This week in: English Football – Manchester United vs Arsenal

Hernandez celebrates scoring the (offside) winner for United against Chelsea

Last Sunday, Manchester United became the first team to beat Chelsea in the Premiership this season, overcoming the reigning European Champions, 3-2 at Stamford Bridge.  The visitors had raced into a two goal lead inside the first twelve minutes, through two Robin Van Persie shots – the first of which hit the post but bounced off David Luiz into his own net, the second was a clinical finish from Antonio Valencia’s cross.  Roberto Di Matteo’s men got back into the game just before the interval, when Juan Mata curled in a free-kick from 30 yards and drew level in the 53rd minute, through a Ramires header.  However, ten minutes later the home side were reduced to ten men when Branislav Ivanovic was sent off for fouling Ashley Young as the winger raced through on goal and the numerical advantage increased for Manchester United shortly afterwards.  Fernando Torres had got behind the United defence and appeared to be tripped by Jonny Evans just outside the box, yet referee Mark Clattenburg believed that the Spanish striker had dived and showed him a second yellow card, followed by the red.  Replays suggested that Torres was unlucky to have been dismissed as Evans had caught his leg, and Chelsea’s misfortune with the officiating did not end there.  In the 75th minute, Van Persie’s shot had spun away from Peter Cech and Javier Hernandez, on as a substitute, diverted the return ball into the net, but had been so far offside there was not a single player between him and the opposition goal, not even the keeper.  The victory moved Sir Alex Ferguson’s team to within a point of Chelsea at the top of the Premiership table.

In the aftermath of the game, Clattenburg was accused by Chelsea of racially abusing their midfielder, John Obi-Mikel, and the club have submitted a formal complaint to the Football Association.  Should he be found guilty, then the referee should never officiate another fixture, but there was a level of hypocrisy in the club’s indignation, which the United fans were quick to point out when the two teams met again in the League Cup on Wednesday.  The Blues faithful had been ardent in their support for the club captain, John Terry, when he was accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand in his side’s game against Queens Park Rangers last October – supporters booed Ferdinand and his brother, Rio, and unfurled a banner reading “John Terry: Captain, Leader, Legend”.  During

Genius from the United fans

their cup tie at Stamford Bridge, United fans exhibited their own sign that read: “Clattenburg: Referee, Leader, Legend” (to be fair, they should support him – he was the official who failed to give the Pedro Mendes goal for Tottenham at Old Trafford in January, 2005) and sang a chant about Chelsea standing up to racism…since Sunday.  Nevertheless, the home supporters ended up having the last laugh on the night, as their team came back from 3-1 down to force extra-time with a last-minute penalty from Eden Hazard; ultimately triumphing 5-4 before penalties were needed to decide the outcome.  If Chelsea are right about the racial abuse, then Clattenburg should receive a penalty as harsh as the one Terry should have gotten (being sacked), rather than what he did get (a four game ban); if the allegation is proven to be false, then the club themselves must face severe penalties.

While the comeback from Chelsea was good, it was not the most impressive one of the week in the League Cup – Arsenal were 4-0 down away at Reading just before half-time, and still 4-2 down in the 89th minute, but a hat-trick from Theo Walcott, two goals from Chamakh, and one each for Giroud and Koscielny, saw the Gunners through to the next round with a 7-5 victory after extra-time.  Arsene Wenger acknowledged the bizarreness of the final score in his post-match interview, comparing it to a tennis by saying “that’s the first set to us” (although, given they beat Coventry in the previous round, 6-1, they’re two sets up in the cup), but he will have been pleased at the fight his team showed – even if it was in a competition he has previously displayed as much concern for as he does water bottles that are in his vicinity when Arsenal are losing.

Elsewhere in the League Cup, Tottenham were knocked-out after two late goals by Norwich and a missed penalty from Clint Dempsey secured a 2-1 win for the Canaries; Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool lost 3-1 at Anfield against his old club, Swansea; Championship Leeds beat Southampton, 3-0 at Elland Road; Aston Villa survived a late comeback by Paolo DiCanio’s Swindon to prevail 3-2 thanks to a 90th minute winner that sent them on to the Quarter-finals; and Middlesbrough won the northeast derby, 1-0 against Sunderland.  The biggest upset of the round came at the DW Stadium, where Premiership Wigan were held goalless for 120 minutes by Bradford, with the League Two side prevailing 4-2 on penalties.

Back to the Premiership action from last weekend, and Everton and Liverpool played the first Merseyside derby of the season at Goodison Park, with the Reds gaining a quick advantage through two early goals from Luis Suarez – who responded to (true) allegations of simulation from David Moyes, by celebrating his first strike with a dive in front of the Toffees manager.   The home team recovered quickly and were level ten minutes before the break through Leon Osman and Steven Naismith – but they should have ended the game with a loss, when Suarez struck again in injury time at the end of the match, but he was incorrectly adjudged to have been offside.  The opposite was true at the Emirates on Saturday, when Arsenal beat Queens Park Rangers 1-0, but Arteta’s 84th minute strike came after he had been clearly offside in the play that led up to the goal.

Manchester City kept pace with their neighbours in second place in the Premiership – and a point behind leaders Chelsea – with a 1-0 victory over Swansea at the Etihad, Carlos Tevez secured all three points for Roberto Mancini’s team.  Tottenham moved into the top four with a 2-1 away win Southampton, the goals from Gareth Bale – scoring against his former club – and Clint Dempsey were the first for Spurs at St. Mary’s Stadium in their sixth trip to the ground.  The other fixtures saw Reading remain winless, after their exciting 3-3 draw against Fulham, with four of the six goals for the two teams coming in the final 13 minutes; Wigan defeated West Ham, 2-1 at the DW Stadium; Newcastle won by the same scoreline at home against West Brom; Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa side were held to a 1-1 draw against his old club, Norwich; while Stoke and Sunderland played out the least surprising 0-0 ever – with the two teams now having each drawn six times already this season.

Eight-Two; Brutal

The highlight of this weekend’s fixtures is the first match to be played, as Manchester United host Arsenal in the lunchtime* kick off on Saturday.  Arsenal, returning to the ground where they lost 8-2 last year, will also be facing their former captain, Robin Van Persie for the first time since his summer transfer to Old Trafford.  United’s results at home in the league this year have been 3-2; 4-0; 2-3 and 4-2 – plus the two teams were involved in cup ties that had a combined 21 goals between them during the week – so the expectation will be for a high-scoring affair.  There is another Manchester vs London encounter on Saturday, as City travel to the East End to take on West Ham and the home team might have a good opportunity to beat Mancini’s men, who will doubtlessly have one eye on their must-win Champions League game against Ajax on Tuesday.  However, the champions are still unbeaten in the Premiership this season and have lost just once at Upton Park in their last six visits.

*Reminder for those planning on watching the games in the USA – the clocks went back in the UK last weekend, so Saturday’s games will start an hour later as the time difference is 4 hours.  United vs Arsenal is at 8:45am on ESPN2.

Other games this weekend see Tottenham, yet to score in the first half at home this season, taking on Wigan at White Hart Lane; Everton are away at Fulham; top-of-the-table Chelsea travel to Swansea, where they were held to a draw last year; Liverpool host Newcastle, a fixture that ended as a classic 4-3 win for the Reds back in 1996; two sides without a victory in this campaign, QPR and Reading, meet at Loftus Road;  Norwich face Stoke; West Brom entertain Southampton; while Sunderland will be doing the opposite against Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light.

Predictions

Last week, 4-6; Season 40-47

Saturday

Manchester United vs Arsenal – Away win

Fulham vs Everton – Home win

Norwich vs Stoke – Draw

Sunderland vs Aston Villa – Draw

Swansea vs Chelsea – Away win

Tottenham vs Wigan – Home win

West Ham vs Manchester City – Away win

Sunday

QPR vs Reading – Home win

Liverpool vs Newcastle – Draw

Monday

West Brom vs Southampton – Home win

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