first time since August. Hodgson will hope that his team are finding their feet and can start to climb the table.
Johan Elmander continued his goal scoring form for Bolton Wanderers as he netted past Wigan Athletic. The returning Hugo Rodallega levelled things for the home side, but Roberto Martinez will be most concerned by a nasty looking injury to James McCarthy.