RESULTS (click team name for web-wide club news feed) Sat 25 FebChelsea 3-0 Bolton, Newcastle 2-2 Wolves, QPR 0-1 Fulham, West Brom 4-0 Sunderland, Wigan 0-0 Aston Villa, Man City 3-0 BlackburnSun 26 FebArsenal 5-2 Tottenham, Norwich 1-2 Man Utd, Stoke 2-0 Swansea
At 2-0 down it felt like the North London derby was turning into a watershed moment in the 15-year Arsene Wenger regime. It was hard to imagine a team so frequently criticised for a lack of grit finding a way back against high-flying Tottenham, until quickfire goals from Bacary Sagna and Robin Van Persie hauled them back into the game just before the break. A real test of character for WengerÃ¢ÂÂs charges, especially after disappointing results at Milan and Sunderland, but in the end it was a test they passed with ease.
As well as the Dutchman played, for once this wasn't just the Robin Van Persie show. Tomas Rosicky and Yossi Benayoun turned in hugely impressive performances setting the emotional tone for Arsenal by constantly pestering and pressing Tottenham's defence which couldn't cope with their industry. Theo Walcott recovered from a poor first half and rediscovered his clinical streak to fire the goals that added the gloss to Arsenal's best 60 minutes of the season, leaving their manager to look up the table for the first time in months.
"People will see now that Arsenal are alive more than anyone thought before the game," said Wenger after the match, "The performance today showed spirit. From the technical side, and with the drive of the whole team and style that we want to play, everything was perfect despite a very bad start."
Another team putting Champions League disappointment behind them was Chelsea, who brought the feel-good factor back to Stamford Bridge with a convincing 3-0 win over beleaguered Bolton. Roman Abramovic was watching on, looking sunnier than he's done in recent times, which will have been a pleasing sight for Andre Villas-Boas, who knew nothing less than a comfortable win would do after their spirit-sapping 3-1 defeat in Naples. With their ÃÂ£50m striker on the bench and Drogba set to leave in the summer, perhaps the answer to the striker crisis could be David Luiz who looks more comfortable in the opposition penalty box than his own.
What on earth are they going to do when he retires? Uncertain times may lie ahead for Manchester United but the immediate future looks rosy after ticking off another awkward assignment on their quest to run down City. You could have gone on Teletext in 1995 to see Scholes and GiggsÃ¢ÂÂ names in the scorers column and given the last minute nature of this win, there was something cosily nostalgic about it. 900 appearances and counting for the Welshman and thereÃ¢ÂÂs no sign of him slowing down any time soon.
On the day he does retire, Sir Alex would do well to do the same, this man is irreplaceable. "To play 900 games for this club, who I've grown up supporting, is special - it's a great day for me,Ã¢ÂÂ said Giggs, Ã¢ÂÂI am sure there will be more twists and turns in the title race and I expect more drama and late goals."
The Baggies 4-0 win over Sunderland was the surprise result of the weekend as Hodgson's men picked up their first three points at the Hawthorns since January. Sunderland possess one of the division's best away records and would have fancied their chances of recording a sixth away win in seven games on Saturday against a team who had managed just nine goals at home all season. It wasn't to be though as Peter Odemwingie continued his impressive recent form, helping himself to another brace.
Even sterner tests await for Hodgson though: "Our home form has been poor and it was a much-needed win. We mustn't rest on our laurels - we've got Chelsea next."
Mick McCarthy is far from a bad manager, but there was a feeling that things had turned stagnant at Molineux and sometimes a new voice is needed in a dressing room Ã¢ÂÂ preferably one without a thick Yorkshire drawl. Terry Connor was given 13 games to save Wolves and McCarthyÃ¢ÂÂs former assistant got off to a great start with a hard-earned point at Newcastle.
At half time Connor got his side in 2-0 down but that new voice seemed to have the desired effect as they reappeared for the second period transformed and got their reward through goals from Doyle and Jarvis. A pleasing dayÃ¢ÂÂs work for Connor who weÃ¢ÂÂll forgive for the Ã¢ÂÂweÃ¢ÂÂve got 12 cup finalsÃ¢ÂÂ clichÃÂ© he dusted off afterwards.
Knee-jerking is a particularly unattractive trait for a potential England manager but it was one showcased in HarryÃ¢ÂÂs half-time substitutions at the Emirates on Sunday. Tottenham had more than a foot-hold in the first half of the North London derby, and could perhaps consider themselves unlucky to be pegged back to 2-2 having lead 2-0. Yet, while it appeared there was a need to arrest control of the midfield, with the 4-4-2 system Redknapp had surprisingly adopted failing to quell the attacking threat of the Gunners, the changes made at the break appeared to weaken Spurs further.
On came Sandro and Rafael Van der Vaart - the latter particularly famed for his lack of tactical discipline - as Redknapp curiously shifted Gareth Bale right, the Dutchman left and left the natural width and searing pace of Aaron Lennon on the bench.
The manager pointed to defensive mistakes in his post-match interview, but the collapse that saw them ship three second half goals originated in the midfield where they were overrun for the entire half. In scenes reminiscent of SpursÃ¢ÂÂ 5-1 defeat to Manchester City, they simply failed to cope with the shift in the gameÃ¢ÂÂs momentum. Where Spurs had been understrength in that early season humbling against the league leaders, this was TottenhamÃ¢ÂÂs first-choice XI and after such a bright start, the heaviness of this defeat will be difficult to bounce back from Ã¢ÂÂ especially as Manchester United await next week.
Manchester CityÃ¢ÂÂs David Pizarro came on as a substitute in the 71st minute and made 28 passes, which is more than ten of BlackburnÃ¢ÂÂs players managed. Sometimes statistics do tell the whole story. Steve Kean isnÃ¢ÂÂt the first manager to plonk ten of his eleven players in front of the goal at the Etihad Stadium this season and though all have failed, most have left their reputations still intact. Blackburn have been on a decent run and on their last trip to Manchester their fearless counter-attacking display earned that rarest of things - an away win at Old Trafford.
On Saturday it was a different approach from KeanÃ¢ÂÂs men, if you could call it an approach at all. This was one of the poorest top flight performances in recent memory as Blackburn barely put a tackle in for 90 long arduous minutes and at times City resembled a malicious cat, playing with innards of a particularly feeble mouse. It took 92 minutes for Blackburn to force a save from Joe Hart and that was the tamest of strikes from Yakubu, who was given no help whatsoever from his teammates.
Steve Kean might need that new bodyguard of his if he comes within spitting distance of Sir Alex Ferguson any time soon.
What is it about Mark Hughes and handshakes? Sparky made Martin Jol the fourth Premier League manager heÃ¢ÂÂs fallen out with over these post-match acts of courtesy and this one was particularly odd. Hughes appeared to bat away the DutchmanÃ¢ÂÂs hand and later cited the Fulham bosses attempts to pat his head to explain his refusal to shake his hand. Jol joins the illustrious company of Roberto Mancini, Tony Pulis and Arsene Wenger on SparkyÃ¢ÂÂs hit-list. Premier League managers beware, without a Premier League win since 21st January, Hughes is in no mood for pleasantries.
Swansea have deservedly won all manner of plaudits for their expectation-defying start to life in the top flight but they failed the acid test of a trip to the Britannia Stadium at the first time of asking. Swansea arenÃ¢ÂÂt the first team to take an aesthetically pleasing style of football to Stoke City and leave empty handed but their away form has been disappointing all season. TheyÃ¢ÂÂve picked up just nine points on the road and this was a particularly depressing encounter.
Michel VormÃ¢ÂÂs late failed fitness test proved decisive as his replacement Gerhard Tremmel seemed to struggle to cope with the PottersÃ¢ÂÂ physicality from long throws and crosses as StokeÃ¢ÂÂs soft second goal proved. As introductions to Premier League life go, this was a particularly bruising one for Tremmel and the Swans will hope to welcome back one of the leagueÃ¢ÂÂs best keepers in Vorm for their trip to the DW Stadium next week.
Masochism, good housekeeping or a dark sense of humour? Whatever it was that possessed Kevin Friend to add 11 minutes of injury time to Wigan Athletic vs Aston Villa at the DW Stadium, it certainly wasn't welcomed by the 20,601 people who attended this cure to insomnia. The Villa fans who managed to stay awake greeted the final whistles with boos for Alex McLeish who celebrated just three Aston Villa goals in the whole of February.
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