Ivan Ramis scoring for Wigan against West Ham
Week 9 of the English Premier League saw six games being played on Saturday. These six games appeared more as appetizers to the big matches being played on Sunday, but each game also had an intriguing subplot of its own.
The match was made all the more intriguing, since the Villans are now being managed by Paul Lambert, who led the Canaries to successive promotions and mid-table survival in the Premier League in the last three seasons.
The tea-time kickoff at the Emirates Stadium saw Arsenal face off against bottom of the table club, Queens Park Rangers. Arsenal were looking to bounce back from successive defeats to Norwich City and Schalke, while the Rangers were still looking for their first win of the season.
At the Madejski Stadium, Reading entertained Fulham. The Royals were one of two clubs still looking for their first win of the season. Fulham, meanwhile, have started the season well and look destined to compete for a place in the top half of the table.
The draw specialists this season, Stoke City and Sunderland, took on each other at the Britannia Stadium in the last of the tea-time kickoffs. Both clubs currently have ambitions of kicking off beyond their usual mid-table obscurity this season.
Here are six observations from these six Saturday games in Week 9 of the Premier League.
Result: Aston Villa 1-1 Norwich City
Aston Villa and Norwich City played out a dire 1-1 draw at Villa Park. Michael Turner's 79th minute header cancelled out Christian Benteke's 27th minute goal. Meanwhile, Joe Bennett was sent off for Aston Villa on 52 minutes for a second yellow card.
The result is something neither manager would have particularly wanted. The draw leaves Aston Villa just one place above the relegation zone. Norwich aren't place much better in the 16th position, one point above Villa.
On evidence of this game and their season so far, it seems likely that both Villa and Norwich will be involved in the relegation dogfight throughout the season.
The situation seems particularly bad for the Villans. They seem nervous in possession, are going through a wretched injury crisis and their biggest goal-threat, Darren Bent, is in the midst of an ongoing conflict with the manager (h/t Daily Mail).
The only thing saving both clubs so far this season has been the clubs below them, who have been in even more wretched form.
Result: Arsenal 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
The main talking point from this game could well have been Arsenal's sterile possession and how difficult they found to break Queens Park Rangers' resistance. However, Stephane Mbia's red card became the main talking point from the game at the Emirates.
Mbia got QPR's ninth red card in 2012, equalling the record set by Everton in 1995 and matched by West Ham United in 1999 (via Infostrada Sports). For 80 minutes, Rangers held on relatively comfortably in the face of Arsenal's domination of the ball.
However, Mbia's moment of madness cost Rangers a precious point as Arsenal scored a scrappy goal while QPR were trying to re-organize.
There is always a fine line of difference between combative and reckless, and Mark Hughes' team keeps crossing the line again and again. If QPR's indiscipline persists, they might as well kiss goodbye to their Premier League status.
Another interesting tidbit from this game: How good was it to see Jack Wilshere play again after an injury ravaged 16 months!
West Ham United have made a very good start to the Premier League this season, accruing 14 points already to lie ninth in the table. However, two of their last three matches have been against the relatively purer football teams in the league in Arsenal and Wigan.
Against Wigan, West Ham found it difficult to cope with Wigan's possession and passing-based football. They were also sloppy in possession, giving the ball away repeatedly to their more composed opponents.
Sam Allardyce's side should have enough firepower to easily stave off relegation. However, their performance against Wigan and also previously against Arsenal, indicates mid-table safety can be the maximum they can aspire for.
Result: Reading 3-3 Fulham
In what was by far the most entertaining game of the day, Reading and Fulham drew 3-3 at the Madejski. The finale was especially breathless with three goals in the last six minutes of regulation time.
The game was filled with really good goals—the ones from Mikele Leigertwood, Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov standing out. The attacking verve of both teams was also impressive.
In the long term, this match went on to prove that Fulham remain an attacking threat. However, their away form is still a worry for coach Martin Jol.
For Reading, it is a bigger worry that they scored three at home and yet failed to win the match. The Royals are still looking for their first win this season, and unless they improve their defence, relegation could well be the story of their season.
Result: Stoke City 0-0 Sunderland
The draw specialists of the season, Stoke City and Sunderland played out a dull, drab, and goalless draw at the Britannia stadium.
The away side were especially abject, extending their run to only one win in their last 16 matches.
It seems clear now that even Martin O'Neill, with his supposedly mythical ability to improve squads, might not be able to do much with this Sunderland team other than to finish just clear of the relegation zone.
There seems to be something in the DNA of this team, which makes for uninspiring, timid football.
Result: Manchester City 1-0 Swansea City
Manchester City stuttered to an unconvincing 1-0 win over Swansea thanks to a 30-yard wonder strike from Carlos Tevez. It was hardly the kind of performance the faithful at the Etihad would have wanted after their loss against Ajax.
However, City's scrappy win showed a resilience that they have failed to replicate so far in Europe. In a season where they haven't really been in top form, City are still only one point behind leaders Chelsea, having played a game more.
For all the challengers to the title they currently hold, City must still surely be considered the favorites for the title again this season.