United resilient against Bolton; Almunia blunder costs Arsenal
Five things we learned from
Maybe United was simply more desperate than midtable Bolton. Perhaps the long years of success have bread a belief that Bolton lacks. Perhaps the United players were terrified of the old man in the stands talking with deceptive calm into his phone.
Where United has been losing center backs, Arsenal has suffered a bad run of injuries at goalkeeper. Szczesny suffered a dislocated finger against Barcelona. With two other keepers, Vito Mannone and Lukasz Fabianski, both injured, Arsenal turned to Jens Lehmann, who is 41 and was available because he did not have a club. Lehmann spent five seasons at Arsenal. He was part of the ''Invincibles'' team that won the league in 2004, Arsenal's last league title. But he lost his place for a while to Almunia the next season and left in 2008 after the Spaniard appeared to have permanently supplanted him in Arsène Wenger's affections.
After Almunia's error on Saturday the camera panned to Lehmann, who appeared to be working hard to remain stone-faced at the back of the bench.
Like United, Arsenal showed character. It struck back with goals by Andrey Arshavin and Robin van Persie. But could only salvage a 2-2 draw. Two goalkeeping errors, one at Old Trafford, and one at the Hawthorns, combined to give United a four-point boost in the title race.
The worst culprit was Jermain Defoe. He had scored his first two Premier League goals of the season in the previous match at Wolves in a style that suggested he had rediscovered the rocket in his right foot. But he hit the post from close range near the end of that match. A goal then would have sealed victory, completed his hat trick and would have been his 100th for Spurs and his 100th in the Premier League.
On Saturday, he had an early chance to complete those centuries, when Aaron Lennon's shot struck the post and bounced to Defoe a yard out. He missed. In the second half he hit another close-range chance too close to Robert Green and hit a couple of other chances over. After the game, Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, said Defoe might have been distracted by the death of a grandparent the night before.
"Jermain was up half the night due to a family bereavement," Redknapp said. "I wasn't sure whether to play him but he wanted to.''
Yet Redknapp left Defoe on for the full 90 minutes, maybe because none of other starting 11 looked capable of scoring either.
Birmingham City fell, 2-1, at last-place Wigan when Maynor Figueroa scored for the home team two minutes into added time at the end of the game. That defeat dropped Birmingham to 19th, only one point ahead of Wigan, which had appeared to be losing contact .
At Blackburn, David Hoilett scored three minutes into added time to give the home team a 2-2 draw with Blackpool. That goal was worth four places in the standings to Blackburn, which stayed 13th instead of dropping to 17th . It is ahead of three other clubs, including Blackpool, on goal difference.
West Ham's winter spree seems have paid quick dividends. It rode its luck at Spurs, but it confirmed that it has, with surprising rapidity, transformed itself from a shambles into a team with the help of he recent additions -- Demba Ba, Gary O'Neal and Wayne Bridge -- and the finally-fit Thomas Hitzlsperger.
Wolves, another team that looked out of its depth, is beginning to find some consistent form. Matt Jarvis scored the only goal as Wolves won at its local rival, Aston Villa, for the first time in 31 years. Wolves stayed in the bottom three, but is within one point of the five teams above it, including Villa who after three straight losses, appear to have become the out-of-form team at just the wrong moment.
This brawl has a long way to go yet.