15/20 draw 26/10 38/10
The Premier League continues to be a gripping blend of the sublime, the grubby and the surreal. This weekend serves up another mouth-watering encounter with Arsenal making the trip to the ‘Theatre of Dreams’, to face Manchester United. Both these teams were on the fortunate side of poor officiating last weekend that helped them earn maximum points.
The terrific encounter between Manchester United and Chelsea last Sunday, spiced by the brilliance of Robin van Persie and Juan Mata, was scarred by some poor defending and some poor decision-making by the officials. The cynics would argue – quite legitimately – that United conceded two goals again and benefitted greatly from two red cards but the facts are that Sir Alex Ferguson’s team inflicted upon Chelsea their first defeat in the Premier League this season and their first at Stamford Bridge to the 19-time champions in over 10 years. United took a two-goal lead largely thanks to Robin van Persie but allowed Chelsea to creep back into the fixture with goals either side of half-time. With Chelsea down to 9 men, substitute Javier Hernandez scored a 75th minute winner from what appeared to be an offside position in what proved to be the winning goal for United. That win took the Red Devils to within one point of the league leaders Chelsea and extended their winning streak to five matches. Before defeating Chelsea on Sunday, they were the only English club to win during the week in the Champions League as they came from behind to take down Portuguese side Braga, in a 3-2 win at home. Ferguson has experimented with a diamond formation which he claims is “revolutionary because it is going against our history”. That set up delivered a 3-0 victory over Newcastle but many of the same problems at the back remained against Braga and the more familiar 4-2-3-1 was restored for the trip to the Bridge with Rooney behind Van Persie accompanied by two wide men. On the right-wing Antonio Valencia remains an important weapon for Sir Alex. His simple yet effective approach is one that gets United strikers thriving on his delivery.
A difficult week on and off the field for Arsenal ended with some comfort as they left it late to score a scrappy winner against QPR with Mikel Arteta prodding home from what looked, with the benefit of a replay, an offside position. The Gunners came into the match having lost out to Norwich in the Premier League before being beaten at home by Schalke in the Champions League, failing to score in both matches. The psychological wounds of last season’s 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford for Arsenal remain and neither the return of Jack Wilshere, starting his first competitive game for 17 months last weekend, nor that of the experienced Bacary Sagna also returning can heal those quickly. Arsenal are a club in search of an identity and never look like a team in charge of their own destiny. Following two defeats and an angry annual general meeting, manager Arsene Wenger was grateful enough for their recent win. But the failings manifested against Norwich and Schalke were evident: little intensity, not much creativity and a lack of clear-cut chances. With a midfield trio of Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla and Wilshere, this team form a much more serious proposition – if Wilshere can return to the form of 2010-11 – so this downturn in form is unlikely to be permanent. But even after they had laboured to break down bottom-club QPR, who were reduced to 10 men, they contrived to find ways of threatening the win. In the final minutes and defending desperately, they gave Rangers three chances to equalise.
After the 8-2 thrashing to the depleted Arsenal squad in the first round match last season, United went to the Emirates to pull the double over their old foes. The Red Devils are looking the better side at the moment, especially in attack, and Arsenal haven’t looked convincing on the road with two wins, two draws and one loss. United’s 24 goals in nine matches is 10 more than Arsenal have managed. Back the home win.