Man United's Berbatov headlines goal-fest; Grant survives for now
Five things we learned from Saturday's action in the Premier League:
Manchester United scored seven against Blackburn, but perhaps even more remarkable was West Brom, who had not won for month, scoring four at normally parsimonious Everton. Every one of the 16 teams in action scored -- or, to put it another way -- nobody kept a clean sheet. It was a day it seemed when no lead was safe -- unless it was a seven-goal lead.
It is a cliché that to capture league titles teams need to win when they are playing badly. Repeatedly over recent years, Arsenal has surrendered its title hopes during spells when it has played well and lost.
On Saturday, Arsenal gave another breathtaking passing display as it took a 2-0 halftime lead at Aston Villa. The second half summed up its recent problems. The Gunners continued to carve open a mediocre Villa team but squandered a string of chances and nearly threw the game away. When opponents find a way to punch through Arsenal's cloying five-man midfield, the defense looks soft, especially when the ball is in the air. Villa scored twice, could easily have had a third and with 20 minutes left, had fought back to trail 3-2. Jack Wilshere's first league goal in injury time provided a reward for the quality of Arsenal's play, but it could not entirely disguise the fact that, once again, the Gunners had wobbled when apparently in full control.
"At 2-0, at halftime, you could feel what happened had an impact in their head," Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, told the BBC. "We could have crumbled or we could score again -- and we did the latter. We got a good mental response."
And despite its continued fragility, Wenger's team still moved to the top of the Premier League -- at least for a couple of hours.
With a striker in that sort of form, who needs Wayne Rooney? Well, Berbatov needs Rooney. The Bulgarian had not scored in 10 games, since his hat trick Sept. 19 against Liverpool. It was no coincidence that for much of that period Rooney was absent, recovering from the ankle injury that had hobbled him in the early part of the season.
It is easy to forget after Rooney's limp play in the World Cup, the revelations about his sex life and the his bizarre public contract facedown with United, that when he's vaguely fit, he terrifies Premier League defenses.
Rooney created havoc on Saturday. He helped set up Berbatov in front of an empty net after just 75 seconds -- a crucial goal for a striker whose confidence is so volatile.
Rooney also laid on the second goal for Park Ji-sung and terrified Pascal Chimbonda into the awful back pass that presented Berbatov with the third goal.
"I think it's a good combination,'' Alex Ferguson, the United manager told Sky Television when asked about Rooney and Berbatov, before going on to praise their interchange play.
On the face of it, City's 1-1 draw at inhospitable Stoke on Saturday was a better result than Bolton's 2-2 draw at home to newly promoted Blackpool. But, as so often this season, City played badly and failed to win. It took the lead with only four minutes to play with a goal not from one of its high-priced strikers but from Micah Richards, a defender who was already with the club when it was bought by Abu Dhabi investors in 2008. Having scratched out a lead in a game in which it had been often outplayed, City could not hold it. Matthew Etherington leveled in added time. For City, it was two points thrown away.
For Bolton, on the other hand, a draw represented a point won. It trailed by two goals with less than 15 minutes to play. Under former coaches Sam Allardyce and then Gary Megson, Bolton hung around the Premier League by playing low-budget soccer: grinding, disciplined, even thuggish. It has taken
If the other candidates for fourth place -- City and Tottenham -- continue to struggle to find consistency, then Bolton can keep dreaming of European soccer.
So Grant seems safe -- this week. But his team still looks a lot less than the sum of its parts. And those parts, Parker apart, do not look very impressive.