Chelsea maintained their 100 per cent start to the 2010/11 Premier League with a 2-0 victory over visiting Stoke City, while Arsenal and Manchester United stayed two points behind the leaders with a 2-1 win at Blackburn Rovers and a 3-0 success at home to West Ham United respectively. It was a forgettable day for the fourth member of England’s UEFA Champions League contingent, however, with Wigan Athletic responding to emphatic back-to-back losses with a 1-0 success away to Tottenham Hotspur.
Elsewhere, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Newcastle United shared two goals at Molineux, and Blackpool and Fulham playing out a lively 2-2 draw.
Spectators at Stamford Bridge anticipated a goal-fest, given that Chelsea had beaten West Bromwich Albion 6-0 there and overcome Wigan away by the same score in their opening two matches. Another massacre appeared on the cards when the referee awarded the hosts a penalty on nine minutes, the result of Ryan Shawcross hauling down Florent Malouda, but Thomas Sorensen guessed the right way and held on to Frank Lampard’s tame penalty.
Ashley Cole’s marauding charges down the left were a constant source of torment to Stoke in the first half, but it was another defender who created the Blues opener. A clever pass from centre-back John Terry sent Malouda through on goal, and the in-form Frenchman’s first-time finish gave Sorensen no chance.
Chelsea had a lot of possession in the second half, but had struggled to create many chances heading into the last 20 minutes. Lampard hobbled off injured on 72 minutes - it was later revealed that he will need a hernia operation that will sideline him for around two weeks – and that meant that when Carlo Ancelotti’s side won their second penalty of the afternoon, this time for a Sorensen trip on Nicolas Anelka, Drogba stepped up to take it. The 32-year-old made no mistake to score his fourth goal of the campaign and seal a 2-0 victory.
“The game was open until we scored a second goal,” Ancelotti told Sky Sports News afterwards. “It was a tough game. We didn't have the possibility to play quickly because Stoke stayed compact and had a very good shape, so we didn't have the chance to counter-attack. But it was important to win and have a clean sheet, and we are happy because we also stayed top of the table.”
The Italian reserved special praise for one of his scorers. “Malouda was the best player," said the 51-year-old. “He is doing very well and his movement was fantastic.”
If Chelsea’s win had been in doubt until Drogba put the game beyond their opponents’ reach, Manchester United appeared en route to victory from the moment they went in front against West Ham United. It was made by two in-form players with a combined age of 71, and scored by a previously one out-of-sorts 24-year-old.
A sumptuous Paul Scholes pass found Ryan Giggs on the left. The latter tricked his way inside Jonathan Spector, who subsequently tripped the Welshman inside the box. Wayne Rooney stepped up and although his penalty lacked accuracy and power, it sent Robert Green the wrong way to break the deadlock.
The England strike set up the second for Nani, who skipped inside one challenge and thumped the ball into the back of the Hammers’ net on 50 minutes. The impressive Portuguese winger then laid on United’s third, his clever dink enabling Dimitar Berbatov to volley home from close range.
"It was a good game, a good performance from the team,” Nani told ESPN post-match. "After the draw last week (2-2 against Fulham) we were focused on winning this game. It is important because Chelsea and the other teams are doing so well.
On his own contribution, the 23-year-old added: "I am working hard every day. I am looking forward to scoring more goals and helping to win games. I hope to help my team win the league."
Contrasting emotions in north London
Arsenal proved their mettle by battling for a 2-1 reverse of Blackburn. Theo Walcott opened the scoring in front of the watching Fabio Capello, who left the 21-year-old out of England’s 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ squad, his vicious low strike from an acute angle finding the bottom of the hosts’ net, which needed to be repaired thereafter due to the power of the winger’s effort.
Mame Diouf restored parity in the 26th minute, but Andrey Arshavin secured all three points for the Gunners with a close-range finish shortly after half-time.
“We were a bit lucky at some stages, but overall we showed really good commitment," reflected Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, before lauding Walcott. "I must give credit to him, he's a young boy and will only improve."
Arsenal’s day was to get better – there arch-rivals Tottenham were set to suffer a significant upset. There was a real buzz around White Hart Lane before kick-off, with the Spurs fans having watched their team overwhelm Young Boys and book a place in the Champions League proper, in which they will face Inter Milan, Werder Bremen and Twente in Group A.
A home win seemed the only likely result, and Harry Redknapp’s men certainly had their chances. Jermain Defoe uncharacteristically spurned what was arguably the best of them, his firm shot brilliant saved by Ali Al Habsi, who was standing in for the injured Chris Kirkland.
Wigan suddenly came to life 15 minutes from time and after Hugo Rodollega had set up chances which Antolin Alcaraz and Jordi Gomez fluffed, the 25-year-old Colombian turned goalscorer, though Carlo Cudicini will be disappointed not to have held his 80th-minute effort.
Tottenham immediately went on the attack, but after Al Habsi had acrobatically denied Nico Kranjcar and Michael Dawson, the unmarked Younes Kaboul headed wide from close range. It was not Spurs’ day. The result left Tottenham ninth of four points, and Wigan 15th on three.
“The type of performance we had today was really of a group of players really committed,” said Latics manager Roberto Martinez afterwards. “They were prepared to give their lives for each other.
We were missing that togetherness, that team spirit. But today, everyone will agree that we had that in abundance. The performance came at a difficult moment against a very talented side, and we had to be at our best to win. Not many teams will come here and get a result.”