Heroes & Villains: Crazy Cisse, Crouchie's golazo and a damp London squib
The way in which Owen Coyle has conducted himself in the past ten days has been a credit to not only Bolton Wanderers, but Premier League as a whole. Where last Saturday had been traumatic, there was a celebratory air at the Reebok Stadium and a real sense that the players were finding an extra yard in their legs as a tribute to their team-mate Fabrice Muamba.
It must have been a relief for Owen Coyle to return to the business of a football match, and it seemed his players even felt the pressure of the relegation scrap easing, perhaps as a result of this newly rediscovered sense of perspective.
With relegation rivals Wolves, Blackburn and QPR all suffering defeats, Wigan were able to capitalise by claiming their first ever win at Anfield. Too often this season the Latics have created a shedload of chances but failed to convert enough to win the game, this time that model was turned on its head as Shaun Maloney and Gary Caldwell took two of the few chances that fell their way.
There must have been times this season when Villa Park looked like some tropical oasis in a grayscale desert to Roberto Martinez, and perhaps in those moments he regretted his loyalty to Dave Whelan in turning down the Villa hot seat. Martinez is one of the leagueÃ¢ÂÂs most likable managers and the football his team plays probably make them the neutralÃ¢ÂÂs choice to stay up. If they are to do it, they will need more of the fortune that saw them claim the points on Saturday with tricky fixtures against Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal to come in their remaining eight games.
Peter Crouch has scored an impressive selection of extravagant volleys in his career but this was one of his best. The Stoke striker was a handful for a makeshift Manchester City backline throughout SaturdayÃ¢ÂÂs tea-time encounter, and his endeavour was rewarded on the hour when he produced the moment of the match with a 30-yard golazo that had him dreaming again of a summer trip to Poland and Ukraine.
StokeÃ¢ÂÂs performance was founded on all of the principles that have made Tony PulisÃ¢ÂÂ side so difficult to beat during their four-year stay in EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs top division. In truth, the Potters looked like the team more desperate to win and were first to every ball, allowing no space to CityÃ¢ÂÂs superstars. In the final 10 minutes, only Stoke looked like doing enough to seal the win when you might have expected City to work through their gears. PulisÃ¢ÂÂ men didnÃ¢ÂÂt let them and claimed a deserved point.
Hatem Ben Arfa
Ben Arfa ran the show in SundayÃ¢ÂÂs 3-1 win at West Brom, setting up two goals for Papiss Demba Cisse and weighing in with a goal of his own to cap a memorable display which left his manager purring.
Ã¢ÂÂI thought today a couple of his bits of play were mesmerising, he was just outstanding,Ã¢ÂÂ said Pardew after the match.
Thanks to Nigel De Jong, it has taken Ben Arfa some time to burst into life for Newcastle, but heÃ¢ÂÂs finally showing just why Newcastle fans more knowledgeable than Alan Shearer were so excited about his signing in 2010. If Mike Ashley decides to keep his attacking trident of Cisse, Ba and Ben Arfa together, Newcastle may have cause to look even further up the table next season. As it is, theyÃ¢ÂÂre level on points with Chelsea and a Champions League tilt might not be out of the question this year, with Tottenham wobbling in fourth.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs now seven wins in a row for an Arsenal team who look like theyÃ¢ÂÂre really starting to enjoy their football again, and no player more so than Theo Walcott. Whatever clicked in Arsenal midway through the North London derby a month ago is still very much in effect and this victory over Aston Villa was as comfortable as they come.
Walcott embodies this new razor-sharp Arsenal approach. For all their intricate passing triangles and tireless movement there is now an end product and WalcottÃ¢ÂÂs clinical finishing has eased the goalscoring burden on Robin Van Persie who wonÃ¢ÂÂt have minded that the Gunners three goals were spread around the team.
We knew he could notch vital goals with both feet and with his head but picking up a pointless red card for a rash challenge proved that heÃ¢ÂÂs the ideal man to spearhead EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs gallant quarter-final exit in the summer.
Five defeats in six league matches and, for the first time in King KennyÃ¢ÂÂs second reign at Anfield, there are cords of discontent sounding just under the surface. With only eight points since the turn of the year, only QPR and Wolves have worse league records in 2012, and even the Anfield fear factor has been dispelled, this time by Wigan Athletic who had never won there until SaturdayÃ¢ÂÂs smash and grab victory.
It seems that a Carling Cup win and an upcoming FA Cup semi-final only go so far to immunising a manager from heavy criticism, and with Rafa Benitez lurking in the peripheries; it seems that a mid-table finish just wonÃ¢ÂÂt be good enough for an Anfield faithful whoÃ¢ÂÂve been raised to expect better both in terms of style and results.
Incidentally, Roy HodgsonÃ¢ÂÂs West Brom are just three points behind them.
Wolves are in enough trouble without throwing away points in such a careless fashion. Former Hearts midfielder Eggert Jonsson could barely put up a case for the defence after he handballed in the area to gift three points to Norwich. Terry ConnorÃ¢ÂÂs team have conceded 16 goals in five games and are being cut adrift at the bottom. Anything less than three points from next SaturdayÃ¢ÂÂs fixture with Bolton and they look doomed.
Tottenham and Chelsea
A squib is an explosive. A damp squib is an ineffective explosive and this was a match that never caught light despite its fanfare billing.
Emmanuel Adebayor is a player who should move clubs in every transfer window. If his head was right heÃ¢ÂÂd be one of the worldÃ¢ÂÂs most feared strikers, as it is, too often he fails to show up and put in an honest afternoonÃ¢ÂÂs graft. Despite his latest sub-par performance, he still could have been the match-winner on Saturday but he headed over under relatively little pressure and was too casual on another occasion after heÃ¢ÂÂd rounded Cech.
Given the balance of play, City have to look on their draw at the Britannia as a point gained. Most worrying for Roberto ManciniÃ¢ÂÂs men, it was the home side that showed the greater commitment,
This is surprising when you consider the teamÃ¢ÂÂs respective circumstances. Fighting for a title and with the wind in their sails after a hard-fought comeback win against Chelsea in midweek, you would have expected City to capitalise and to put the pressure on their neighbours in the title race. Instead, this was a flat, lethargic performance from City that lacked in urgency, especially after Yaya ToureÃ¢ÂÂs 30-yard sighter drew them level.
Even the introduction of prodigal son Carlos Tevez failed to ignite City this time and although this was one of their toughest remaining assignments, their inability to carve open a limited Stoke side puts a huge question mark against their title chances.
Three goals and two red cards in five appearances. The most frustrating aspect of CisseÃ¢ÂÂs frequent absences is that they look a different team when heÃ¢ÂÂs playing and not one that should be battling the drop. His manager was furious with his latest dismissal, calling it a Ã¢ÂÂcrazy challengeÃ¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂ itÃ¢ÂÂs difficult to argue. A wild two-footed lunge that could have left Frazier Campbell seriously injured gave Mike Jones no choice but to hand the French striker his marching orders.
It was another costly sending off for QPR, who crumbled to a 3-1 defeat, the dropping of captain Joey Barton doing nothing to rally Mark HughesÃ¢ÂÂ men to successive wins. None of the fighting spirit showcased in their dream midweek comeback against Liverpool was on show on Saturday and the Rs are back in the relegation zone.