The Big Four All Drop Points

It was a strange day when Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester Utd all drew 0 – 0 whilst the problems for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal grew as they were beaten 3 – 0 by Manchester City at Eastlands.  That win over Man Utd is now looking a distant memory for the Gunners.

So, Manchester United remain eight points off the top of the Premier League after failing to break down Aston Villa in what was a lively encounter at Villa Park in the late afternoon kick off.

After Gabriel Agbonlahor hit an early chance straight at Edwin van der Sar, Ashley Young’s tackle prevented Ji-Sung Park from giving United the lead.  Villa wanted a penalty when Nemanja Vidic challenged Agbonlahor before Wayne Rooney miscued in front of goal.

Both teams created openings late on but could do nothing to break the deadlock and take advantage of the top two each dropping a couple of points earlier in the day.

Chelsea were also left frustrated after being held to a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge by Newcastle Utd. Chelsea were not at their fluent best but still created a large number of chances, certainly enough to have won the game.

Frank Lampard was denied by a stunning save by Shay Given in the Newcastle goal whilst both Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic also went close.

It has to be said that Newcastle defended bravely, but Joe Cole had a goal disallowed for offside and there was drama when Chelsea claimed Given had carried a Lampard free-kick over the line.

So it was a dejected looking Chelsea manager on the sidelines,  as Scolari watched his team fail to win at Stamford Bridge for the third time in four games.

In contrast, in the other dugout, Newcastle manager Joe Kinnear, confirmed after the game he will continue in the role until the club is sold.  It was interesting to see Kinnear milk the applause of the Toon Army after they held the league leaders to this battling away point.

Meanwhile at Anfield Liverpool, who were without their captain Steven Gerrard but welcomed back striker Fernando Torres, were also suffering a frustrating afternoon as they were held to a goalless draw by Roy Hodgson’s Fulham.

The best chance of an even first-half fell to Robbie Keane, but the Republic of Ireland striker’s touch in front of goal is still not what he would expect and he shot straight at keeper Mark Schwarzer from just eight yards out.

Fulham were not just content to soak up pressure and Andrew Johnson and Jimmy Bullard both tested Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal. Liverpool dominated the second half but failed to capitalise on Chelsea’s dropped points and also what would have been Utd’s dropped points a couple of hours later.  Liverpool therefore remain second, on goal difference, behind Chelsea.

It must be said though that if Rafael Benitez’s side harbour serious ambitions of being real contenders for this season’s Premier League title, they will have to perform better than they did against the Cottagers from west London.

Before Saturday’s encounter Fulham had collected just one point on their travels but they turned in a disciplined and confident performance and for the first half at least, looked capable of adding three more to that total.  Fulham are certainly a far better team this year under Hodgson than the one that scrapped survival last year on the last day thanks to Liverpool old boy Danny Murphy.

It’s certainly been a turbulent kind of week for Arsenal and it didn’t end on a high note, that’s for sure, as it ended in yet more misery for Wenger and his team as Manchester City sent them to their fifth league defeat this season with a comprehensive 3 – 0 at Eastlands.  I think we can safely say that William Gallas won’t be lifting the Premier League trophy come May in front of a packed Emirates.  The Gunners appear to be in freefall after Gallas was dropped for his midweek tantrum.

Arsenal’s build-up to the match was, of course, blighted by Gallas’ public claims that the team lacks spirit and togetherness.  Hardly the best preparation for any game.  Meanwhile City had won only once in five league games.  Also not a confidence booster.

But it was Stephen Ireland, who seems to be in a rich vein of form at the moment, and possibly City’s best player, who clipped in the first after Gael Clichy sliced a clearance.  Brazilian Robinho then doubled the lead when he superbly chipped Manuel Almunia in the Arsenal goal. Robinho also had a shot cleared off the line before Daniel Sturridge scored with a penalty after he himself had been fouled.

In the other games on Saturday, Portsmouth’s Noe Pamarot put the ball into his own net as Hull snatched a dramatic late equaliser away at Tony Adam’s Portsmouth.  Papa Bouba Diop also hit the crossbar for Pompey before Peter Crouch headed home Kaboul’s cross to put them in front.

Hull’s Geovanni then also hit the crossbar from long- range but Turner did equalise with a header from a corner.  Glen Johnson put Pompey back in front with a spectacular volley but Pamarot headed into his own net under pressure from Hull substitute Dean Windass.

I would have to say that the equaliser was fully deserved as Hull were certainly persistent and although Hull have not won in five Premier League games they have at least drawn their last two fixtures and have stabilised the ship slightly following those defeats by Chelsea and Man Utd.

Up at the Riverside, Bolton brought Middlesbrough’s unbeaten run of five games to a sudden and grinding halt with an easy 3 – 1 away win.  Bolton’s Steinsson nodded in Matt Taylor’s cross for the opener via the head of team-mate Kevin Davies.  Then Taylor doubled the lead, cleverly wrong-footing the defence before firing in Steinsson’s pass from the right.

Emanuel Pogatetz did pull one back in the second half for Gareth Southgate’s home team, but Swedish international Johan Elmander crashed in Bolton’s third to wrap up the game for Gary Megson’s team.

When you consider Bolton had only scored three times in six league games before this game, and were certainly not fancied to add many to their tally, this was a great win for Bolton.

The last game of the day saw a real relegation 6 pointer kind of a game at the Britannia Stadium with Stoke hosting West Brom. And it was Stoke’s Sidibe, with a superb header, who won the game late on.  The goal finally breaking West Brom’s brave resistance .

Stoke dominated the game but the Baggies looked set for a point from, what has to be said, a dreadful game.  Sidibe also went close with a fine long-range strike that was well saved by goalkeeper Scott Carson.

At the other end Ishmael Miller shot over and substitute Filipe Teixeira wasted a superb late chance.  And that was about it, not too much more to say about the game.

Rik

The Soccer Blogger