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5 thoughts from this weekend's Premier League and FA Cup action

Our assessment of another United win and today’s entertaining FA Cup semi-final.

Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with Robin Van Persie after scoring their second goal.
Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with Robin Van Persie after scoring their second goal.

1. Week of shame for English football

In comparison with its disreputable past, English football has cleaned up its image substantially in recent years.

Whereas acts involving racism and hooliganism were once commonplace at various clubs’ grounds, these problems have since been largely stamped out.

However, this weekend provided a reminder of the bad old days, as there were countless scenes of trouble seemingly instigated by both Millwall and Newcastle fans at the teams’ respective most recent games.

Similar outbreaks of rioting between Bayern Munich and Nuremburg fans this weekend, coupled with a series of problems involving European clubs including Lazio this season, suggests the world of football still has some serious issues to address in this regard, despite certain critics’ recent claims to the contrary.

2. Arsenal acquire winning mentality at the right time

Arsenal fans, perhaps more used to end-of-season collapses from their team in recent years, will have thoroughly enjoyed their run-in thus far.

They have now taken 25 points from a possible 30 in their last 10 matches, all the while their rivals for a Champions League spot Spurs, who at one stage seemed dead-certs for a top four finish, are wilting.

Indeed, it is often a lack of mental strength that is regarded as being the Gunners’ fatal flaw, nonetheless the opposite has seemed the case in recent matches.

And while players such as Santi Cazorla have been performing with distinction, and others like Theo Walcott appear to be coming good at the right time, there is one factor that’s seemingly prevalent for any side in such terrific form and is one of the most important and oft-overlooked aspects of football – luck.

None of the other Norwich players could legislate for Kei Kamara’s inexplicable decision to tug back Olivier Giroud in the box – and on such incidents, games and, sometimes seasons, hinge.

3. 7th place about right for inconsistent Liverpool

Liverpool currently sit in 7th position in the Premier League table, five points behind Everton and six ahead of West Brom.

Barring a dramatic rise or fall in form, they will likely end up there come the season’s end, and even the most dogmatic fan will find it difficult to argue that such a position is not reflective of their current ability.

While some of their more excitable fans had suggested a late push for Champions League football was possible, a loss to Southampton and two goalless draws with West Ham and Reading all but diminished those hopes.

Their current status is perhaps epitomised by their recently acquired signing from Inter, Phillipe Coutinho.

The Brazilian footballer is full of promise and has the type of football intelligence that wins matches for sides, however his regular lack of a killer instinct in front of goal, as was evident yesterday, emphasises that he is far from the finished product as of yet.

4. Chelsea could have done with big-game experience of Lampard and Terry

Though there are times he has gotten away with it this season, for Rafael Benitez to leave out both John Terry and Frank Lampard for a match as big as today’s FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City seemed a considerable risk.

And even the most ardent Benitez supporters (of which there aren’t many among the Chelsea support’s ranks) will struggle to suggest the selection paid off in anyway.

Though he was the victim of a nasty stamp from Sergio Aguero, David Luiz can still have little excuse for his unconvincing performance after he was picked ahead of Terry.

Meanwhile, Chelsea were at times overrun in midfield by the powerful Yaya Toure among others, so surely someone of Lampard’s experience would have been better equipped to curb that threat, rather than the youngster Oscar or the less esteemed John Obi Mikel, who delivered another ineffectual performance.

Benitez’s single-mindedness and refusal to simply cave to fans’ demands is admirable to a degree, but perhaps they are right in urging the boss to keep faith with the England duo on this occasion.

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5. Title all but wrapped up for United

After Monday’s derby defeat, it was imperative that Manchester United got back to winning ways against Stoke this afternoon and they went about their business in a professional and efficient manner at the Britannia.

In what was Alex Ferguson’s 900th win as Red Devils boss, the visitors took control with a goal inside the opening five minutes and dealt with Stoke’s infamous physical threat well as David De Gea kept another clean sheet.

There was also the added bonus of Robin van Persie breaking his two-month goal drought for the club with a second-half penalty. The elaborate celebration showed just how much it meant the Dutchman and his manager, whose side will surely win their 20th title now.

United sit 15 points clear of the Man City ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Upton Park with a maximum of 21 points available to the Citizens.

Additional reporting by Ben Blake

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Paul Fennessy

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