FREE KICK - I pledge allegiance to Gareth Bale, for which he stands, as the best player in the BPL this season. This isn't a Harlem Shake-like fad of the moment. My admiration for the Welsh wonder has been growing on these pages for the past two seasons. To me he's Kate Upton, not in high heels, but in tall socks. Last Monday his free kick in the waning seconds lifted the Spurs to a 3-2 victory over West Ham United. This past weekend Bale and his band of merry men took on another London-based opponent as Arsenal visited White Hart Lane. Let's kick start this thing.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR vs. ARSENAL - In the build-up to the match Arsene Wenger boldly declared that his club would not bring an extra supply of water to douse the red-hot Bale who had scored in his previous four BPL matches. Those plans would crumble in the 37th when Bale slipped through an offside trap and toe-poked a left-footed shot past a helpless Wojciech Szczesny; 1-0 home team. Two minutes later Aaron Lennon put his feet on the gas. He too would escape Arsenal's trap and double the Spurs' pleasure. Per Mertesacker would head home a Theo Wolcott free kick in the 51st to bring the gunners to within one. Arsenal would forge ahead but they would barely threaten Spurs keeper, Hugo Lloris. Spurs now unbeaten in their last 12 BPL matches and seven points above their north London rivals. Tottenham-2 Arsenal-1.
MANCHESTER UNITED vs. NORWICH CITY - Give credit to the BPL table setters. While the vultures circled from above eyeing Real Madrid's carcass ahead of Tuesday's Champions League clash, the red devils preyed upon a hapless Norwich side. Shinji Kagawa would net a natural hat trick to open the scoring with all three goals covering a combined distance of 15 yards. Late in the contest Wayne Rooney created artwork suitable for a museum. He lofted an eight-iron from 25 yards out. The change-up was a called strike. Just a wonderful strike from Man U's heart, soul and brawn. Known primarily for their all-out offensive attack, United is on a streak of four straight shutout wins. Bring on Jose, Ronaldo and Madrid. Manchester United-4 Norwich-nil.
CHELSEA vs. WEST BROMWICH ALBION - It was a home game for the Blues, but interim field boss Rafael Benitez was not among friends. Earlier in the week the head coach unloaded on the Chelsea supporters and the fans voiced their displeasure throughout the match. While Oscar squandered several prime scoring opportunities, Demba Ba's deposit of a loose ball from the front porch in the 28th minute gave Chelsea all three points. Once again John Terry, the Derek Jeter of this Chelsea side, was anchored to the bench. I don't understand it. Chelsea-1 WBA-0.
WIGAN vs. LIVERPOOL - This match had more chapters than a Harry Potter novel. On Page 1 is the story of Philippe Coutinho. The January trade target reminds this scribe of David Silva. However while Silva travels via limo, Coutinho is a Porsche. His speed while on the ball is breathtaking. Coutinho has made the biggest splash on the world stage since Adele. He provided first aid on Liverpool's first two goals. Part II is titled Luis Suarez. He can be John McEnroe with his temper, but Pete Sampras in his performance. He would net a trio to bring his total this season to 21. Wigan was awful. They had more turnovers than an insomniac. The mishaps boiled over late in the first half when teammates James McArthur and Emmerson Boyce nearly tossed hands. It was a sight to behold as referee Martin Atkinson brought both players to the center of the ring for pre-fight instructions. It brought back memories of 2008 when Newcastle's Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer had a no-holds-barred brawl during a match against Aston Villa. Remarkably after the match Roberto Martinez said he was glad to witness the passion displayed by his two adversaries. He would likely back Simba against Bambi. Liverpool-4 Wigan-1.
EVERTON vs. READING - After setbacks to Norwich and Man U, and with top United States goalkeeper Tim Howard missing in action for the first time in 210 consecutive premiership matches, Everton grabbed the match by the throat. Marouane Fellaini placed his afro on a well-timed cross in the 42nd minute to give the Toffees a 1-0 edge. It stayed that way until the 59th when South Africa's Steven Pienaar went big-game hunting and bagged a rhino-sized prize. Cutting to his left on full-throttle from just outside the PK area, the diminutive midfielder unleashed a wicked fastball to the upper corner of the goal. Reading net minder Stuart Taylor whiffed on the delivery and Everton were on their way. Kevin Mirallas added some cosmetics seven minutes later, while Hal Robson-Kanu made sure that the visitors would avoid being shut out. Everton's dreams of a top-four finish are still within reach. Everton-3 Reading-1.
STOKE vs. WEST HAM UNITED - Peter Crouch's membership in soccer's gentleman's club was nearly revoked early in the contest when his careless kick caught the face of West Ham's Matt Taylor. Crouch meant no harm but the damage was done as the defender staggered off the pitch dazed and confused. Energized by the injury to their comrade WHU banded together resulting in Jack Collison's goal deep into first half stoppage time. With the impressive road victory the hammers improved to 12th place in the standings. If they continue to climb the ladder and escape relegation it would truly be a stairway to heaven. West Ham-1 Stoke-nil.
SUNDERLAND vs. FULHAM - A pair of questionable penalty calls by Mark Halsey overshadowed a gallant come-from-behind effort by the black cats. Halsey did not discriminate; pointing to the PK spot against both teams. Stephan Sessegnon proved once again that he was the most physical player in the match. His strike in the 70th minute made both teams content if not happy. Sunderland-2 Fulham-2.
SWANSEA vs. NEWCASTLE UNITED - Each side sailed into the contest with the wind at their back. Newcastle shed their offensively-challenged skin seven days earlier when they put a four-spot into Southampton's cage, while Swansea made room in their trophy case for the Capitol One Cup. A San Francisco drizzle had more pop than this dreary affair. It took until the 85th minute when Swansea's Luke Moore left three magpie defenders in his wake before scoring from the sweet spot. The less said about this snoozer the better. Swansea City-1 Newcastle United-nil.
SOUTHAMPTON vs. QUEENS PARK RANGERS - This relegation zone battle belonged to Sir Harry Redknapp. Redknapp is a former Southampton head coach and many Southampton supporters blamed him for the team's drop; its' first in 27 years. Former Man U midfielder Ji Sung Park did the heavily lifting before Jay Bothroyd tapped home the game winner in the 77th minute. It's still uphill climb for QPR who remain shackled in the premiership basement. However, they've traded in their shovel for a pick axe. QPR-2 Southampton-1.
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