This Week in: English Football – Arsenal vs Chelsea and Spurs vs Man United
Last Sunday, Manchester City overcame Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates, though they were aided by facing ten men for the majority of the game, after Laurent Koscielny was sent off in the 9th minute for hauling down Edin Dzeko in the area. The Bosnian saw his subsequent penalty saved, but he atoned for that miss with a strike in the 31st minute, which doubled the lead for the champions, as James Milner had lashed in from close range 10 minutes earlier. Mancini’s side were themselves reduced to 10 men in the 75th minute when Vincent Kompany was dismissed for a reckless challenge on Jack Wilshere, but Arsenal were still unable to make a break through and they fell to their first home league defeat against City since 1975, leaving them six points adrift of the Champions League qualification places, though they do have a game in hand.
Manchester United maintained their seven point lead at the top of the Premiership over their neighbours, thanks to a 2-1 win over their old rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford. The home team had taken the lead through a smart finish by Robin Van Persie, then the Dutchman provided the assist for United’s second with a 54th minute free-kick that Patrice Evra headed in, via a deflection from his teammate Nemanja Vidic. Liverpool had brought new signing Daniel Sturridge on at half-time and the former Manchester City and Chelsea striker reduced the deficit three minutes after Vidic’s goal, but he missed a great chance late on to earn a point for his new club and United held on for their 9th win in their last 10 Premier League encounters. During the week, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez admitted to diving, a revelation that is right up there in shock value alongside Lance Armstrong finally having the ball to admit he doped, or me confessing to being a Tottenham fan.
Talking of Spurs, they were held to a goalless draw by former manager, Harry Redknapp’s new club Queens Park Rangers, as he adopted the same defensive tactics that used to frustrate him when he was in charge at the Lane. In a relatively low scoring weekend for the Premiership, the games between Everton and Swansea, and Norwich vs Newcastle, also both ended 0-0; while Chelsea bucked that trend by scoring four at the Britannia, including two for new signing Jon Walters…wait, no he still plays for Stoke and thus scored two own goals, then missed a penalty trying to find the new for his own team – not his best outing. On Wednesday night, Chelsea had their rearranged fixture against Southampton – which had to be postponed due to their involvement in the Club World Cup in December – and they appeared to be heading for victory with a 2-0 half-time lead through goals by Demba Ba and Eden Hazard. However, Southampton came back to earn a point with a 2-2 draw, leaving Rafa Benitez with just one win in his six domestic home games since taking over at Stamford Bridge and he was once again subjected to boos by the Chelsea fans.
That result capped a good week for the Saints, who also won 1-0 away at Aston Villa last Saturday and have moved themselves up to 15th in the table, three points above the relegation zone. Reading improved their own chances for survival with a remarkable late comeback against West Brom – they Royals scored three times in the final eight minutes to overturn Albion’s 2-0 lead, given to them by two Romelu Lukaku goals. West Ham’s inability to find the net away from home continued as they lost 3-0 at Sunderland – Sam Allardyce’s men have managed just 5 goals in their 10 away league matches thus far – and Fulham were held to a draw by Wigan at Craven Cottage, as Franco Di Santo’s second-half strike cancelled out Giorgos Karagounis’s earlier goal.
This weekend the biggest fixtures are once again on Sunday, as Chelsea host Arsenal and Tottenham seek to earn a league double over Manchester United at White Hart Lane. Manchester City have the opportunity to cut the gap to United down to four points – at least temporarily – if they can beat Fulham at the Etihad on Saturday; Liverpool host Norwich; Stoke travel to Swansea; Reading have a trip to the North East to face Newcastle; Harry Redknapp faces another of his former clubs as he takes QPR to Upton Park to take on West Ham; there is a Midlands derby between West Brom and Aston Villa; and Wigan entertain Sunderland. On Monday night, Southampton have a home game against Everton, then on Wednesday, Arsenal and West Ham play their rearranged Boxing Day fixture.
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