Madness at the Emirates
The final minutes of the Arsenal Burnley match had it all. Two controversial penalties, a 98th minute game-winner, and Arsene Wenger being sent to the stands and pushing the fourth official. What more can you ask for? The match seemed like a non-contest from the off; high-flying Arsenal playing host to lowly Burnley, who had an abysmal away record this season. Yet Granit Xhaka’s reckless red card completely diverted the script. Shkodran Mustafi had opened the scoring for the Gunners with a well-placed header, yet Burnley became more emboldened in the closing stages, throwing everything they had at the Arsenal goal. And eventually, in second half stoppage time, they broke through. Ashley Barnes pounced on a loose ball in the box, and Francis Coquelin clumsily felled him. Andre Gray stepped up and confidently smashed the ball down the middle to level the scores. Incensed, Wenger argued his case to the fourth official, then was promptly sent to the stands, refused to go down the tunnel, and foolishly pushed the fourth official in the process. With the scores tied at one and only five minutes remaining, the Gunners were facing a humiliating draw that would severely hamper their already unlikely chances at the title. Yet another massive refereeing decision gifted Arsenal a get-out-of-jail ticket. Alexis Sanchez lofted in a deep ball to the far post, and Laurent Koscielny met it, yet was kicked in the face in the process. The referee blew the whistle and deemed it a penalty; but Koscielny was offsides in the first place. Burnley protested vainly, but could only watch in despair as Sanchez cheekily chipped his spot kick down the middle to plunder all three points for Arsenal.
Rooney’s Red Devils Record
It was a throwback to the good old days at the Britannia, as Stoke were bullying Manchester United. But much has changed since the infamous Tony Pulis days. Stoke play a more refined brand of football, the Britannia was renamed the bet365, and Wayne Rooney no longer is integral to United. But after the weekend’s developments, one might be cautious when uttering that last point. Rooney again was left on the bench at Stoke, yet was thrown on with the Red Devils trailing 1-0. He squandered a golden chance to equalize when he headed over from close range, leading the masses to rue the great demise of England’s leading goalscorer. Yet in the last minute of injury time Manchester United were given a free kick on the left wing, a couple of yards outside the box. The aging legend stepped over to take it. Considering the width of the free kick, a cross was expected. But Rooney had other plans in mind. The Englishman whipped a wicked, curling strike into the top right hand corner, leaving Lee Grant with absolutely no chance. Rooney picked a perfect occasion to become Manchester United’s highest ever scorer, and to remind the world that he isn’t done just yet.
Liverpool’s title hopes languish
After New Year’s Eve, things were looking rosy at Anfield. Liverpool had just beaten Manchester City 1-0, establishing themselves as the most competent challengers to league-leading Chelsea. But ever since that crucial victory, the Reds are winless in the Premier League. They slumped to a disappointing draw against Sunderland, surrendered the lead in a tie at Old Trafford, and to top it off, lost at home to relegation-battling Swansea. The Reds have sorely missed Sadio Mane, on duty with Senegal in the African Cup of Nations, and Joel Matip, who has been involved in a dispute with the Cameroon FA and FIFA. Liverpool have now fallen to fourth, ten points behind Chelsea. Is Liverpool, the feel good team of the first half of the season, finally starting to fade?