Premier League Weekend Review: Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and More

If you've checked this space the last couple weeks you could easily infer the waning interest by your humble author in the comings-and-goings of the Premier League in England.

This weekend was a nice return to form for the league, in earnest.

Chalk some of that up to the nice scene at the Reebok Stadium, where Bolton beat fellow struggler Blackburn 2-1 to move out of the relegation zone in the club's first game since Fabrica Muamba's collapse at White Hart Lane in the FA Cup last weekend.

The Premier's League top ogre lookalike, David Wheater, scored both goals for Owen Coyle's team which moves a point above woeful QPR -- with a game in hand no less.

Is the Muamba story and miracle recovery enough to inspire the team to stave off relegation? [Insert tired, 'win one for the Gipper cliche here.] Hard to say. It's not like Bolton beat a worldbeater in the form of Blackburn, but the team held its ground for the second half with the game at 2-1 after a goal from Steven N'Zonzi. With the emotions running high around the stadium, it would have been easy for Bolton to cough one up late.

If there's some encouraging signs on the field, it's that on-loan Arsenal winger Ryo Miyiachi might be another loanee that Coyle gets the most out of in a limited amount of time.

Overall, there's not a lot about Bolton that oozes inspirational, Muamba scenario aside, but it would still make for one of those Disney type stories if tragedy inspires the club these next two months. 

Tight Around the Collar:

If Peter Crouch's goal of a lifetime hadn't been offset by a nice strike by Yaya Toure then we could officially say Sir Alex Ferguson sold his soul to Beelzebub. Yet, Manchester City, pulled even with United (for the time being) with a 1-1 draw at Stoke City.

It's worth watching the goal differential. United has cut that to only four behind City, which is now struggling every 90 minutes segment.

We've talked a lot about "mind games" and "title pedigree," but isn't that covering up what we're really looking at with City these last couple games?

City appears fully rundown right now with only fleeting moments of inspiration on the offensive end of the field. More than that, City's air of invincibility has withered away. When earlier in the season City simply ran over teams with an air of inevitability, now the club almost seems to be going through the motions. Either teams aren't scared of City any more, or City is scared to open up and beat up the weak sisters of the league.

That said, without the nuisance of the Europa League, City has a chance to decompress and put all its time and energy into the Premier League title chase. City do still have to play three games in six days in April 8-14, including at trip to London to play Arsenal.

Without knowing what's going to happen later Monday with United's game with Fulham it's hard to make any more declarative statements, but City feel frighteningly close to that carton of milk in your fridge that's been there a while. The expiration date hasn't been reached yet, but when you taste it, something just seems off.

Tease Me Once, Tease Me Twice:

So .. Arsenal firmed up its grip on third place with its seventh Premier League victory in a row, beating Aston Villa -- which you could argue is having the worst season of anyone in the top flight all factors  considered -- 3-0 at the Emirates. Three goals, no less, without Robin van Persie scoring one of them.

What to make of Arsenal, once again teasing its fans with a promising finish to the season, which will end without a trophy for the club for the seventh year running?

The Gunners are beating teams they should beat and looking good in the process, yet you have to wonder if this is a team that can win when the money is on the line. Aside from finishing third or fourth, there wasn't much else for Arsenal to do this year and they crashed out of Europe and both English cups. The pressure is off, so naturally the team starts to play with a verve and swagger that seemed impossible barely a month ago.

Arsenal is obviously a very good team, but how can it close the gap on Manchester City (or United) in the next couple seasons, especially if the Board or Arsene Wenger doesn't want to spend on players? Or how can it keep pace with Real Madrid and Barcelona in Europe?

Right now it seems like a total soccer version of the cock tease, embodied by Theo Walcott who can be great against scrubs like Aston Villa, yet invisible in games against Manchester United.

Chances are Arsenal ends up the season as the most "in form" team in the Premier League come May, problem is, you don't win any tangible awards for that.

But as the kids say nowadays, Mikel Arteta's free kick tho .. 


Admittedly, not a lot to say about Chelsea and Spurs' 0-0 draw in the early game on Saturday.

Arguably the best part of the match was ESPN's Steve McManaman claiming it was so warm in London he was naked inside the press box.

Both teams had their chances to win it. Juan Mata hit the post with a free kick in the second half. Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor each had golden opportunities to score a winner for Spurs. As a result Spurs remain five points ahead of the Blues for the fourth and final Champions League place.

One tangential thought from this, when (and what) are the perfect conditions for soccer? In England it seems you get, what, October, November and maybe March. Otherwise it's too hot -- on a pasty, ginger scale -- or its too cold and the pitches are rubbish. Bright sunny days and soccer across the pond simply don't seem to mix.

It's a bit paradoxical, too.You can understand the Paul Scholes of the world roasting in the heat like a blood sausage, but all the players from foreign soils? Why are they, too, seemingly afflicted by a few extra degrees Centigrade?

Viva Crouchie:

Did Peter Crouch score the goal of the year, Saturday vs. Manchester City? That's open for debate. The degree of difficultly of his strike was certainly about a 99 out of 100. More than that, bonus points should be awarded since it was a goal that will likely have massive title-race implications, so it's not quite a random, Maynor Figueroa launching from inside the halfway line to beat Tomas Sorensen a couple years ago in an essentially meaningless game.

Long time friend of the Blog, HyperVocal went deep on Crouch and dug up some of the "Gangly Handful's" better moments, so please read their take.

Around the League:

Thanks in part to Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa (The favorite EPL player of pirates worldwide), Newcastle United is now level on points with Chelsea after its win 3-1 over West Brom on Sunday. .. The less said of Liverpool's 2-1 loss at Anfield to Wigan, the better. .. If there was a betting line that offered the chance for Everton (2-0 winners at Swansea Saturday) to finish ahead of Liverpool in the table, I'd take it. .. Leighton Baines is now your scoring leader at Goodison Park with .. four goals. .. Grant Holt scored and was sent off in the same game. Sort of a hockey scenario right there. .. Down in the Championship West Ham have slipped out of first place and trail Southampton by nine points, although the Irons have a game in hand. Reading is currently in second. Recent Premier League teams like Middlesbrough, Blackpool and Birmingham City are all in Championship promotion playoff positions, while as usual Leeds United lags behind.

Fantasy Team O' the Week:

Luke Sebastian's "Charlie Goes America" takes top spot, in a low-scoring week, with 60 points. Leighton Baines, Arteta, Grant Holt and Tim Howard led the way.