Manchester United Leads and Gunners Follow Suit

taylor1608getty_468×327.jpgThey called it Grand Slam Sunday, and it turned out to be a blockbuster. Manchester United and Arsenal highlighted the fact that they were the main title contenders by beating their regional rivals in two hard-fought, extremely spirited games that showcased the unique features of the English game and the Barclays’ Premier League in particular. Both games were tight early on, and were decided by defensive lapses in the dying minutes of the first half. Liverpool vs Manchester United: the game kicked off at Anfield, Liverpool’s home stadium. Manchester United had not lost here to Liverpool in the League since 2001. Another curious fact was that United had had a man sent off in each of those games. However, some felt that Liverpool could reverse that trend given their recent form and the form of Fernando Torres. Indeed, Liverpool did have more chances and possession but the final delivery towards the penalty area was below quality, and they failed to capitalize on two errors by United’s goalkeeper, Edwin Van Der Sar, who twice came off his goal line only to see the ball go past him. Torres headed wide the first time, after the ball was cleared off the line, while United’s defence mopped up the second time. Liverpool’s profligacy was wasted on the stroke of halftime when Ryan gigs swept a corner kick to Wayne Rooney at the edge of the 18 yard box, whose cross-shot found an unmarked Carlos Tevez six yards away from the goal, suicidal defending from Liverpool. Tevez’s instinctive finish wound up in the roof of the net and United scored the only goal of the game. Liverpool had a majority of the possession in the second half, but could not break down United’s defense. Arsenal vs Chelsea: the London derby has always been tense and fiercely fought, and Chelsea were coming off a 16 match unbeaten streak, while Arsenal had lost their last game to Middlesborough. The game was intensely physical, with Chelsea looking to stifle Arsenal’s creativity in midfield. It was ironic that a mistake by their hitherto rock-solid goalkeeper Petr Cech led to their downfall, who failed to catch a cross from the left, leaving William Gallas free to head the ball in, again on the stroke of halftime. Chelsea were without ace striker Didier Drogba, and their finishing suffered as a result. Andriy Shevchenko, who has yet to find his best form at Chelsea, worked hard but could not find the back of the net despite one or two decent attempts on goal. Arsenal could have killed off the game many times on the counterattack in the last 20 minutes, but wasted no less than three clear cut chances when they outnumbered Chelsea’s defenders, Petr Cech redeeming himself with two point-blank saves. Chelsea also suffered because of the loss of John Terry due to injury in the first half, after Arsenal’s Eboue had unintentionally stamped on his shin with his studs. The upshot of this game is that Arsenal and United move clear of the rest of the teams, with 40 and 39 points respectively, with Chelsea at third with 34. The title race seems to be shaping up into a two-horse race, and the busy upcoming Christmas period will decide once and for all whether Chelsea and Liverpool, 10 points behind Arsenal, can mount a comeback. They will, however, require some help from the top two.

Tushaar Kuthiala