In a season which has already produced its fair share of talking points, the Premier League once more exploded into life after the two week recess, with a flurry of goals and a controversy set to dominate the back pages long after the match reports have faded.
On the up:
Let us forget for a moment the behaviour of Emmanuel Adebayor (more on which to follow) and focus upon an otherwise scintillating display of counter attacking football from Mark Hughes’ team. In the space of fifteen devastating 2nd half minutes, the light blues ripped apart the Gunners with exactly the brand of fast, incisive, hit them on the break football which has been a hallmark of Arsene Wenger’s team in recent times. Arsenal simply had no answer for the pace and movement of the City attack and despite once again playing beautiful football and dominating the bulk of possession, they lacked the necessary cutting edge and competitive bite in midfield.
His pace, movement off the ball and boundless energy proved far too much for Tottenham. Rooney has started the season on fire and ominously looks to be getting better. He will never fill Ronaldo’s shoes as they are completely different players. However, on the evidence of the season thus far, he looks more than capable assuming the mantle as the catalyst for another United title charge. If he can control the hot tempered lack of judgement which has at times blighted his career to date (and that remains a big if), this could be a very special season.
Games vs Spurs are starting to feel like a sort of Groundhog Day. Fall behind and then bounce back to comprehensively outplay and easily defeat your opponent. It’s as if these matches follow a preset formula. More importantly for United, having produced far less than their best in a fortunate victory over Arsenal, they were back on cruise control here. Even with ten men following Scholes’ justified dismissal, they never looked in danger.
Robin Van Persie
Despite the result going against his team, ‘RVP’ can take a lot away from his performance and conduct at Eastlands. His importance to the Arsenal side cannot be underestimated and Wenger must have been a relieved man indeed when the Dutchman finally signed his long term contract extension in the summer. On Saturday, he led the line with aplomb, produced a fine moment of individual skill for the equaliser and conducted himself with dignity, both on pitch and in the post match press conference following ‘that’ challenge.
Champions find a way to win. To the eye an under-par display, yet three points nonetheless and five straight wins for Ancelotti’s men. Chelsea have a long way to go to prove they are title material, yet is difficult to envisage all of their main rivals taking maximum points from the Britannia, and in that context it is an excellent result. It is also somewhat ironic that Stoke were finally undone deep into injury time by none other than a long throw into the box; with Malouda pouncing on the ensuing knockdown. Although in the final analysis substitute goalkeeper Simonsen may well feel he should have done better.
Liverpool needed to produce a clinical display against Burnley to calm the nerves after a less than convincing start to the season. Mission accomplished; though in truth we learnt very little from this performance. The gulf in class between the teams was obvious and although Burnley may provide an altogether sterner test on home soil at Turf Moor, they offered precious little here and it proved to be a stroll in the park for the red half of Merseyside.
Perhaps it is the measure of the man that his actions on Saturday will serve to completely overshadow the otherwise fabulous beginning to his Man City career. The celebration was bad enough but a lengthy ban will surely follow for an act which can only be described as verging on common assault upon Robin Van Persie.
In fairness to the referee, it is difficult to pin-point intent when viewing the replay at game speed, let alone in a match situation without the benefit of a 2nd look. However, the slow motion paints an extremely harsh and unflattering picture. Already saddled with the tag of mercenary, I suspect far less pleasant adjectives will be forthcoming from fans and media alike. His post game apology for the goal celebration also seemed somewhat hollow. Heat of the moment? I doubt it; he knew what he was doing.
The saddest aspect is that, on most occasions such a celebration usually just riles the crowd and makes the player involved look like an egotistical childish twit. Unfortunately, Adebayor’s ill-judged actions also resulted in the wounding and hospitalisation of a match steward; struck by an object thrown from the away end. This in itself was an inexcusable act and if caught the culprit should rightly be prosecuted and banned for life. That said, we need not look far for the catalyst. In the long run, his goal in the game will mean little. His ‘other’ contributions may resonate a lot longer.
Paul Hart will doubtless be spending a large portion of training this week working on the art of finishing. Bolton never deserved three points from the fixture, a fact readily admitted by Gary Megson after the game, and while fans may point (rightly so) to the harsh penalty decision awarded against Tal Ben Haim for a clean tackle, this would have been a mere sidebar if not for the home side’s incredible profligacy in front of goal. Having headed the equaliser, Younes Kaboul was then guilty of an appalling miss with a free header, while Frédéric Piquionne time and gain carved space for himself before spoiling promising moves with some truly atrocious finishing. Pompey do not have the quality to break down many teams this season and throwing away precious points against a struggling side such as Bolton looks ominous indeed.
What can one say other than oh dear. At times in the 2nd half, Hull’s defence would have been the laughing stock of the local park pitch. Looking across the line, there were often yards separating the full backs from centre halves, making Sunderland’s task of springing the offside trap something akin to taking candy from a baby. Kamil Zayette may have popped up with the first half equaliser but frankly he is picked and paid first and foremost as a defender and in that aspect his performance was truly shambolic. That Michael Turner scored and briefly ran toward the Hull supporters before turning behind the goal to embrace his new fans will only rub salt into raw wounds.
He is good, but part of the problem for Arsenal is that he’s just not that good. Almunia simply does not belong at a top four club. Great header though it was from Micah Richards, I suspect a Given or Reina may well have kept it out and it’s such differences which may be telling in the final analysis of the season. Mostly he looks solid and he is certainly not out of place in the Premier League per se. However, Arsenal really need a truly commanding presence behind a back four which can be defensively uncertain at times, and I’m not convinced Almunia inspires the necessary level of confidence.