Debrief: The Premier League weekend reviewed, Nov 10
Pigeons, meet cat
There can't have been many times that only three of the Premier League's top eight have won over the weekend. But it's somehow typical of this season, which critics will see as a lack of consistency while romantics enjoy a closer title race than is frequently the case. Quite simply, the big boys aren't having it all their own way.
Chelsea started it on Saturday, scraping a 2-2 home draw with a West Brom side rendered incandescent over a very arguable late-doors penalty; meanwhile across the capital, widely-dismissed cannon fodder Crystal Palace stopped Everton converting possession into goals in a proud 0-0 draw.
But the snook-cocking went into overdrive on Sunday. Firstly Newcastle surprised Tottenham with a well-constructed 1-0 White Hart Lane win, even if they owe three weeks' wages to wonder-keeper Tim Krul. Then Sunderland got their annual 1-0 home win over a Manchester City side acting like a happily-married agoraphobic: very happy at home, can't function anywhere else.
ANALYSIS Lessons learned at White Hart Lane
And finally, Arsenal dominated their game but couldn't score and lost. It might seem odd to describe a Manchester United home win as an upset, but according to the script this was supposed to be the match in which the league leaders snatched the champions' Biggest Team mantle. Instead, David Moyes' side have sidled quietly into fifth place, one of several hunters in the pack behind the leaders.
The Premier League goes into the international break in a fascinating state. Arsenal have impressed but been found wanting on a couple of occasions, the other being the home loss to Dortmund in the Champions League: do they have the ruthlessness to win enough truly crucial games? But even if not, can any of the other hopefuls reman consistent enough to overtake them?
Good weekend for Saints and a devilish Red
In his Saturday Analysis, FFT's Jonathan Fadugba wondered if Luis Suarez is the best player in the Premier League. Some might argue that the top man would have made more of an impact on last weekend's trip to Arsenal, but he excelled again in the 4-0 filleting of Fulham, and eight goals in six games are certainly keeping the Anfield side well in the title race.
Tucked just a point further back, Southampton crowned a great week with a thumping 4-1 victory over Hull. It's hard not to laud the Saints without sounding condescending, but their commitment to youth develop is especially noteworthy, and after starting the season with a reputation for unspectacular narrow wins they have started to spread their wings: Hull were the fourth successive visitors to be beaten with goals to spare. Southampton's next two games, at Arsenal and Chelsea, will go a long way to suggesting whether the title race will have a neutrals' favourite for a while yet.
Possession is nine-tenths of not much...
Ladies' favourite and published author Sven-Göran Eriksson once noted that "football is much harder if you don't have the ball," but it's obviously not that difficult. Of the seven Premier League sides to win this weekend, five had less possession than their opponents. (The exceptions, again, were Liverpool and Southampton.)
Newcastle had 34.7% at Spurs and Sunderland 36.9% against Manchester City, but it wasn't just teams playing rope-a-dope with the big boys: Aston Villa only had 43.2% at home to newly-promoted Cardiff, while Norwich had 47% at home to West Ham, hardly renowned for their dominance of the ball, even if they now spend a lot of time passing it around wondering where the big fella up front has gone.
...but some fans may demand it
Put away those fingers and thumbs: the fifth team to win despite minority possession was mighty Manchester United. Scoring in the first half – not to mention Arsenal's love of caressing the ball around in midfield – tempted the champions into retreating into their own territory for much of the second half.
After the break, United completed just 30 passes in the final third, compared to the Gunners' 84 - and of those 30, just two ended in the Arsenal box. Yes, they were winning, but this is not the kind of attitude Old Trafford fans are used to witnessing, and when they cranked up a chant of "Attack! Attack! Attack!", it sounded more in retort than support.
Not one to be swayed by popular opinion, David Moyes resisted the temptation to bring on Nani, Javier Hernandez or Adnan Januzaj: his first unforced substitution was to bring on wise old Ryan Giggs for the typically anonymous Shinji Kagawa, and his second one replaced goalscorer Robin van Persie with self-styled defensive midfielder Marouane Fellaini.
That final switch brought what sounded a lot like boos from some corners of Old Trafford – and while the away fans may have been clearing their throats for their former hero, it's not hard to find United fans who aren't ecstatic about grinding out results. Although beating Arsenal will always prompt United fans into fist-pumps, the battle for hearts and minds is far from won.