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When you've got the ball, football is about passing and shooting. For Arsenal, Robin van Persie has been doing the latter eye-catchingly well – his opener in Saturday's 3-0 win over West Brom takes him to 29 in 28 league appearances this calendar year – and the first job is increasingly belonging to the man many saw as a last-minute panic buy.
Unsurprising as it was, the departure of Cesc Fabregas left a large hole in Arsene Wenger's midfield, but Mikel Arteta is doing his best to fill the breach. The former Everton man has the highest average of passes per Premier League game this season (79.6), and this weekend he again led the league for successful passes with 84 out of 93 – a 90% completion rate.
Not uncoincidentally, Arsenal are getting back to their best. Against the Baggies they racked up 577 successful passes, their most in the league this season and a total they surpassed only once last term, in the 3-0 win at Man City.
Somewhat less successful with the passes were Stoke during their 5-0 beating at Bolton. Indeed, as @Gingers4Limpar pointed out on the @StatsZone Twitter feed, Rory Delap completed just 15 of 23 attempted passes over the 90 minutes, while attempting 12 throw-ins (only half of which were completed).
After experimenting with 4-2-3-1 in recent games, Owen Coyle reverted to a front two of Kevin Davies and Ivan Klasnic, and the pair brought their differing strengths to bear on Stoke. Davies had his usual productive game against Matthew Upson (in their last six clashes, all won by Bolton, Davies has now scored four and forced an Upson own goal), receiving most of Bolton's long balls and winning all three of his aerial duels while also making three tackles and three interceptions.
On the other hand, Klasnic dropped deeper to knit Bolton's play together. It certainly worked: Klasnic created two and scored two, while Bolton had 22 shots, a number they have only reached once before this season – in their 5-0 home defeat to Manchester United.
So, success for one chirpy Glaswegian managing a struggling Lancastrian club, but not the other. Frank Lampard's goal – his fifth in the last five Premier League games, during which he has also assisted twice – was enough for Chelsea to win at Blackburn.
However, Chelsea were forced to make their most clearances this season, 40 – more than twice the number requested of Rovers, who carved out the same number of attempts on goal (12) as Chelsea despite only having 37.7% of the possession. Obviously the defensive coaching paid off.
Also under intense pressure were Tottenham at Fulham, especially in the second half. Fulham are the first side since Opta started collecting data in 2006/07 to have 13 shots on target in a match and still lose. Fulham had 24 attempts in the second half and 31 overall in this game, an all-Premier League season high.
Two Spurs players stood out. Brad Friedel made 11 saves, the joint-most by a keeper in the league this season (along with Friedel at Man United and Swansea's Michel Vorm at Man City). Indeed, Friedel is averaging the second most saves per game this season with 4.6, behind Man United's David de Gea on 5.
And a bloodied Scott Parker must have impressed the onlooking Fabio Capello. As shown on his player dashboard, Parker completed 42 of 45 passes and five of six tackles, making three interceptions and six blocks – five in the second half and all between 10 and 25 yards from Friedel's goal as Parker helped out his back four.
Friedel wasn't the only goalkeeper in inspiring form this weekend: 10 of Wolves' 13 shots against Wigan were on target and Ali Al-Habsi managed to save seven of them, but couldn't save the Latics. At Anfield, Swansea's Michel Vorm made it five clean sheets for the season – the best in the Premier League – but he received much more help from his defenders, who blocked eight of Liverpool's 25 attempts (Wigan blocked two out of 13).
That continued a pattern for Liverpool, who have the Premier League's fifth-lowest chance conversion rate at 9.4% (ahead of only West Brom, Wolves, QPR and Wigan).
For their part, Swansea posed little threat: they made the sixth-most passes this weekend (470), but the fewest in the final third – 76, way behind next-lowest West Brom (103). The timid Swans had 47.7% possession but only 36.2% territory as they played their usual patient keep-ball without feeling the need to over-stretch themselves going forward, as is shown by the density of own-half passing and average-position placement on their Player Influence screen.
Aston Villa's narrow win over Norwich brought together two of the top flight's most in-form left-siders, and they didn't disappoint. Anthony Pilkington now has three goals and an assist in his last four Premier League appearances, while Gabriel Agbonlahor has scored five and set up four of Villa’s 16 league goals this season – not bad considering he has had just 15 shots (excluding blocked) so far this season, despite starting every game. Darren Bent has had a similar amount (16). Note how both players come off their starting positions to get involved across the pitch.
Finally, Manchester United's home win over Sunderland was the first time this season that the champions had been able to select all of Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, but the first-choice back four was barely tested: as a whole, United made just seven tackles in this game, the second fewest by any Premier League side this season (after United vs Norwich). Vidic was a calming influence, though: he didn't misplace a single pass within his own half.
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