Thoughts on the weekend's action in the Barclays Premier League:
Bolton Wanderers 2-1 Arsenal: the two clubs' seasons in microcosm. Bolton had been savaged by Stoke in last week's FA Cup semifinal, but produced a defiantly resilient performance against a side ostensibly far better equipped to undermine such efforts and made the most of its opportunities in front of goal. A near capacity crowd communed with the team to celebrate this leap back in to European contention.
The pitch was divided almost exactly in half by the afternoon sun hitting the Reebok Stadium, and the stark contrast of light and shade seemed a metaphor for Arsenal's predicament: capable of so much but hampered by such mental fragility. Arsenal had 68 percent of possession but had more players trying to set up chances than take them. The lack of defensive leadership told, yet again, at set pieces.
For once Arsene Wenger's touchline tantrums preceded self-criticism, but he remains adamant that only small changes are needed. "If you can prove to me that I have the wrong principles, I'm ready to change them all," he said to reporters. But, despite admitting his team had made a mess of what looked an inviting run-in, he added: "First you must find someone who can convince me that the way we play football is not right."
And there's real emphasis on that V -- Javier Hernandez cost Manchester United only £6 million ($10 million) and now has 19 goals in 40 appearances; his 84th-minute header against Everton on Saturday was his seventh match winner in all competitions. And, though he couldn't get out of the way of Nani's goalbound shot in the first half, his movement around Everton's back line was terrific. Phil Jagielka did well for most of the game but goalkeeper Tim Howard was put to work when Anderson (who played a couple of very nice passes in to the front, looking nothing like the mediocre midfielder he seemed against Newcastle United in midweek) and Wayne Rooney played Hernandez in to the box. There wasn't much the goalkeeper could do when the Mexican striker outjumped Tony Hibbert to flash a header in to the top of his net from close range, though.
The clip you're most likely to see of Stephen Crainey's performance during Blackpool's 1-1 tie with Newcastle is his crestfallen look as Joey Barton nips in to steal the dreadful square pass Charlie Adam intended for him, and sets up Peter Lovenkrands' goal. Which is a shame because he had a quietly impressive game, contributing to Blackpool's attacking play with sensible short balls to midfield and several excellent crosses from the left flank to create chances for Gary Taylor-Fletcher.
Wigan's Mohamed Diame had been waiting for more than a year for a league goal, and when it came, it was a cracker from distance. In other news, Fernando Torres finally opened his account for Chelsea, eliciting a cheer that made people on the International Space Station jump. Running onto Nicolas Anelka's through-ball, Torres' first touch looked a little strong but on a paddy field of a pitch, it held up. West Ham defender Manuel da Costa couldn't put the brakes on in time, but Torres checked back, nudged the ball out of his feet and swung the shot into the far corner without having to look up at the goal. He only came on in the 77th minute yet almost set up a goal for Anelka and provided the assist for Florent Malouda as Chelsea won 3-0. Not bad.
Brad Friedel did well to keep out Kenwyne Jones' downward header early in Aston Villa's 1-1 draw with Stoke, getting his right hand to it in midair. Jones scored from virtually the same spot in the 20th minute, though -- this time sending his header just under the bar.
"I really enjoy playing with Luis [Suarez] up front, everyone can see that we're clicking very well together. But also me, Luiz and Andy [Carroll] can play very well together. It's good for the manager to have more options" -- Dirk Kuyt makes a modest and diplomatic play for more time in the forward role that he's currently reveling in at Liverpool. Kenny Dalglish's team was rampant against Birmingham City, winning 5-0 (including a collectors' edition Maxi Rodriguez hat trick) and creating enough chances to comfortably double that score line.
"How do you analyze that?" wondered Steve Bruce, after watching his Sunderland team (which had only scored three goals in its last seven matches) score three goals in under quarter of an hour -- and without a striker on the pitch. In fact, after Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan both pulled up clutching their hamstrings during Sunderland's 4-2 win over Wigan, only reserve strikers Craig Lynch and Ryan Noble are currently fit. They're the reserve team's joint top scorers with nine goals each, but no doubt Bruce will hope that Jordan Henderson, who scored two very nicely taken goals either side of Stephane Sessegnon's penalty, is on a roll, too.
Fulham boss Mark Hughes ought to have spent the weekend basking in the afterglow of his canny substitutions: replacing Eider Gudjohnsen and Clint Dempsey with Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson as he sought an equalizer at Wolverhampton Wanderers. In the 80th minute, Zamora knocked the ball down for Johnson, who took his first touch of the match to control the ball and his second to zip it under Wayne Hennessey. But the manager had already been sent to the shade of the stands by referee Michael Oliver for taking three huge kicks at his water bottle when Brede Hangeland was booked for a clash with Stephen Fletcher early in the first half. "Abuse of a water bottle," reads the charge sheet.
Tottenham Hotspur's 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion was Harry Redknapp's 550th Premier League match as a manager (only Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have overseen more). Jermain Defoe scored his 100th Spurs goal and the club's 1000th in the Premier League era. West Brom, under new manager Roy Hodgon, has now reached the mythical 40-point mark, and looks a good bet to avoid the drop.