In their final away match against the other teams that comprise this season’s top four, Arsenal were once again on the receiving end of a thrashing, following up their 6-3 loss at Manchester City and 5-1 Anfield defeat with a 6-0 beating at the hands of Chelsea. In the buildup to the fixture, there was much made of this being Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge of the Gunners, but his otherwise impressive tenure was put into some context by his failure to beat Jose Mourinho during his spell in North London. Any notions that this trend might end were gone by the 7th minute, as the Blues raced into a 2-0 lead and the title race seemed like it was down to three teams by the 14th minute, when Eden Hazard converted a penalty to make it 3-0 and Arsenal were reduced to ten men – although not the correct ten. To be fair to referee Andre Marriner, he got the decision to dismiss one of the visiting team correct, since a shot from Hazard was tipped wide (although it probably was not on target anyway) by a hand that did not belong to goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, but it was completely inexcusable that he could not differentiate between Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (who committed the offense) and Kieran Gibbs, who was erroneously shown the red card. To make matters worse, Oxlade-Chamberlain told Marriner that it was in fact him who should be sent off, but the referee for some reason chose not to believe him or correct the mistaken identity and Arsenal lost a defender instead of an attacking midfielder. In their subsequent review of the incident, the FA rescinded the red card for Gibbs and gave no suspension to Oxlade-Chamberlain, stating that it was not a sending off offense because the shot was going wide – but the Arsenal midfielder did not know that at the time and his intent was to stop a goal thus I believe he should have been dismissed (the letter of the law does say differently, however).
Overall, the officiating mistake did not affect the outcome of the game and Wenger must be concerned that his team’s performances against their title rivals this season – with just Manchester City at the Emirates to go, the Gunners record reads as: Played 5; Won 1; Drawn 1; Lost 3; Scored 6; Conceded 17 – allowing as many goals in those five matches as they have in their other 25 in the league. As for Chelsea, they remain first in the Premiership and unbeaten against the rest of the top four this campaign, as they got five goals from attacking midfielders – two for Oscar, the penalty for Hazard and one each for Andre Schürrle and Mohamed Salah – after Samuel Eto’o had opened the scoring in the fourth minute, before the Cameroonian striker was forced off with a thigh injury. The Blues are currently four points above Liverpool, who beat Cardiff 6-3 at the weekend with Luis Suarez notching another hat-trick and Martin Skrtel scoring twice; and are five points ahead of Manchester City, who were propelled by three goals from YaYa Toure – two from the penalty spot and a stunning third into the top corner – in their 5-0 thrashing of bottom side Fulham.
Those defeats for Fulham and Cardiff were indicative of a bad weekend for the sides in the relegation battle, with the bottom five teams all losing their respective fixtures. Sunderland were beaten 2-0 at Norwich, with the second goal for the Canaries coming via a fantastic 30-yard volley from Alexander Tettey. It is crucial for Norwich to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the drop zone over the next few weeks since their final four fixtures see them host Liverpool and Arsenal either side of trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge. One good sign for the Canaries has been their defensive performances at Carrow Road – since the start of 2014 they have had 6 Premiership matches at home and conceded just once, holding out both Tottenham and Manchester City during that run and allowing only Stoke to find the net from a penalty. Crystal Palace looked set to earn a point in their away match with Newcastle on Saturday, having held out the Magpies for 94 minutes, but with their final attack the home side gained all three points when Hatem Ben Arfa’s cross found Papiss Cisse’s unmarked in the area and the Senegalese striker made up for some earlier misses by heading in the winning goal. West Brom completed the quintet of failure for the bottom quarter of the Premier League as they were undone by their former striker, Shane Long, who won a penalty from which Hull got the opener (the spot kick was saved but Liam Rosenior headed in the rebound) and then scored himself to give Steve Bruce’s side a 2-0 victory. After the game, Long was subjected to abuse from some Albion supporters while he was walking with his young daughter, something that is never excusable but was particularly harsh considering the striker did not celebrate his goal, nor claim a penalty when he had tripped himself up in the box.
In the race for qualification for the Europa League, Everton beat Swansea 3-2, with two goals in five minutes putting the game beyond the Swans in the second-half and leaving Gary M0nk without a win since his first match in charge of the Welsh club; Manchester United followed up their European success with a 2-0 victory away at West Ham with Rooney scoring both, the first of which was a long distance effort reminiscent of David Beckham’s half-way line strike against Wimbledon in 1996; and Spurs recovered from 2-0 down to beat Southampton 3-2 at White Hart Lane, thanks to two goals and an assist from Christian Eriksen (someone I kept saying should be playing every week, back when I still could muster the will to write about this Tottenham season). In the other game last week, the middle-of-the-table-Midlands clash between Aston Villa and Stoke ended up 4-1 in favor of the Potters, who had never before scored that many goals away from home in the Premiership.
The highlight of the five Premiership matches to be played in midweek is the Manchester derby that is being played on Tuesday evening, with City needing a win to keep the title in their own hands and United desperate to avoid another defeat to a rival at home, after losing to Liverpool at Old Trafford just nine days ago. Considering they are in seventh place in the table, it is strange that the Red Devils have actually picked up more points (30) that any other club on the road, but at home they have struggled, losing five times and picking up fewer points in their own stadium so far this campaign than bottom half teams Norwich and Hull, and gaining just one more than Crystal Palace have at Selhurst Park. Although victories against Olympiacos and West Ham will have boosted confidence in the Manchester United ranks, they have nobody in the midfield who will be able to compete with YaYa Toure and Fernandinho; while even without Sergio Aguero up front, City should have more than enough to breach the shaky defence of their cross-city rivals. David Moyes will need Wayne Rooney to produce more magic if his team are to have any chance of getting anything out of the derby, but then again, he has done it before against these opponents.
Elsewhere, Arsenal can get back on track with a home match against Swansea; Liverpool will look to keep up their own title challenge when they face relegation-threatened Sunderland at Anfield; Everton travel to Newcastle; while West Ham and Hull, both of whom only need another victory or two to ensure their own safety from the drop, meet in East London on Wednesday.
Last week, 4-6; Season, 149-152
Home teams listed first
Arsenal vs Swansea – Home win
Manchester United vs Manchester City – Away win
Newcastle vs Everton – Away win
West Ham vs Hull – Home win
Liverpool vs Sunderland – Home win