This week in: English Football – Arsenal sponsored by Lastminute.com

Vermaelen's late winner is a Krul blow to Newcastle

In three of their last four Premiership games, Arsenal have secured a win thanks to a goal in injury time at the end of the match.  Without those extra six points, the Gunners’ season would be looking a lot bleaker, as they would be outside the Champions League places.  Instead, thanks to their persistence and unwillingness to settle for a draw, they sit just a single point behind their North London rivals – cutting that gap from ten points just a few weeks ago.  On Monday, Arsene Wenger’s side had been battering the Newcastle goal for the majority of the game, and did not cease until Vermaelen forced home the winner in the 95th minute.  The visitors had actually taken an early lead from a left-footed strike by Ben Arfa, but Arsenal’s talisman, Robin Van Persie, equalised within 60 seconds to record his 44th goal in his last 45 Premier League games.  After that, the home side dominated and fully deserved the victory, even if it arrived very late in the night.

Tottenham suffered their third straight defeat, this time at Goodison Park against Everton, though once more they were unlucky not to have gained at least a point from their performance, having dominated the game in the second half.  Chelsea won their encounter with Stoke – putting in a performance that suggested that the exit of Villas-Boas was exactly what the squad needed – ensuring the race for the final two Champions League places has three contenders.  With Newcastle’s defeat at the Emirates – combined with Liverpool losing away to Sunderland – Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs will be competing not only to finish London’s top club, but also for the prize of automatic qualification to next season’s top European club competition.  The way they are playing, Tottenham are the team most likely to drop into 5th place, and thus the Europa League, next year, but there was good news for us fans of the White Hart Lane club – with 10 games remaining they are now 31 points clear of the relegation zone, so even if this poor form continues, their Premiership status is assured for at least one more year.

In the title race, Manchester United took pole position thanks to a comfortable 2-0 home win over West Brom, with both goals being scored by Wayne Rooney, while City lost to Swansea 1-0 in South Wales.  United are now a point above their rivals at the top, a position they will want to at least maintain, if not strengthen, prior to their visit to the Etihad stadium on April 30th.  With Manchester City having won all 14 of their home league games thus far, Sir Alex Ferguson will not want to send his troops out there needing three points.  All of the headlines from their match went to City losing, but the victory for Swansea was impressive and they should be getting more respect – Brendan Rodgers’ team have only lost twice on their own turf in their first Premiership season, and they are sitting comfortably in mid-table with little chance of being dragged into the relegation mire this year.

Down in that bottom three, QPR will consider themselves incredibly unlucky to have left Bolton without any points at the weekend, having been denied a goal early on when the officials failed to notice that the ball had crossed the line.  Once again, there is a clamour for goal-line technology to be introduced in the Premier League but, while that is long overdue, it avoids the point that the referee or his assistants should have been able to make the call without any help.  The incident happened at a corner, so all eyes were focused on the penalty area and goalmouth, and Clint Hill’s header was a couple of feet over the line when the Bolton keeper, Adam Bogdan, clawed it back onto the bar and out.  It may not have been as far over the line as Pedro Mendes’ non-goal for Tottenham at Old Trafford back in 2005, but it was clearly in and the mistake by the officials could end up being very costly to Mark Hughes’ team in their fight against relegation.  The three points moved Bolton out of the relegation zone, along with their Lanchashire neighbours Blackburn, who beat Wolves 2-0 at Molineux.  Wigan earned a draw away at Norwich, but remain rooted to the bottom of the table with ten games to play; while Aston Villa got a home win over Martin Jol’s Fulham, thanks to a last-minute goal from Andreas Wiemann, to ensure that the Villains should avoid the risk of being dragged into the relegation scrap this season.

This week, there is a plethora of games in various competitions for English clubs.  On Tuesday, Liverpool and Everton meet in the rescheduled Merseyside Derby, originally planned for the weekend the Reds were at Wembley winning the Carling Cup.  Thanks to the Blues recent good run of form, combined with two consecutive league defeats for Kenny Dalglish’s men, this fixture is now for supremacy in the table – should Everton prevail at Anfield, they will overtake their city rivals.  The FA Cup reaches the quarter-final stage this weekend: Spurs will be hoping to regain their form in their tie with Bolton at White Hart Lane, in a competition they have won 8 times, but not since 1991;  Everton and Sunderland meet at Goodison Park; Leicester, the last remaining team outside of the top flight, travel to a rejuvenated Chelsea; and Liverpool take on Stoke at Anfield.  In the league: Fulham host Swansea; Wigan have the opportunity to move out of the bottom three if they can overcome Roy Hodgson’s West Brom; Manchester United can extend their lead at the top to four points when they travel to Wolves, with City having no game this weekend; and Newcastle at Norwich meet at the Sports Direct Arena St. James’ Park.

In European competition, Chelsea will try to prolong their stay as the last remaining English club in the Champions League, but need to overcome a 3-1 first leg deficit against Napoli on Wednesday.  Meanwhile, in the Europa League, both Manchester clubs will need to come from behind on Thursday if they are to stay in the competition, as United travel to Bilbao having lost 3-2 to Athletico last week, and Sporting Lisbon arrive at the Etihad Stadium with a 1-0 advantage over City to defend.

Premiership Predictions

Last week, 6-4; Season, 113-136

Tuesday

Liverpool vs Everton – Draw

Saturday

Fulham vs Swansea – Home win

Wigan vs West Brom – Draw

Sunday

Wolves vs Manchester United – Away win

Newcastle vs Norwich – Home win

FA Cup Quarter-Final Fixtures

Everton vs Sunderland

Tottenham vs Bolton

Chelsea vs Leicester

Liverpool vs Stoke

 

 

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