Some guys have all the luck
How Arsene Wenger must envy Roberto Mancini. Not so much the money -- the Arsenal manager has enough of that to play with -- but the belief the Italian is starting to generate at Manchester City. As faith is chased out of the Emirates Stadium by loud, impatient boos, the slightly-ahead-of-tempo renditions of Blue Moon are becoming more frequent and more impassioned at the Etihad. Mancini, who might add Arsenal's Samir Nasri to his squad, has his best days ahead of him.
It is too easy to get carried away with City's six-point start to the season, so some caution is required. This is still the team that capitulated against Manchester United a couple of weeks ago, and had Bolton's Gary Cahill been able to clone himself and mark both Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko, things might have been different Sunday (when City won 3-2). But after beating Swansea 4-0 a week ago, Mancini said "It is important that we take more risks than last year", and his change of tack has put a spring in his team's step.
Gareth Barry, whose name had become synonymous with excessive, soul-destroying defensiveness, has wound the clock back, and a midfield trio (Barry, Yaya Toure, James Milner) that had looked fairly dreary on paper cavorted around their opponents. It was no surprise to see David Silva conducting things further forward but we have not so often seen Dzeko hitting all the right notes since his move from Wolfsburg. Being able to swap Aguero for Carlos Tevez, at least for now, is a wonderful luxury.
No such decadence in north London, where Wenger has only the likes of Nicklas Bendtner to throw at the opposition late on. Liverpool's 2-0 win on Sunday shouldn't be earth-shattering (Arsenal conceded an unlucky own goal after going down to 10 men, and fit-again defender Thomas Vermaelen was not alone in performing well), but the howls from the crowd seemed to call time on fans' patience with the manager's strategy.
Emmanuel Frimpong's home debut ought to have vindicated Wenger's policy of favoring young players over ready-made purchases: he shielded his defenders well and drew the first save of the day from Pepe Reina with a lovely low drive after accelerating away from Stewart Downing. Instead it ended prematurely thanks to two bookings, the first for needless stupidity and the second for a rash lunge at Lucas Leiva.
Where other managers have succeeded in fostering a siege mentality, Wenger is perhaps guilty of nurturing a victim mentality. "It is absolutely scandalous, every single decision in the last three or four months [has gone against us]," he said, in light of suggestions that Luis Suarez was offside in the build up to Liverpool's first goal. His opposite number, Kenny Dalglish, admitted it "might have been a bit fortuitous", but was quick to point out the difference that quality substitutes like Suarez make. Wenger might have to make his own luck before the transfer window closes.
Aston Villa's opening goal against Blackburn was magnificent, and not just for Gabriel Agbonlahor's finish. The move started with Stilian Petrov winning the ball on the edge of his own penalty area and carrying it over the halfway line before sliding it through to Darren Bent as he moved across his marker toward the left touchline. Receiving the touch back, Agbonlahor fooled Michel Salgado into thinking he was committed to going down the outside and then checked back on to his right foot before curling the ball beautifully around a diving Paul Robinson and inside the far post.
The main talking point from the 1-1 draw between Norwich and Stoke was what happened -- or rather, what didn't happen -- in the 63rd minute when the referee sent off Leon Barnett and awarded a penalty for an innocuous coming-together outside the penalty area. This left little room for discussion of how good Grant Holt was. The striker was named in the division team of the year in each of the last three seasons (League Two in 2008-09, League One in 2009-10, and the Championship 2010-11), but at 30 years old and built like a bouncer, he was supposed to be "found out" at this level. Against Stoke, his movement and poise were integral to some of Norwich's best moves, and he got back to defend as the Potters upped their game in the second half.
Both goalkeepers pulled off excellent saves in a feisty Tyne-Wear derby: Newcastle United's Tim Krul pushing a dipping Stephane Sessegnon shot over the bar and Sunderland stopper Simon Mignolet managed to do the same to a wriggling strike from Yohan Cabaye. The most controversial save of the day came from Sunderland winger Seb Larsson, who batted away Joey Barton's header unseen by the referee and his linesman.
The ball from Ramires was badly placed but Alex's slow reaction was unforgivable with Shane Long lurking. In the ensuing few seconds, the West Brom forward made the Chelsea defender look like a Sunday league player, trundling hopelessly in his wake and unable to prevent a very smart shot that gave the Baggies an early lead. The weekend's biggest goat would probably have been West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster, however, if his bizarre second-half run at Nicolas Anelka hadn't helped the striker to shoot wide.
"I'm delighted, but it's only two matches and I know how this league can come back to bite you on the bum. I've never been here before so I don't really know how to celebrate. Maybe I'll have a bottle of beer in front of the TV but I might fall asleep" -- after Sunday's 2-0 victory over Fulham took his side to the top of the Premier League table, Wolves manager Mick McCarthy keeps his feet firmly on the ground.
Queens Park Rangers scored with their only shot on target against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday -- Tommy Smith's well-placed shot beating Tim Howard after half an hour. QPR's 1-0 win was the club's lowest scoring meeting with Everton since 1992.