Monday, March 22, 2010

could it be that rarest of things?

A genuinely exciting, three-way title race?

Arsenal 2-0 West Ham

Man Utd 2-1 Liverpool

Blackburn 1-1 Chelsea

After Denilson's sweetly-struck opener, a sense of complacency descended on the Emirates. Arsenal overplayed, West Ham were allowed to play, and the crowd was, characteristically enough, quiet.

Adversity, then, was invited, but there was still a sense of injustice over how it arrived. There was little contact between Vermaelen and Franco as the ball bounced through. The flawed rules indicate that a red card was always likely once the linesman flagged for a foul, but this was particularly harsh, and seemed like a potentially season-defining moment.

After Almunia's great save from Diamanti's penalty, Arsenal were galvanised ahead of a difficult-looking second half. And throughout that second 45, it never looked like West Ham had an extra man, except perhaps for a few jittery early minutes. Song, moved to centre back, took a lot of the plaudits, but Fabregas deserves special mention aswell.

The temptation when talking about ten-man performances is to laud the players who provide that extra bit of running and hard work, but you need someone like Fabregas aswell. Remember that, aside from Larsson's cameo, the arguable turning point that night in Paris was the impetus-surrendering replacement of Fabregas with Flamini, after which Arsenal became terminally pinned back.

On Saturday, the captain was wonderful on the ball, not because of his usual incisive passing but the way he zealously held onto the ball, finding space, giving it simply, never pushing things needlessly. And the second goal summed up this captain's performance. He won the ball with a sliding tackle, drove forward to collect Eboue's pass, chipped the ball against Upson's arm and then buried the resultant penalty, to defuse the building tension as the game entered its final stages.

A word for Eboue- his performance was brilliant again. Going forward, he continues to provide a threat that Sagna does not, and his decision-making seems to be improving, as evinced by his clever pass to Fabregas for the penalty. Another player who I've reserved special criticism for, Diaby, made a positive impact after replacing an unfit-looking Arshavin. Thankfully, the officials gave EVERYTHING Arsenal's way after the red card, starting with the linesman ignoring Almunia's little hop off his line to aid his dive for the penalty.

Typically, Man United are playing ok, not making mistakes, winning their games as the season draws to a close. They are clear favourites now to win a fourth consecutive title.

Liverpool were poor, as they have been all season. Gerrard looks an almost spent force. Torres a wantaway striker, sulking through the game. Their manager has possibly lost the dressing room; perhaps the players have grown tired of his relentless negativity. Babel, Benayoun and Aquilani were all left out of the starting eleven.

Many expected a positive reaction to their Inter disappointment- it didn't happen, desite the ideal start in the shape of Drogba's early opener. United will now stay top even after Chelsea, presumably, win their game in hand against Portsmouth in midweek.

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