In a week of Premier League shocks, none were bigger than West Brom’s 3-2 triumph at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. Even more surprising than the result was the fact that the visitors were good value for the three points, turning over the hosts with a stirring second-half performance.
They could even afford to miss a penalty, with Chris Brunt firing his first-half effort too close to Manuel Almunia, before goals from Peter Odemwingie, Gonzalo Jara and former Gunners man Jerome Thomas sealed victory.
Two late Samir Nasri strikes not enough to rescue a point for Arsenal, who will be concerned by their lack of fight in the absence of Cesc Fabregas, Thomas Vermaelen and Robin van Persie (among others). The trio will still be missing for tomorrow’s trip to Belgrade to face Partizan, as will Almunia, and Arsene Wenger will expect big performances from some of his fringe players.
The fixture against West Brom had represented a chance for Arsenal to make up ground on league leaders Chelsea, who fell to a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City earlier on Saturday.
Carlos Tevez may have grabbed the headlines with his superb solo goal, but the plaudits should belong to City’s midfield duo Nigel de Jong and Yaya Toure. The pair bossed proceedings against Chelsea’s not-insubstantial pairing of Mikel and Essien, keeping the champions’ chances to a minimum and freeing space for their forwards to flourish on the break.
Despite his recent goalscoring run, Essien has been looking less of an asset since recovering from the knee problem which kept him out of the World Cup. Carlo Ancelotti will hope the return of Frank Lampard next month spurs the Ghanaian star into action in time for a testing run of fixtures.
With their rivals faltering, the stage seemed set for Manchester United to spring back into life against Bolton, but in truth the 2-2 scoreline at the Reebok Stadium flattered the visitors.
There are positives to take from the game, though, not least Michael Owen’s return to goalscoring form. The England man, plagued by injuries last season, managed to build on a midweek double against Scunthorpe by deftly placing a header into the far corner of Jussi Jaaskelainen’s net, cancelling out Martin Petrov’s deflected strike within minutes.
2-2 was also the final score at the Stadium of Light, in a game which will be remembered more for one mystifying refereeing decision than for the hard-fought battle between Sunderland and Liverpool.
After ruling that Sunderland had taken a free-kick from the wrong place, Stuart Attwell somehow convinced himself Michael Turner backheeling the ball to the correct spot constituted the taking of the kick. In a scenario not dissimilar to Marc Overmars’ goal for Arsenal against Sheffield United a few years ago, Dirk Kuyt scored the opener with Black Cats ‘keeper Simon Mignolet static and bemused.
With all this controversy hogging the headlines, it is easy to ignore a well-taken brace from the impressive Darren Bent, or even the headed equaliser from Steven Gerrard (a strike which I refuse to dub a ‘captain’s goal’), but 2-2 it ended and Liverpool remain at the wrong end of the Premier League table.
Hot on the heels of Roy Hodgson’s side are West Ham, who moved off the bottom of the table with a surprise 1-0 victory over Tottenham at Upton Park.
Frederic Piquionne scored the only goal, but the hosts owe the three points to a rare display of defensive solidity, epitomised by Robert Green’s world-class save from Luka Modric.
The Irons will hope to build on that result next week when they face Fulham, one of two sides still unbeaten in the league this season.
Mark Hughes’ men ensured their fifth draw in six games after holding basement side Everton to a stalemate at Craven Cottage. Again the goalkeepers were the stars, with Fulham’s Australian stopper Mark Schwarzer edging Everton’s American ‘keeper Tim Howard in the performance stakes.
That was not the only goalless draw of the weekend, with Birmingham and Wigan also cancelling each other out in a game of few clear-cut chances at St Andrew’s.
Tempers began to flare in the first half, Hugo Rodallega tangling with Roger Johnson, and things finally boiled over in stoppage time when Craig Gardner was dismissed for a nasty challenge which left Wigan sub Franco di Santo requiring treatment.
The final game on Saturday was also far from the prettiest, but Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce will not be complaining. Brett Emerton’s stoppage-time strike saw off a spirited Blackpool side, who looked to have salvaged a point when debutant Matt Phillips found a way past Paul Robinson.
Emerton’s goal was his first in the league since November 2007, and the Australian international will be looking to use it as a springboard to reignite his career at Ewood Park after losing his starting place to Michel Salgado.
The award for comedy own-goal of the week was a close-call, with Blackpool’s Charlie Adam just pipped by Newcastle right-back James Perch. The former Nottingham Forest man powered a diving header beyond Tim Krul to gift opponents Stoke all three points at St James’ Park.
It was a game which Newcastle should have won, given their visitors’ apparent decision not to start playing until the second half, but a one-goal advantage was not enough once Rory Delap and his missile of a throw-in entered the fray, and a Kenwyne Jones header drew Stoke level before Perch’s aberration.
The final game of the weekend saw something almost as rare as a Brett Emerton goal: a second in successive games for Emile Heskey.
The Aston Villa striker, seemingly enjoying a new lease of life under former mentor Gerard Houllier, headed in Stephen Warnock’s 88th-minute cross to see off Wolves, just four days after equalising in the Carling Cup win over Blackburn.
Wolves will be disappointed to lose the derby game, especially considering Warnock was lucky to still be on the pitch when he delivered the match-winning cross, but they will be more concerned with the broken leg suffered by young midfielder Adlene Guedioura.
Team of the week (4-2-3-1):
Green (West Ham); Jara (West Brom), Cuellar (Aston Villa), Da Costa (West Ham), Givet (Blackburn); De Jong (Man City), Yaya Toure (Man City); El-Hadji Diouf (Blackburn) Petrov (Bolton), Nani (Man Utd); Jones (Stoke)
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