Thoughts on the
For the first 90 minutes, Liverpool's visit to the Emirates had been little more than OK. Both sides had a couple of chances, but some of us really only carried on watching because we were determined that
There was intrigue, mainly in Arsenal's persistence with a formation that left Robin van Persie a virtual bystander, unless there was a set piece to be taken. There was admiration, too, for Kenny Dalglish's belief in his young players; 18-year-old John Flanagan started again, and when injuries forced Fabio Aurelio and Andy Carroll off, the Liverpool manager turned to 17-year-old Jack Robinson and 19-year-old Jonjo Shelvey. Midfielder Jay Spearing (22 years old) was one of the standout performers.
But it was the mammoth spell of injury time added on because Jamie Carragher was knocked unconscious that made it all worth the wait: encapsulated in a few minutes was the ecstasy, the agony and the lunacy of the title race as first Liverpool then Arsenal conceded a penalty. Van Persie and Dirk Kuyt converted to score the two latest goals -- clocked at 98 and 102 minutes -- in the Premier League era.
After a decent enough start, West Ham failed to cope with any of Aston Villa's front line in a 2-1 defeat that puts added pressure on the remaining five fixtures. In possession of the ball, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing proved too much for Wayne Bridge and Lars Jacobsen to contend with and even Emile Heskey (making his first league start since early January) made a nuisance of himself. Darren Bent, though, was superb. Not just for the clever movement that allowed him to ghost through the Hammers defense, either -- at one point in the first half he played a cross field pass to Young that would have been uploaded in high-definition slo-mo had a midfield maestro struck it so beautifully on the swivel.
No doubting the star of the show as Wigan comprehensively defeated Blackpool at Bloomfield Road: Charles N'Zogbia, who scored one and crafted another. Roberto Martinez's side might not have had so much the better of the play without Ben Watson criss-crossing the midfield, though. At times this season his distribution has been frustratingly awry, but on the stomping ground of the passing midfielders' passing midfielder, Blackpool's own Charlie Adam, Watson excelled.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has spent the past few months showering backup goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who has stepped in for the injured Craig Gordon, with praise. So it was with a heavy heart that he admitted that Mignolet was at fault for both the Birmingham City goals that condemned Sunderland to an eighth defeat in nine matches. First he allowed Seb Larsson to get to an optimistic ball (having told defender Phil Bardsley he had it), and then he only got a weak hand to Craig Gardner's second-half shot. Birmingham only had three shots on target and won 2-0.
It proved to be a precursor to an authoritative Chelsea performance, but Peter Odemwingie's goal for West Brom was a delight. Played through by Jerome Thomas, the Nigerian striker carried the ball in to the area, watched Petr Cech start to go to ground and casually chipped it up over him. It was Odemwingie's 12th goal in 28 appearances, and he's reportedly attracted the interest of Juventus.
Everyone thinks Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti is getting sacked in the summer -- even Carlo Ancelotti. Last year's Double is all but forgotten, and Fernando Torres' glum face has come to symbolize a difficult season for Chelsea. If Ancelotti has been lumbered with Torres against his wishes, as many suspect, he deserves credit for leaving him on the bench for the first 81 minutes at West Brom. Flanked by Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou, the restored Didier Drogba was in marauding mood, playing a part in all three goals and defending Chelsea's nets too -- he seemed to play in every position on the pitch.
"We'll just pick ourselves up and work on the training ground on the bits of the second half which we weren't happy with, but I thought in the first half, we were excellent." Staff eye tests must be planned at Blackburn this week, because Steve Kean's assessment of his side's performance at Goodison Park, where Everton won 2-0 to go seven league games unbeaten, is way off. Rovers are in serious trouble if this form -- attempts on target: one -- continues.
The PFA got the awards season under way this weekend, naming Tottenham's Gareth Bale Player of the Year and Jack Wilshere of Arsenal Young Player of the Year. Both featured in the team of the year, alongside Edwin van der Sar, Bacary Sagna, Nemanja Vidic, Vincent Kompany, Ashley Cole, Samir Nasri, Nani, Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov. Perhaps it's inevitable that they should all come from the top five teams, but one omission glares brighter than most: where is Everton left back Leighton Baines? He took his goal tally to four in the Premier League with a nicely taken penalty against Blackburn on Saturday, and has 11 assists.
52 percent -- before this weekend's 2-0 win against Sunderland, Birmingham City had scored more goals from set pieces than any other Premier League team. Both came from open play against Sunderland.