Premier League Winners and Losers: Arsenal, the Ox, Papiss Cisse and More
This weekend, everything heated up a notch.
Manchester City made sure their slip-up last week didn't spark anything to threaten their title challenge, winning 3-0 over Fulham in a snow-covered Etihad Stadium. Manchester United turned a 3-0 scoreline into final score of 3-3, blowing the race for a top-four spot completely open.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, Wolves beat Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road to propel themselves out of the drop zone, and as always, the relegation battle will be a close one, with just six points separating 16th place from 20th place.
This was one of the best Premier League gameweeks of the season, with plenty of winners and losers, so let's get right to it.
It's been a season of ups and downs for Arsenal, and this was certainly an up.
At first, it was looking like a typical Arsenal performance. They score early, spurn their chances and let the opposition equalize on their first chance of the game. Optimistically, I expected Arsenal would score a late goal or two to seal the win, but pessimistically I couldn't help but think about the possibility that it could end 1-1.
But no. Arsenal were brilliant on the day, absolutely brilliant. After letting Blackburn peg one back, they reacted positively rather than negatively, creating chances left and right and for once, actually taking them. When it was 3-1 at the half, Arsenal supporters couldn't help thinking that this one was all wrapped up, and on the rare occasion, there weren't anxious heads in hands nearing full time at the Emirates.
The Gunners proved that they still are pass-masters, and the best passing team in England. Everyone was in sync—Francis Coquelin further proved himself as a promising young talent, Mikel Arteta pulled the strings in midfield, Alex Song made a number of key passes and Theo Walcott had a hat trick of assists to prove he deserves a new contract at Arsenal.
But I'm forgetting two people, aren't I? Don't worry, they're coming up...
Winner: Robin Van Persie
Robin Van Persie is the best centre forward in the world, and arguably the best player in the Premier League.
It's as simple as that. The Dutchman is unplayable on his day, and it's not as if all of this was discovered on Saturday against Blackburn. His hat trick over the Rovers simply cemented his spot as the best of his position in the world, and highlighted his incredible finishing ability. Van Persie made his one-touch finishing look insanely easy, and his current goal tally of 28 just reflects that.
Something tells me he's not done yet...
Winner: The Ox
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, AOC or the Ox—whatever you call him, the kid was absolutely incredible.
His two goals were ones that showed impressive decision making and cool-headedness for a player of his age—it's scary to think how good he'll be in his prime, let alone in a few years. Personally, he was my Man of the Match, just because this was a performance that showed what he has to offer and his unusual maturity for an 18-year-old player.
2012 will be the year of the Ox, I know it.
Alright now, moving on from Arsenal. But come on, with a 7-1 scoreline you know there's going to be an abundance of winners.
So onto Wolves. This was a match that had to win if they wanted to prove that they deserve to stay in England's top flight, and they emerged as winners in this relegation clash. After going down early on in a match at Loftus Road, away from home, it's not easy for a team like Wolves to fight back a grab a valuable 3 points.
But they did, rocketing out of the relegation zone and hoping they won't be back for a while. My prediction is that Mick McCarthy's men will stay in the Premier League for another season—after all, they have proved themselves as pros at fighting the relegation battle.
Winner: Papiss Cisse
Perfection is a rarity in football, but Papiss Cisse's debut for Newcastle was as close to perfect as it gets.
His brilliant half volley, nestling precisely into the upper 90 to win it against Aston Villa, was a beautiful strike, giving Newcastle fans a taste of what's to come from their new January signing. It was a dream debut for the Senegalese forward, and I'm sure there will be plenty more goals from him in the remainder of the season.
It was a stunner, an absolute stunner.
Winner: Manchester United
Manchester United refuse to die out in the title race, but it looked as if they'd done just that in the 50th minute of their heated clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
They went 3-0 down from a few well-worked Chelsea goals thanks to the brilliance of Juan Mata, but, in a very Manchester United-esque way, the Red Devils came back to grab a 3-3 draw and keep their pressure on the top of the table.
You really never can count Manchester United out of any match. They've proved time and time again that they're the king of comebacks.
Winner: Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney smashed home two penalties to bring Manchester United back into their match against Chelsea.
There's been plenty of controversy surrounding Wayne Rooney's position as the side's penalty taker this season, as he's missed a few and questions have arisen about someone else taking over the duty. But Rooney put those questions to bed as he faced the psychological pressure of taking two penalties in one match, converting both of them with comfort.
Rooney has arguably been United's most important player this season, and he proved that as he led the charge to the Red Devils' remarkable comeback.
Winner: The Top Four Race
While the title race and relegation battle this season are exciting as usual, the race for a top-four finish is heating up, and could be the most exhilarating race of the season.
Just four points separate fourth place from seventh place, and this season more than ever it seems like Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle and Chelsea all have an equal chance at grabbing that coveted Champions League spot. Third-place Spurs can easily slide down the table as well, so to me, third and fourth place are really any clubs' spots.
Keep your eyes on this one, it'll get right down to the wire...
Steve Kean and Blackburn's worries deepened as they were picked apart and exposed by a brilliant Arsenal at the Emirates on Saturday, losing 7-1 and having their goal difference wrecked.
Some people are calling it one of, if not the worst performance by a team in the Premier League so far this season, and I wouldn't call that a ridiculous claim. Every Blackburn player, even the impressive Junior Hoilett, was lethargic and the defense made mistakes left and right.
It'll take a miracle to save Blackburn from relegation, and this loss just highlighted everything wrong with Steve Kean's side right now.
Loser: Queens Park Rangers
If Queens Park Rangers were expecting a Sunderland-esque turnaround when they hired Mark Hughes to replace Neil Warnock, they were wrong.
Sure, the new transfers will take some time to gel, but it hasn't been an ideal start for Mark Hughes' career at QPR. They lost a crucial relegation clash at home to Wolves on Saturday, surrendering a 1-0 lead after new boy Bobby Zamora scored in the 16th minute. If the loss was to another team, like a top half one, it may have been acceptable, but these are the matches you must win when your team is aiming to stay in the Premier League.
The outcome of QPR's 2011-12 Premier League season will be one to keep an eye on...
Loser: Djibril Cisse
After scoring a stunner on his debut, Djibril Cisse went from hero to zero, as he was given a straight red card in his second match for QPR.
Despite scoring on his debut, Cisse will now be banned for the next three domestic matches, getting his career at Loftus Road off to a pretty awful start.
The question is, can Djibril Cisse turn this around and get into a solid run of form after his suspension?
We shall see.
After 50 minutes went by in their match against Manchester United, it was looking like Chelsea would be winners on this list. They were up 3-0 at home and controlled the match in the first half thanks to a certain Juan Mata.
But then, well, Chelsea happened. It was yet another performance that highlighted all of Chelsea's weaknesses, their poor defense and their lack of clinical forwards. While their first half performance was a brilliant one, the second half performance was an awful one, and one has to question Andre Villas-Boas' tactics when it comes to results like this one.
Chelsea should consider themselves lucky to be in fourth place, and have just as good of a chance to finish there as Arsenal, Liverpool or Newcastle.