There were seven Premier League matches and the two FA Cup semi finals being played over this past weekend. We bring you the major talking points from this week’s action.
1. The Tyne-Wear derby throws struggling Sunderland a lifeline
One of the biggest matches to be played over this weekend threw up the biggest surprise as Sunderland secured their biggest victory at St James’ Park since 1979. A string of listless displays by the Black Cats saw Martin O’Neill getting a sack and a volatile Paolo Di Canio taking over. This volatility and exuberance was on full display as the Italian wore his heart on his sleeve and the way he celebrated the Sunderland goals were a sight to behold. Stéphane Sessègnon, Adam Johnson and David Vaughan featured on the scoresheet at Sunderland registered their first victory on the Tyneside in 13 years. The result was a bitter pill to swallow for Alan Pardew whose side now sit only 2 points above their fierce Wearside rivals. An unexpected casualty of the match was Howard Webb, who after a string of poor decisions (a disallowed Papiss Cisse goal, an offside goal by Vaughan and a horror challenge from Yoan Gouffran which went unpunished), was dropped from the Premier League officials line-up and relegated to League One.
2. Has Mancini done enough to warrant another year at the helm?
A victory at Old Trafford followed up with another deserved victory over the European Champions at Wembley in the FA Cup semis. This was definitely a signature week for Roberto Mancini. And at the end of it the City supporters gleefully sang their manager’s name as he waved acknowledgement for their support. But before you begin to conclude that the Italian’s position at the helm is all but secured for another season, you will have to consider the fact that a solitary piece of silverware in the form of an FA Cup is probably not what he was expected of at the beginning of the season. And up against an unpredictable Wigan Athletic side in the final, even that is far from certain. Khaldoon al-Mubarak and Ferran Soriano, City’s executives, were in attendance at Wembley this weekend. And on the evidence of what City dished out over the first hour or so, it definitely seems that the swagger is back. And while a heartbroken City will probably have to hand over their Premier League trophy to the red half of Manchester come the end of this season, they better prepare themselves for the upcoming season and plot to get it back. An Italian job with Mancini at the helm.
3. Disgraceful Millwall violence shames English football
In what was certainly a throwback to the dark era of hooliganism in the 1970’s and 80’s, violent infighting erupted between a certain section of Millwall supporters at Wembley. It was a stark reminder that the demons which once afflicted English football are yet to be eradicated. It was to be a glorious day for the two clubs who were on the field that day – Wigan and Millwall – two clubs with a not-so-storied history. Instead as it turned out, it was the off the field incidents which contributed more headlines than what happened on the pitch as the Lions were subdued by the Latics two goals to nil.
Any chances that this incident could be brushed under the carpet as a “one-off” one was a hopeless proposition as 29 football fans were arrested and three police officers injured after violence following the Tyneside-Wearside derby. The police were pelted with missiles as a group of Newcastle fans tried to confront Sunderland supporters. Surely this week would not stand out as an ideal advertisement for English football.
4. Retrospective action on horror tackles: the need of the hour
The FA Cup semi final between Chelsea and Manchester City was marred by an ugly looking two-footed lunge by City’s star Argentine striker Sergio Aguero on David Luiz. The referee was in full view of the incident and going by the intent and malicious nature of the tackle, one expected a straight red card and an automatic three match ban. It was somewhat inexplicable when the referee thought otherwise. The FA reviewed the incident retrospectively but let the player go scot free. The reason being the rule which states “Where one of the officials has seen a coming together of players, no retrospective action should be taken … regardless of whether he or she witnessed the full or particular nature of the challenge.” In an age when each challenge can be possibly viewed from all conceivable angles, it seems ridiculous that one still has to go by the word of the referee when there is so much overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Earlier in the season Wigan Athletic’s Callum McManaman went unpunished even after a reckless tackle that put Newcastle’s Massadio Haïdara in hospital.
As it stands, both these players, Aguero and McManaman, will be in action in the FA Cup final in Wembley in three weeks time. Yet another boot to the face of the ‘Respect’ campaign.
5. Champions League position looks inevitable for the Gunners
Arsene Wenger believes that Arsenal “have developed a way to play that makes us stronger throughout the season”. While we are left wondering as to what those methods might be, there is no doubt to the efficacy of it as the Gunners are undergoing a late season metamorphosis by winning their fifth straight match. Things are definitely coming together at the right time as Arsenal refused to accept defeat or even settle for a draw even after trailing Norwich City for the majority of the second half on Saturday. They certainly left it late but Arteta, Giroud and Podolski made sure that Arsenal were not punished for their profligacy in the first half. This victory takes them to third in the league table, overtaking the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea.