Why no beachballs?
A weekend of upsets around the league, as our handy chart shows. Not only did Chelsea lose at City, but the Champions League teams between them got exactly one point, despite Arsenal, Spurs, and United facing West Brom, West Ham, and Bolton respectively.
West Bromwich Albion 3-2 Arsenal
Coverage: The Short Fuse (Arsenal)
Arsenal were a shadow of their usual selves at the Emirates, being thoroughly outplayed for most of the game by their far from illustrious opponents. Although they made the game close in the end few could argue that Arsenal didn't deserve to go down by two or even three goals. They were calamitously poor on defence and could not hold the midfield - Rberto di Matteo's side flooded players to the centre and simply overwhelmed a Gunners side that lacked Cesc Fabregas. The home side would have been down by half time but for a poor penalty from Chris Brunt, and there was plenty for Arsene Wenger to worry on during the interval.
Amazingly, the Arsenal manager made no obvious changes to his side. Instead of altering team shape or tactics, Arsenal came out for the second half the same way they ended - completely flat. It came as no surprise when Jerome Thomas ghosted past Gael Clichy on the byline and squared for Peter Odemwingie to slam the ball home for West Brom's opener. A second quickly arrived via a clever backheel from Brunt, atoning for his earlier mistake by sending Gonzalo Jara clean through on goal, Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia doing his part in helping the ball into the net. The home side poured on the pressure after that, but it was the Baggies who scored next, taking advantage of yet another Almunia mistake. At 3-0, it was game over, and everyone on the pitch knew it save Samir Nasri, who notched a late brace to bring the scoreline up to some semblance of respectability.
"It's unexplainable how flat the whole thing looked for the whole game. It's a mystery to me."
The game was funny enough that I don't think I need to make a joke here.
Wigan frustrated Birmingham in a 0-0 stalemate at St. Andrew's, notable only for extending Birmingham's current home unbeaten streak to almost a year. At no point did any team look particularly likely to score, which is a fairly damning indictment of Birmingham's attack - teams should be creating chances against Wigan's defence, not getting locked into a midfield battle. Charles N'Zogbia, who was booed by the home fans after refusing to move from Wigan at the transfer deadline, was the most influential player on the pitch (not that that's saying much), creating space well and sending in some dangerous looking long range efforts. Hugo Rodallega and Roger Johnson had a little bit of a strop at one another in the first half, both earning a booking from Mark Clattenburg, and the game was further marred by a wild tackle by Birmingham's Craig Gardner on Franco Di Santo, which earned the midfielder a straight red and a slightly early bath.
-Birmingham fans chanting during the match, complaining about their 4-5-1 formation.
Hey, nobody ever accused them of being particularly bright.
Blackpool have a couple of scalps on the road, but their home form is a little alarming. They need to start getting some wins at Bloomfield Road in order to stop themselves from dropping into a relegation skirmish, so an own goal by Charlie Adam in the opening minutes was just about as welcome as a rain of giant earthworms at the annual picnic of the People Who Are Scared of Slimy Wriggly Things Society. Adams was hardly at fault when he cushioned a header towards his keeper, but Matthew Gilks had slipped and was in no position to collect the ball, which simply rolled over the line with nobody else nearby. Blackpool upped their game in the second half in a desperate bid to get something from the match, and were well worth their late equaliser when substitute Matt Phillips rolled the ball into Paul Robinson's net with a deft finish. However, the home side kept pressing, allowing Blackburn to find space inside their lines, and Brett Emerton's injury time strike restored Blackburn's lead and made sure of the points of Sam Allardyce's side.
"We added to our own downfall with the fantastic finish from Charlie Adam."
-Blackpool manager Ian Holloway.
At least he has a sense of humour.
An enterprising Everton side were once again denied three points after a decent display, dropping the Toffees to the bottom of the table. Fulham have goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to thank for their share of the spoils, but after being outplayed by the visitors across the board for most of the first half, they regrouped and tested Tim Howard regularly in the second. It was a match that was calling out for a winner, but none could be found in a game that was as entertaining a goalless draw as you could possibly hope to see.
"We'll keep playing. There was no lack of confidence from us against Fulham."
-Everton manager David Moyes.
Does anyone else find it really strange that 'confidence' is so often cited as having a marked impact on performance, but when big teams lose to little ones, they're blamed for being over-confident? This team is wracked with self-doubt! This team is arrogant! This team is just right!
Someday the three bears are going to show up and ask for their egos back.
Sunderland have been vicitimised by some odd goals recently, and although this week didn't feature anything quite as bizarre as a 40 yard ricochet, Liverpool's opener had more than a hint of good fortune about it. Sunderland were awarded a free kick in their own half, Michael Turner rolled the ball back for goalkeeper Simon Mingolet to take, but in doing so made the ball live. Fernando Torres raced onto the tap backwards and squared for Dirk Kuyt, who finished easily past a bemused Mingolet. While it was legal in the strictest sense, Liverpool have to be pretty desperate if they're using tricks like that to score at Anfield. Darren Bent eqaulised from the spot a few minutes later before scoring again right after the break, but Steven Gerrard spared the home side's blushes with a headed equaliser of his own from a Torres cross. A vital three points might have been headed Liverpool's way but for an astonishing miss by Daniel Agger in stoppage time, but it was not to be. Meanwhile, there was yet another major protest from the Anfield faithful about the reign of owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks.
"It was a crazy goal and instead of talking about a fantastic performance by my team I'm talking about the referee."
-Steve Bruce, Sunderland manager.
While I'm slightly sympathetic to his point of view, it should probably be noted that his team won their home game against Liverpool last year thanks to a rogue beachball deflecting in the winner. So stop whining, Steve.
Coverage: Cartilage Free Captain (Spurs)
The weekend of upsets continued as strugglers West Ham saw off Spurs thanks to a fine string of saves by Rob Green and a first-hafl Frederic Picquionne goal. West Ham only secured their first points of the season in week five with a draw against Stoke, but managed all three in a display sure to lift their confidence into just-right territory. Tottenham will probably feel aggrieved that they failed to convert any of their numerous chances in front of goal, but they should note that the Hammers created several goalscoring opportunities at the other end of the pitch as well, with Victor Obinna in particular causing problems for the Spurs defence. Tottenham did make a half-hearted attempt at a barnstorming finish, but were again unable to take advantage of chances when they presented themselves.
"It was more of a basketball match. They attacked, we attacked."
-Harry Redknapp, Spurs boss.
It was also like a basketball match in that if Spurs were playing a basketball match they would score zero goals.
United were unable to take advantage of slips by Chelsea and Arsenal, instead nearly falling to defeat at the Reebok Stadium. Michael Owen salvaged the game in the 74th minute, but the visitors never looked like a threat to run away with the match, instead having to come back from behind twice after goals by Zat Knight and Martin Petrov. They were fairly lucky right before Owen's beautiful header, too - not too minutes prior to the equaliser Johan Elmander had eviscerated United's defence before blazing a shot over with only Edwin van der Sar to beat. It was another shoddy defensive display from United, who have now conceded almost unthinkable 1.5 goals per match, a figure that would leave them with almost 60 goals against over a full season. Manchester United have now failed to win an away game this season, and lost both Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney to injuries in the second half. It's not been a good start to the season for the Red Devils.
"Over the last few years we haven't conceded many goals. We always looked strong and we didn't give teams many chances. But in the last few away games we haven't kept clean sheets, which is very disappointing."
-Nemanja Vidic, United defender.
We used to be good. Lately we have not been good. This is not good. Thanks for the analysis, Nemanja.
Coverage: 7500 to Holte (Villa)
Aston Villa looked like they'd thrown away an early lead once again but the introduction of Gabrial Agbonlahor brought on a late surge and an Emile Heskey header secured the points for Gerard Houllier's side. Villa looked dangerous down the wings in the early stages, and the two wide midfielders combined for their first goal, but Wolves made some early substitutions that succeeded in totally nullifying Villa's width and forced the visitors into defensive mode. With near-constant Wolves pressure on a defence that wasn't getting the support it needed from midfield, a goal was just a matter of time, and Kevin Jarvis provided the equaliser with a cross that evaded everyone and bounced straight into the net. However, Villa refused to settle for just a point, and the combination of Agbonlahor, Heskey, and Ashley Young mixing and matching positions seemed to make the Wolves defence a little bit uncomfortable, helping to ease the pressure on Villa's back line. With two minutes to go, Heskey rose above the defence to power a header in off the post, breaking Wolverhampton hearts and sending the travelling fans into a frenzy. Ex-Chelsea midfielder Steve Sidwell saw that the game finished on a disappointing note when he slid in hard on Adlène Guedioura, breaking the Algerian's leg - in a rather ironic twist, the team most reviled for making dangerous challenges were the ones hard done by here.
"We were not the best at times but we worked as a team, which is a good base to start from."
-Gerard Houllier, Villa boss
Other similarly motivational speeches:
"We're not very good, but at least we have a stadium and some fans. Good place to start."
"Your enemy is both better trained and better equipped. On the plus side, at least I won't be getting shot at."
"I know that we're asking you to fight mutant super-dinosaurs with your bare hands. However, there's at least a 50% chance that they will fry your with the laser eyes rather than disembowel you with their razor sharp claws, which would be a much more unpleasant death. That's a good base to start from."
Newcastle led Stoke for much of the game thanks to a Kevin Nolan penalty, and were by far the better team for the first half. However, Tony Pulis's side came back in the second with a vengeance. Stoke's midfield was harassing Newcastle's into making mistakes, and the home defence suddenly looked vulnerable. Kenwyne Jones hit the woodwork twice in rapid succession before finally netting in the 65th minute after a host of wasted chances to send Stoke level, but the game was there for either side of win and the last half hour was compromised of some highly entertaining attacking football. With five minutes to go, Newcastle right-back James Perch scored with a glorious bullet header, which he'd probably have been happier about had it got into the correct goal. The home team then laid siege to Stoke's penalty area, but were denied by Tomas Sorenson and some very poor finishing.
"Did anyone expect us to win at Chelsea? No they didn't, but we did."
-Newcastle manager Chris Hughton.
"Despite Chelsea's easy superiority in the league, I'm feeling a loss here. Newcastle are going to be desperate to win, especially at Stamford Bridge, and I think that passion will end up coming out in what I'd expect to be a pretty brutal match. 3-2 Newcastle, anyone?"
-Me before the Newcastle match.