Georgina Turner
Monday October 4th, 2010

Notes from the weekend in the Premier League:

1. Chelsea disposes of Arsenal. A 2-0 victory in Sunday's compelling encounter means Chelsea has defeated Arsenal in their last five meetings. You have to go back to the pre-Jose Mourinho era for a similar run in the Gunners' fortunes. Arsene Wenger said beforehand that his side was capable of passing Chelsea into submission but, even though Arsenal did enjoy more possession, it came up against a perfectly tailored defense led with gusto by John Terry. The visitors managed only four shots on target.

When you couple that with deadly counterattacking, it's hard to see where Chelsea will drop many points this season. Wenger was unhappy about the buildup to Chelsea's first goal, yet another Didier Drogba strike (he's now scored 13 in 13 matches against Arsenal) after excellent buildup play from Ramires and Ashley Cole. The Arsenal manager felt Ramires fouled Alex Song at the start of the move, but misses like Laurent Koscielny's first-minute header are what really proved costly.

It's worth highlighting Ramires, though. For the first time, his contribution to the midfield was plainly visible -- not just in the delightful pass that played Cole in at the byline, but in his defensive diligence, too. He was by no means faultless, but at least, having been rounded by Marouane Chamakh, he was able to make a rescuing tackle inside the area. Frank Lampard is still missed but Ramires is growing into a Chelsea shirt.

2. Unsanitary jokes abound at Stadium of Light. The sewage that brought about the ceiling collapse in Manchester United's dressing room dropped like manna from heaven for those looking for an image to ally to United's subsequent performance Saturday.

Arguments about why United played so poorly -- Was it wise to start with Michael Owen and Federico Macheda up front? Could Alex Ferguson have so badly misjudged Sunderland? Was the midfield so muted because of last week's Champions League trip to Valencia? -- are fighting for oxygen with the debate as to how much significance can be attached to the result.

Sunderland has beaten Manchester City and held Arsenal at home, so a 0-0 draw may not be quite the death knell some would like, even if it does put five points between United and Chelsea. But United managed only one (long-range) strike on goal, and has drawn all four fixtures away from home this term. That makes it about average on away form -- where last season it was the best.

3. Van der Man. For some United fans, the missing ingredient is an exciting midfield schemer such as Mesut Oezil, who left Werder Bremen for a relatively cheap $20 million this summer (though it's arrogant to assume that he would have chosen Manchester above Real Madrid, given the chance). They're especially galled now that Rafael van der Vaart, who moved for less than $13 million this summer, is making things tick up front for Tottenham Hotspur.

He was committed to the point of being a little frenzied against FC Twente last week, but the verve with which he plays was crucial to Spurs' win over Aston Villa on Saturday. Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier felt unlucky to be only tied 1-1 at halftime, but his description of Spurs' eventual 2-1 win as "pragmatic" doesn't do justice to the excitement that Van der Vaart's interplay with Peter Crouch creates. As well as winning the match, he won hearts when he stopped to hug an elderly lady in the front row while celebrating his first goal.

If Harry Redknapp is to be believed, chairman Daniel Levy heard the Dutchman was available on the cheap two hours before deadline, called Redknapp about doing a deal and the manager said he "wouldn't mind." It's looking like the (inadvertent) steal of the summer.

4. Liverpudlian woe (the second in what may turn out to be a long-running series). Technically this should be headed Anfield woe, since Everton notched its first win -- and ended Birmingham's yearlong unbeaten run at St Andrews -- after David Moyes canceled all time off and introduced double training sessions. Indeed, Evertonians are distinctly joyful at having clambered out of the relegation zone and, in the process, put Liverpool in it. Defeat to Blackpool kept Roy Hodgson's men there. That is not a typo.

Not since 1953 has Liverpool FC slipped into this kind of trouble, and it was relegated from the top flight that season. In fairness, only five points separate 18th spot from fourth -- the same gap as Chelsea enjoys over Manchester United, and Fergie hasn't yet written off his side's title hopes.

But that lingering sense that Liverpool is in real trouble won't shift. Steven Gerrard was anonymous Sunday, Raul Meireles inexplicably stuck on the right wing ... nothing worked, and fans called for Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish to replace Hodgson. There are dangers in acting before the ownership issue is resolved but, despite his success at Fulham, Hodgson's appointment never seemed "right."

Coaxing unexpected success out of a mid-table side is one thing; it's quite another to manage a squad with huge, oft-repeated expectations hanging over it, after its worst season in more than a decade. Lack of investment has been cited as Hodgson's handicap, and Javier Mascherano's absence is noticeable.

But 10 of Sunday's players were also involved in the 4-0 win over Real Madrid two seasons ago, and 13 of them went to this summer's World Cup. The squad does not want for players capable of performing better than this -- performing, period -- at home.

In the midst of this debacle, Blackpool will inevitably miss out on the credit for another superbly engineered performance in which its central duo bossed the midfield and its attacking players frequently had Liverpool's back line worried. Ian Holloway's philosophy paid off again.

5. Wingmen. Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini apparently started without Adam Johnson against Newcastle on Sunday because he has concerns about his lifestyle. The natural assumption is that Johnson, who's gone from the second tier to the England team in huge leaps, has developed a taste for expensive champagne and nights out.

Whatever it is, it doesn't seem to be stopping him. Within three minutes of coming on, he'd danced around two defenders and lashed the ball into the net for City's winner just when it seemed conceivable that Newcastle would get a point and arguably deserve more. No wonder Fabio Capello isn't put off.

Over in Stoke, Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington didn't get a phone call from Capello, but they're bringing similar industry and excitement to the flanks at the Britannia Stadium. After a terrible start to the season, Stoke is in seventh place and threatening to attain a positive goal difference -- largely through this pair. Etherington has been involved in more than half of Stoke's goals and set up Jon Walters' winner on Saturday.

6. Tackling boneheadedness. After Karl Henry's dismissal for sending Jordi Gomez into an unsolicited double pike, Wolves tops the Bad Boys table with 21 yellows and two red cards in seven matches. Meanwhile, Manchester City's Nigel de Jong is the Bad Boys' union representative, having added a nasty leg break for exciting Newcastle loanee Hatem Ben Arfa to his portfolio of thuggery. Though one caused no injury but drew a red card, and the other caused a double leg break but didn't even earn a booking (the consistency of referees is a whole new can of worms), both challenges are virtually impossible to defend.

Bad tackling hasn't suddenly introduced itself to soccer, and clumsiness will never go away. But when a player whose game is dependent on muscle shows the lack of thought de Jong and Henry did this weekend, things can get ugly. Though City assistant manager Brian Kidd trotted out the "not that type of player" line (always lamentable, but in de Jong's case faintly ludicrous -- he's now broken two legs this year, as well as doing this), Holland coach Bert van Marwijk has dropped de Jong from his squad.

It would be nice to think that midfield enforcers might pause for thought now. If not because risking putting a fellow professional out of the game turns their stomach, then at least because of the risk to their own teams. Henry was never going to reach the ball before Gomez, and even if he'd gotten away with sliding in, he would have been in no position to defend the break. He left his teammates with 80 minutes to play a man down and they looked understandably hesitant in the tackle as they tried, without success, to hold off Wigan.

7. Friends reunited. Robert Green has a look. A look that he wears before he sighs and lifts the ball out of the back of the net. A look he wore even after he'd spooned it there himself from Clint Dempsey's speculative strike 40 minutes into England's meeting with the USA at the World Cup. It says: "Why me?" Inevitably, Dempsey saw it again when Fulham met West Ham on Saturday.

Green didn't put a thumb wrong this time, though -- the volley was sweetly struck and there was little the keeper could do. It was decent reward for Dempsey's efforts up front (where fellow American Eddie Johnson made little impact), especially since he was sporting a bruise by his eye after an elbow from Manuel de Costa. He had tried his luck from range early, but Green was gaffe-free to earn the Hammers a point.

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