While people in England have taken to the streets in a festive spirit ahead of Christmas, certain Premier League teams were already celebrating tough victories and fair results. Arsenal faced a tricky trip to Wigan but came out with a narrow victory, enough to keep them afloat around the top four. Wigan made life difficult for the Gunners right from the start but the weakest link in the Latics squad at the night was Jean Beausejour, and Arsene Wenger’s men were quick to spot this opportunity and took advantage of it when Theo Walcott invited a clumsy tackle from Beausejour and earned a penalty. Arteta had no qualms slotting it home and Wigan were handed their sixth defeat in eight games.
The biggest upset of the night will probably come to Manchester United fans. The Red Devils were six points ahead of fellow rivals and current Premier League holders Manchester City and a win against Swansea would ensure that the gap remain intact. The Swans made a strong start to the game and were giving it their all to keep United at bay. A first half Patrice Evra header via a Robin van Persie corner gave United the lead. But Ferguson’s men would soon learn that having a one goal lead at the Liberty Stadium doesn’t always mean a step towards three points.
Swansea immediately played their game with more aggression and rightly enough, thirteen minutes later, Michu finished a rebound that initially came off Jonathan de Guzman’s shot on goal. Swansea refused to get back to the tempo with which they started the game once the teams were level. They maintained a robust defense and were quick in closing down the United players. But in this brave performance, one incident stood out like a sore thumb. In the closing stages of the game when United were pressing heavily for a winner, Ashley Williams’ clearance (as claimed by the defender) a foot away from van Persie smashed right into the Dutchman’s head. This understandably started a feud on the pitch that left a bitter taste in Sir Alex Ferguson’s mouth.
The stalemate at Liberty Stadium came as good news to Manchester City fans who were on the verge of getting off their seats and heading for the exits when Mancini’s men faced Reading on Saturday. Reading came prepared to shut City out throughout 90 minutes and were even successful till injury time was added at the end of the second half. A Gareth Barry header ensured City keep up in the race for first spot. Reading were earlier denied a penalty in the game, which, if given, could’ve changed the course of events at the Etihad that evening.
“We deserved at least a draw at this place. This is one of the most difficult places to come in the Premier League, we all know that.” – Reading boss Brian McDermott after his team’s loss.
Manchester’s north-west neighbours, Liverpool and Everton, enjoyed respective victories on home and away turf. After a terrible 3-1 loss at the hands of Aston Villa last week, Liverpool bounced back with a 4-0 thumping of Fulham this week. While their style of play and nature of goals scored was indicative of the Liverpool of past, one man stood out – Stewart Downing. The 28 year-old has come under much criticism this season and is hinging on the possibility of a permanent winter transfer away from the club. However, his efforts in setting up a wonderful Steven Gerrard goal followed by a second half strike after cutting in from the right should have done enough to silence his critics for now. Downing needs to put in such performances week-in week-out if he is to be taken off that transfer list of outgoing players.
We spoke about the biggest upset of the weekend. But the brightest star of the weekend shone above Stamford Bridge. Frank Lampard celebrated his 500th League start and the record of becoming Chelsea’s all-time leading league goalscorer ahead of Bobby Tambling, in style, as his team put eight goals past Aston Villa to announce their comeback in the title race.
Another key positive to take away from this game for Chelsea fans is the form of Fernando Torres. The Spaniard has been sparkling form since the arrival of Benitez and is slowly increasing his goal tally as the season is progressing. If he continues to improve at this rate, then it won’t be long before Chelsea close the gap with Manchester City before challenging for the top spot. Benitez’ tactics seem to be a bit different on pitch but if one is playing David Luiz in more of a midfield role, then that is an indication of a good, tactical viewpoint towards the game.
“I’m very proud of that goals record, to beat a great man such as Bobby who is an absolute legend and a lovely bloke, it means everything.” – Frank Lampard on beating Bobby Tambling’s record.
Elsewhere, Newcastle United, who went from top four contenders at the beginning to battling their way out of relegation struggles, clinched a much-needed victory against QPR which took them up to the fourteenth spot. Speaking of relegation strugglers, Sunderland came out winners against Southampton, a must-win game for both teams languishing around the bottom three. Steven Fletcher was once again on target for the Black Cats, his eighth goal of the season for Sunderland.
Back at North London, Tottenham failed to clinch the third spot following their draw against Stoke City at White Hart Lane. They will be facing Aston Villa away from home in their next match, a game which presents AVB with a golden opportunity to take lead over his London rivals.
“No one enjoys being level on points with Arsenal at this club. I have experienced this rivalry for the first time this year and I have spoken very highly about it before.
It is an extremely healthy competition between both teams, but we have to continue now.
Today was a difficult game. Stoke are an extremely competitive and physical team who are difficult to break down.” – Villas Boas after the Stoke draw.
Lastly, West Brom slipped down the ladder to seventh even after a 2-1 victory against Norwich at the Hawthorns. The Baggies have come out as a surprise package to many this season but their recent slump in form might have come at a difficult time with so many games lined up over the coming weeks.
Sir Alex Ferguson wants Ashley Williams Banned
While Robin van Persie was reaching out for Ashley Williams’ shirt for his ‘clearance’ that hit the Dutchman with a strong blow at the head, the Manchester United manager immediately knew how he was going to express his disgust at the incident to the media. Ferguson later claimed to the papers that Ashley Williams’ act could have “killed” van Persie and that the FA should impose a severe ban on the Swansea captain.
“I think the FA has got to look into it. Irrespective of him having a yellow card he should be banned for a long, long time. It’s the most dangerous thing I’ve seen on a football field for many, many years.
(It was) absolutely deliberate. the whistle’s gone, the game has stopped and he’s done that a foot from the player. He could have killed the lad – it’s a disgraceful act and he should be banned for a long, long time.” – Ferguson on the incident
Ashley Williams insisted that he was going for the clearance and was well into his swing when the referee blew the whistle for a foul.
“If I had tried to hit him on the head deliberately, I would have missed! It’s not like I’m going to shoot and hit him square in the head like that.” – Ashley Williams