Olivier Giroud scores twice for the second game in succession as Arsenal edge past Brighton in a five-goal thriller at the Amex. Pablo Zabaleta returns from an ankle problem to steer City past Stoke, Javier Hernandez bags a brace against Fulham, Norwich go tumbling to non-league Luton, while QPR’s fringe players suffer the wrath of Harry Redknapp after a lacklustre home display against MK Dons…
Brighton 2 Arsenal 3
Arsene Wenger made three changes to his defence for the trip to Brighton. The Arsenal boss rested both his first-choice full-backs to the bench, with Andre Santos and Carl Jenkinson handed a chance to impress, while Laurent Koscielny stepped in for the injured Thomas Vermaelen. Wenger also gave starts to the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Thomas Rosicky and Abou Diaby, and fielded both Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud for the the full 90 minutes ahead of Wednesday’s home clash with Liverpool. Giroud mirrored his midweek display against West Ham by bagging a brace again, while Podolski and Diaby chipped in with an assist apiece. Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott climbed off the bench midway through the second-half, with the latter maintaining his outstanding season by bagging the deflected winner. Santi Cazorla was an unused sub for the Gunners.
Wenger had this to say on Giroud’s performance…
“It’s good for his confidence [that he scored twice]. He’s scored four goals this week and he had a few more chances today. He gets there. He has a presence in the box, he’s dangerous and his physical presence was very important today.”
Given his current form, Giroud would seem likely to retain his start for the home encounter with Liverpool, having lined up in the last three matches for the Gunners, scoring four goals. That will likely see Walcott deployed wide on the right – although that role has hardly hampered his returns of late having now scored in his last three appearances.
Stoke 0 Man City 1
Roberto Mancini shuffled his pack somewhat for the testing trip to the Britannia, resting Joe Hart in goal and preferring Joleon Lescott and Aleks Kolarov in his defence as Gael Clichy dropped to the bench and Matija Nastasic missed out of the squad. The decision to omit the Serb came back to haunt Mancini with Vincent Kompany sustaining an ankle injury in the closing stages of the first-half. The City skipper was replaced by Clichy as Mancini shifted to a 3-5-2 formation, deploying James Milner and Kolarov as wing-backs. In the end Pablo Zabaleta’s strike from a Sergio Aguero cross, miscontrolled by Edin Dzeko, proved enough for City to advance. Aguero started on the bench and replaced Kolarov in the second-half as Mancini started with Carlos Tevez and Dzeko up front. The smart money is now on Aguero to start at QPR on Wednesday with Dzeko his most likely strike partner: Mario Baltotelli was out of the matchday squad as speculation conitinues to stir on his future at the Etihad.
Post-match, assistant boss, David Platt, had this to say on the Kompany injury…
“I think we’ll lose Vincent Kompany for a little while. It’s too early to say how long he will be out but he has a slight pull on his calf and will miss the midweek game. We will have to assess the injury over the next 24 hours to get a better picture but he won’t play against QPR.”
The skipper’s absence will now cement starts for both Joleon Lescott and Matja Nastasic at QPR and perhaps the home clash with Liverpool in Gameweek 25. With Kolo Toure at the African Cup of Nations, Roberto Mancini has few options at the back aside from this pairing, unless he opts to shift formation to 3-5-2 and utilise Zabaleta or Clichy in the centre.
As for Stoke, they fielded a strong side as Tony Pulis brought Thomas Sorensen in for Asmir Begovic – a normal tactic for Cup matches. Elsewhere, Kenwyne Jones was restored up front with Peter Crouch restricted to an appearance from the bench. Both Andy Wilkinson and Ryan Shotton returned from injury to feature in the starting lineup. Geoff Cameron was missing from the squad with Pulis opting not to risk the American who had reported a tight hamstring.
Post-match, much of the talk centred around this appalling two-footed challenge by Glenn Whelan on Javi Garcia. The Stoke midfielder failed to pick up even a caution for the incident but if referee Howard Webb confirms he missed the tackle, Whelan could well face retrospective action by the FA for violent conduct.
Man United 4 Fulham 1
Sir Alex Ferguson kept just five players from the side that drew at Tottenham last weekend, with David De Gea, Patrice Evra, Rafael, Michael Carrick and Phil Jones are retaining their places. Jones’ versatility saw him moved from Sunday’s central midfield role to the heart of defence, where he was partnered by Chris Smalling. The likes of Ryan Giggs, Nani and Anderson returned to midfield and provided an assist apiece, while Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez led the line, as Robin Van Persie was handed the afternoon off. Rooney’s recent poor spot-kick conversion rate afforded Giggs the chance to step up and slot home an early penalty before the former Everton man found the net for the hosts’ second. Hernandez completed the scoring with a couple of late strikes, with Aaron Hughes netting the Cottagers’ consolation.
Prior to the match, Ferguson spoke of Rooney’s conversion rate from the spot and with Giggs getting the nod yesterday, Ferguson’s thoughts suggest he may be set to freshen up the pecking order – boosting Van Persie’s Fantasy appeal further, with the Dutchman looking the likeliest first-team regular to benefit:
“You can certainly criticise Wayne as that was his 10th miss from the spot, but at the same time I must point out missing a penalty does not faze him. Other players with different temperaments could go to pieces. It’s a particular art. The Germans are good, especially in internationals and big competitions, and I think they practice, unlike in England – it seems we either can’t be bothered – perhaps players see it as boring, or as if we regard it as almost cheating. We will really have to up our game in this area.”
However, despite taking Rooney off spot-kicks for yesterday’s clash, Ferguson confirmed post-match that he will, eventually, regain penalty taking duties…
“With Wayne missing the penalties he has, it was time to give him a break…But he will come back it. The one thing about Wayne is that it doesn’t faze him if he misses one. He has a fantastic temperament.”
Martin Jol made only three changes from last weekend’s 2-0 loss at City. John Arne-Riise returned at left-back, Chris Baird came in for Giorgos Karagounis in the middle of the park and Alex Kacaniklic got the nod ahead of Ashkan Dejagah on the left wing, with Kieran Richardson missing out due to a calf injury. While Jol started with Bryan Ruiz tucked in behind Dimitar Berbatov, his decision to bring on Hugo Rodallega just after the hour mark changed the pair’s positions – Ruiz switched to the right wing and Berbatov moved to the role in “the hole” as the Colombian led the line.
Bolton 1 Everton 2
Marouane Fellaini was again fielded in a central midfield berth – a continuation of the role he took up last Monday against Southampton after Seamus Coleman was forced off at St Mary’s. With Coleman absent yesterday, Phil Neville dropped into right-back as the Belgian partnered Leon Osman in the centre of the park, with Victor Anichebe handed the role in “the hole” behind Nikica Jelavic. The Nigerian teed up Steven Pienaar for the Toffees opener, while Johnny Heitinga returned from injury to climb off the bench and notch a late winner – the duo’s versatility may yet allow Fellaini to return to a more advanced role for Wednesday’s home game with West Brom, though. Anichebe could be set to move out to the right after Kevin Mirallas yet again succumbed to a hamstring injury – he was subbed off after just 17 minutes – and with Heitinga now back in contention, Moyes also has the option of moving Phil Jagielka to right-back if Coleman remains sidelined; a ploy he has already utilised this season.
Post-match, Moyes revealed he was optimistic on Mirallas’ prognosis:
“It was a disappointment [when Kevin went off] but I’m not sure it’s as bad as we first thought and hopefully he might not be too bad.”
Macclesfied 0 Wigan 1
Roberto Martinez fielded a fledging Latics side at Macclesfield with Joel Robles given a start in goal, while youngsters Jordan Mustoe, Nouha Dicko, Roman Golobart and Callum McManaman all featured in a much-changed starting lineup. Indeed, the Latics boss kept just three players in the starting XI from the side that lost narrowly at home to Sunderland last weekend, with Maynor Figueora, Ronnie Stam and Jordi Gomez the only ones to retain their places with Martinez clearly more concerned on league matters. Nevertheless, Gomez’s early converted spot-kick ensured their safe passage into the next round. Centre-half Adrian Lopez stepped up his comeback from a hamstring injury by taking a place on the Latics’ bench – with Ivan Ramis out for the season and Antolin Alcaraz still unavailable, Martinez has had to field Emmerson Boyce in the back-three of late but Lopez’s return could see Boyce back on the right of midfield, with Stam relegated to the bench once again.
Norwich 0 Luton 1
An incredible result for Conference side Luton, who stunned Carrow Road with a smartly taken 80th minute winner. Chris Hughton again kept both Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan on the bench as his side took on Luton at Carrow Road. Both saw action, along with Grant Holt who replaced young Tottenham loanee, Harry Kane, at half-time. Elsewhere both Leon Barnett and Ryan Bennet earned starts at the back, whilst Andrew Surman returned from injury to claim a start in midfield. David Fox, Simeon Jackson and Jonny Howson also earned starts in a much-changed Canaries lineup. Perhaps most significantly, Steven Whittaker returned to the bench and will now threaten Russell Martin’s starts at right-back from this point on.
QPR 2 MK Dons 4
Harry Redknapp made nine changes from the side that drew with West Ham last Saturday, with only Fabio and Jamie Mackie keeping their starting berths. The QPR boss deployed both DJ Campbell and Jay Bothroyd in attack, Anton Ferdinand earned a rare start at centre-back alongside Tal Ben-Haim, while Esteban Granero was handed a chance in midfield. Redknapp watched his side go four down before grabbing a couple of consolations – Bothroyd scored one and provided an assist for Fabio and Bobby Zamora returned from a long injury lay-off to also supply an assist – but post-match, he was clearly livid with the display as his side lost their five –match unbeaten run on all competitions:
“I played the players that haven’t been playing recently. Today answered a lot of questions. I already knew the answers to those questions but for some it confirmed it. A lot of them have been knocking on my door telling me that they should be in the team. I gave them the chance and this is the problem – we’re not strong enough. The players had the opportunity to show me that they should be in the team and I’m afraid not too many of them proved they should be. There’s no excuse for conceding four goals at home today to MK Dons – it’s disgusting.”
Redknapp also revealed he is likely to be cautious with Zamora’s game time as the striker builds up his match-fitness. Last week he had indicated the former Fulham man could play a major part alongside new boy Loic Remy over the run in but has now suggested he may have to field him from the bench in the short-term, at least:
“If Bobby could get fit it would be a big bonus for us but at the moment they’re saying to me that he can only do 15 or 20 minutes. We still need to bring in another striker.”
Reading 4 Sheffield United 0
Brian McDermott was another Premier League manager to ring the changes – making six tweaks to his lineup with the likes of Sean Morrison, Nicky Shorey, Noel Hunt, Hal Robson Kanu, Adam Le Fondre and Gareth McCleary all drafted into his starting lineup. The Royals boss moved from his preferred league formation of 4-4-1-1 to 4-4-2, with Hunt and Le Fondre leading the line against the Blades – the former bagged a brace, while Le Fondre supplied an assist in the rout, though it was Garath McCleary who was the stand-out performer, playing a part in three of the hosts’ strikes with a goal and a pair of assists. The likes of Pavel Pogrebnyak, Ian Harte, Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff were handed the day off ahead of Wednesday’s crucial home league match with Chelsea.
A delighted Brian McDermott was full of praise for his much-changed lineup…
“I know what I’m going to get from every player that we’ve got in the squad and that’s really important to me. One thing I know is that I’ll get 100% effort from the players – everyone really puts in a shift for the club, for the team, and their fellow players. We have got quality too, and sometimes that gets overlooked at Reading. We’ve seen some quality goals today – they were very good. We’ve got players that are hungry and want to do well. They want to play in each and every game.”
Fantasy managers will now be wondering just how many of Saturday’s lineup will retain their starts for Wednesday’s home clash with Chelsea, with a number of the protagonists surely pressing for a recall to league action.