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Sunday 4th November 2012 19:54

Van Persie: Produced a superb display against former club

Van Persie: Produced a superb display against former club

TEAMtalk reviews the weekend's Premier League action as Manchester United returned to the top, as Chelsea and Manchester City were both held.

Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1

A curious game this. For so long the Premier League's defining rivalry, Manchester United v Arsenal now seems an uneven contest with goalscorer Robin van Persie's move north perhaps the most obvious sign of the total power shift in United's favour.

The concern for Arsenal here must surely be the ease with which United picked up the three points despite being well short of their best. The hosts were profligate in attack - despite repeated gifts from a bumbling Gunners backline - and only sealed the points in the second half when Arsenal dozed off during a short corner routine and allowed the hardly-giant Patrice Evra to head home in a packed penalty box.

As against Schalke in the Champions League recently, Arsenal failed to muster a shot on target until after the fourth official's board had gone up to signal stoppage time at the end of a match already lost. With chance-creation also a problem in the defeat at Norwich, it is something the Gunners must address. Aaron Ramsey looked uncomfortable and ineffective in the right-wing role he was asked to play, while the less said about the left flank of Andre Santos and Lukas Podolski the better.

The typically busy Jack Wilshere offered the few moments of brightness there were for Arsenal, but he was visibly tiring before picking up his second booking for a tired tackle. It didn't need 20-20 hindsight to see that Wenger should - as Ferguson did with Tom Cleverley - have withdrawn a player clearly only one transgression away from dismissal after a final warning from the ref.

For United, the main positive will be the increasingly potent understanding being developed by Van Persie and Wayne Rooney. The pair are clearly enjoying the other's movement and quality and were heavily involved in all of United's best work. They might need to have a little chat about who takes the spot-kicks, though.

Perhaps the midweek action spoiled us, but this was no classic. But for United the story was a satisfying one, maintaining their dominance over one-time rivals and climbing to the Premier League summit on a weekend when both their current rivals faltered.

Dave Tickner

Tottenham 0 Wigan 1

The boos which greeted the final whistle at White Hart Lane on Saturday will still be ringing in Andre Villas-Boas' ears, with the Portuguese tactician seeing his side continue to waver wildly between the sublime and the ridiculous.

Victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford helped Spurs to continue a run which brought four consecutive successes in the Premier League and fired the capital outfit towards the Champions League places.

Since then, inconsistency has haunted the capital club, with setbacks now suffered in their last two home games.

A derby defeat to cross-city rivals Chelsea was bad enough, but at least they are expected to challenge for the title this season and cause plenty of teams problems on their own patch.

Wigan, meanwhile, arrived in North London at the weekend with just two wins and eight points to their name.

Spurs supporters turned up in expectation rather than hope, with victory over a side that had collected only three points on its travels considered to be a formality.

You can take nothing for granted in the Premier League, though, and a Wigan performance described as 'perfect' by boss Roberto Martinez suggests that they will have more than enough to steer clear of trouble if they too can cut out the peaks and troughs.

It is easy to look at the table and suggest that Tottenham supporters have jumped the gun slightly by getting on the back of a side which still sits level on points with fourth-placed Everton and above arch-rivals Arsenal, but fans are a fickle bunch and have every right to expect a return on their ticket purchase.

Villas-Boas knows only too well that patience can be in short supply when it comes to top-flight chairmen, with an ill-fated stint at Chelsea offering him a Premier League baptism of fire.

The fact that the White Hart Lane faithful are already airing their discontent does not bode well, with Spurs able to offer little complaint at the fact that they found themselves on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline against Wigan - a slick passing side that caused plenty of problems in the final third.

Villas-Boas will point to the fact that the season is only 10 games old and that there is ample opportunity to get things right, but a testing November fixture list will pitch Spurs against Manchester City, Arsenal, West Ham and Liverpool before the month is out, and by then the clock could well and truly be ticking.

Chris Burton

Fulham 2 Everton 2

Considering the amount of criticism David Moyes has taken for perceived negativity away from home in previous seasons, you have to admire the attacking mentality his Everton side showed at Fulham on Saturday.

After falling behind to a Tim Howard own goal (the 33-year-old American looked a little sluggish in his attempts to get across to Bryan Ruiz's free-kick), the Toffees bossed the match and would surely have won comfortably if Nikica Jelavic had been able to convert any of the several good chances that came his way.

The Croatian had a bad day up front but Marouane Fellaini was happy to take on the goal burden and came close to grabbing a second-half hat-trick. However, sleepy Seamus Coleman allowed Steve Sidwell to steal in for a late leveller.

Everton aren't quite the great entertainers, but they have already made significant advances in terms of style and creativity in this campaign. Fixtures against Sunderland, Reading, Norwich and Arsenal this month (three of which are at Goodison) provide ideal opportunities to add to their 17 points - but they may need Jelavic to rediscover his mojo. Perhaps the magical Kevin Mirallas should be scoring more goals; his excellent wing play at the Cottage showed how he has quickly adapted to the Premier League.

Dimitar Berbatov looked more lazy than lively for Fulham, but their spirit - exemplified by the outstanding Sascha Riether - proved enough for a point. With trips to Arsenal, Stoke and Chelsea on the horizon, the Cottagers will surely need more of that determination if they are to stay in the top half in November.

Jon Holmes

Swansea 1 Chelsea 1

European champions Chelsea will surely buy a striker in January after Fernando Torres gave another poor performance, lacking in confidence and full of bad first touches. He has lost his pace and always looks top heavy. Chelsea will be thinking seriously about Radamel Falcao.

Swansea were also missing an out-and-out goalscorer. With Chelsea playing a high line, Michu's lack of pace was evident and, when they did get close to goal, they were guilty of overplaying.

Swansea goalscorer Pablo Hernandez, Ki Sung-Yueng and Ben Davies, who have all been signed or brought into the team by Michael Laudrup, were excellent. Despite only one win in eight Premier League games, the Dane looks like he will get things right at the Liberty Stadium.

Pete Fraser

Sunderland 0 Aston Villa 1

Black Cats' supporters should start worrying about where they're heading under Martin O'Neill.

Although he may have been at the Stadium of Light for just under a year now, the home faithful don't believe they've seen much progression and you would have to agree judging on this display.

Sunderland have only one win and six draws from their opening nine fixtures and players' confidence seems to be at an all-time low after what can only be regarded as an inept performance on home soil.

O'Neill's out-of-form side are on a nightmare run that's seen them win just once in 17 Premier League games now and creativity seems to be the key area which they're lacking the most.

The Northern Irishman openly admitted after the game that his creative players are lacking "a bit of confidence" albeit Steven Fletcher has been the club's one shining light so far, although they still remain the lowest scorers in the top four divisions in England.

Villa cleverly nullified them with a solid display in the middle of the park from Barry Bannan and former Crewe skipper Ashley Westwood, with the latter receiving special praise from Paul Lambert after the game when the Scot said "you'd think he's played at this level for five years".

The Midlanders are clearly a confidence side because they picked up straight from where they left off after their victory in the League Cup at Swindon in midweek. Christian Benteke was a handful in the air and always looked a threat, while the backline looked much more of a solid unit than in previous games. The combination of Ciaran Clark and Ron Vlaar is clearly the mainstay for future success and with the two Manchester clubs and Arsenal to come this month, they'll need more performances like this one, and some luck, to pick up points from those games.

Raz Mirza

West Ham 0 Manchester City 0

Manchester City missed a chance to go joint top of the table after failing to break down a stubborn West Ham side at Upton Park.

Despite fielding Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko in the same starting line-up for the first time, the champions failed to score for the first time since March.

City missed the trickery of David Silva to unlock a well-organised Hammers defence, but still blew chances, the best seeing Balotelli shooting over from close range when in acres of space.

But, on the positive side, City's unbeaten run in the league remains, with the top three opening up a healthy five points gap on the chasing pack, and it could have been a lot worse - with Kevin Nolan's legitimate early goal disallowed for offside, while Yossi Benayoun hit the crossbar.

For the Hammers, Sam Allardyce's side put the disappointment of their recent 2-1 loss to Wigan firmly behind them with his hard-working team display.

They held firm in the face of unrelenting pressure from the champions, while also showing threat on the break, with Andy Carroll proving a handful upfront, despite drawing another blank.

The Hammers now sit in eighth in the table - with a creditable 15 points from their opening 10 games - in their bid to secure their top flight status.

The battling point was particularly welcome ahead of a testing run of games in the league, with ties against Newcastle, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal before the turn of the year.

Steve Pass

Norwich 1 Stoke 0

It was a game that lacked enough quality to make it enthralling, but Stoke's reliance on the direct ball to Peter Crouch was without invention, and the striker was a consistently isolated figure. The same could be said of Grant Holt at times, but the difference was that Robert Snodgrass, Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington were trusted to run with ball at feet rather that aiming for their forward's chest and head.

Foul on Adam in the move for the goal? Maybe, but the fact that Andy Wilkinson then took the ball for Stoke and lost it seconds later mean that advantage may have been played. More frustrating for Tony Pulis should be Adam's reluctance to track back, forcing Wilkinson to concede the foul from which the winner was scored.

Adam was also booked for diving, although he did receive a shove, and later was awarded a free-kick for a carbon copy incident. The issue seems to be that it is so hard to spot whether a dive has indeed occurred that a referee is forced to decide on instinct over evidence.

Daniel Storey

QPR 1 Reading 1

It is harsh to read too much into one game, but on the evidence of QPR-Reading it is clear to see why both are languishing in the bottom three.

Whilst Reading tried their hardest they clearly lack quality in final third, but their heart - especially in midfield - will give Brian McDermott some hope.

Mark Hughes will still be scratching his head as to why a side full of perceived quality can produce so little. If they do not turn this around and soon - then both could be in big trouble. Indeed it is not inconceivable that both could go into 2013 without a league win to their name.

Graeme Bailey

Liverpool 1 Newcastle United 1

It might not be up there with the classics that these two teams have produced in the Premier League era, but it did provide two outrageously good goals, with one from Luis Suarez that is surely an early favourite for Goal of the Season.

It's hard to imagine a successful Liverpool side without Suarez these days, and his performance today really exemplified how crucial he is to the Reds. It was also quite ironic that his wonderful goal came from a long ball, something you probably wouldn't have seen at Swansea under boss Brendan Rodgers.

For Rodgers, another home game goes by without victory, and one has to imagine that had Liverpool lost this game, the fans would be starting to bay for his blood. His young guns pressured for the majority of the game, but they are not the side they were a few years ago, and even with reinforcements in January, one can't envisage them finishing anywhere other than mid-table this season.

Despite Fabricio Coloccini's incredibly reckless challenge on Suarez which earned the Newcastle captain a red card, manager Alan Pardew will be more than satisfied at claiming a draw despite a limited attacking presence that saw an anonymous performance from Demba Ba, who went off at half-time.

For Liverpool, they need new players quickly, but will Rodgers be given the chance to get his own men in come January if the results continue to leave the Reds fans unsatisfied?

Jack Woodfield



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