Arsenal's title hopes take a hit; Chelsea boosted by Brazilian flair
Thoughts on the weekend's action in the Barclays Premier League:
If you like them topsy-turvy with a frantic finish, West Bromwich Albion 2-2 Arsenal was the game for you this weekend. West Brom, then under the charge of Roberto di Matteo, bagged a surprise victory at the Emirates earlier this season. Now under Roy Hodgson, the Baggies took an early lead and were exhilarating at times, even as Arsenal found its rhythm -- see Marc-Antoine Fortune's delightful little run through two players late on.
Any side in the bottom half of the table could feasibly, with bad enough luck, go down, even with less than 10 games to go. But West Brom looks a decent candidate to escape if it keeps combining the zest of Di Matteo's style (one sweeping move that scythed Arsenal open could've brought a goal had Chris Brunt set off a split second earlier) with the resilience of a Hodgson side.
Arsenal's title challenge took a hit with the dropped points but it could have been worse had Andrey Arshavin's twinkle-toed contribution not atoned for the farcical flapping of Manuel Almunia. The keeper undermined his recent good form with
Stoke City beat Newcastle United 4-0 on Saturday, in a fashion as comprehensive as it sounds. The team hasn't won like that since Tony Pulis first returned as manager in 2006, when it put four past Leeds United and then five past Norwich City without reply.
So in among the damning critiques of Newcastle there should be praise for Stoke's play. Defender Ryan Shawcross epitomized the sturdiness and decisiveness that separated these two teams, and up front Jon Walters' relentless energy deserves recognition. Yes, Alan Pardew had reconfigured Newcastle's back line -- and yes, Sol Campbell looked long past his retirement date. But Walters made hay.
Both of Chelsea's goals against Manchester City were scored by Brazilians, but only Ramires' effort was
Blackpool: a wonderful team. Yet it's impossible to deny that Charlie Adam elevates it to a more formidable level; his return from suspension was marked by two goals (including one sumptuous free kick) and a clutch of well-timed tackles, interceptions and clearances. He wasn't just the best Blackpool player against Blackburn; he was the best in the ground, even despite Junior Hoilett's impressive showing.
Security staff at White Hart Lane must be reviewing CCTV footage to make sure nobody from West Ham sneaked in ahead of Saturday's goalless draw to bury rabbits' feet or drizzle the blood of a sacrificed goat in Robert Green's penalty area. Tottenham had 63 percent of possession and fired off 23 shots at goal, but contrived to miss the target with 13 of them -- Jermain Defoe somehow sidefooted wide from a few yards out under no pressure whatsoever. Green kept some of the rest out with fine saves, most impressively patting a late Gareth Bale free kick on to the bar as the top corner of the net braced itself for impact.
There haven't been many January signings who've been loved as instantly and as ardently as Luis Suarez and David Luiz -- and you don't have to be a Liverpool or a Chelsea fan for either to put a grin on your face. On match days, opposition fans will probably be irked by Suarez's repeated efforts to make the referee's mind up for him, or by Luiz's robust upper-body challenges, but neutrals will savor the highlights with just as much relish as anyone in a replica shirt. Both players scored in 2-0 wins for their teams this weekend; Suarez
Not a regular feature in this column, but how to ignore Gary Cahill's superb tackle on Dimitar Berbatov? Especially when it came in the same game as Jonny Evans sliced open Stuart Holden's knee with a studs-first challenge -- Holden, who has been outstanding this season, will be out for six months.
Berbatov scored an 88th-minute goal to give Manchester United a 1-0 win over Bolton, but Cahill helped to keep his side in the game that long. As Berbatov took the ball toward the area, Cahill (the last defender, on the edge of the penalty area) hooked his right foot around the striker at just the right moment to nudge the ball away.
"Today was more than three points. It was a mental victory" -- Roberto Martinez responds to Wigan's 2-1 win over Birmingham City. Had Maynor Figueroa's last-minute strike not beaten Ben Foster (and the keeper should probably have done better), Birmingham would be out of the drop zone and Wigan would be the first club to really fall behind that insanely big pack trying to outrun relegation.
No manager wants the backing of his board, because it's only ever publicly declared when you're in serious trouble. Tricky times, then, for Gerard Houllier, whose Aston Villa side was beaten by Wolves courtesy of a fine Matt Jarvis goal the day before Jarvis was called up to the England squad for the first time.
Houllier's players never really got to grips with the task, and his decision to remove Marc Albrighton (until then Villa's best hope of making something happen) in the second half only confirmed the crowd's feeling that he's not the man to see the club away from danger.
"I understand the supporters are not happy," Houllier said, "but I share their disappointment. We've got to keep believing." Today a source in Villa's boardroom has been widely quoted as saying: "I can't see how changing [the manager] with four games to go would have any positive impact on how the team plays anyway." He's probably got a point.
19 -- the number of times over Everton's matchday revenue would pay for Seamus Coleman, who took his goal tally for the season to six with a well-placed header in Everton's 2-1 win over Fulham. He cost just $97,000 when he signed from Ireland's Sligo Rovers two years ago.