An intoxicating day of Premier League action on Saturday ended with leaders Manchester United beaten for the first time this season, title rivals Arsenal blowing a 4-0 lead and a record 41 goals across eight games.
United’s 29-match unbeaten league was halted by bottom club Wolverhampton Wanderers, who claimed a deserved 2-1 victory at Molineux, although the damage was minimized by Arsenal’s astonishing capitulation in a 4-4 draw at Newcastle United.
When Nani gave United a third-minute lead at Molineux in the evening match it appeared Alex Ferguson’s side were set to extend their unbeaten league run to a club-record 30 matches stretching back to last April’s home defeat by Chelsea.
However, a day of hat-tricks, penalties, late goals and the general mayhem that makes the Premier League such a hit worldwide provided one final twist in the shape of George Elokobi and Kevin Doyle, who each scored before halftime to seal a famous three points for Mick McCarthy’s struggling Midlands club.
“We are disappointed, particularly after going in front so early in the game,” Ferguson said. “The result was caused by bad play at set-pieces. That is the nuts and bolts of it and we don’t dispute that.”
Arsenal’s players on the way home from the North East would have breathed a sigh of relief at the scoreline.
The surprise result meant United’s hopes of emulating Arsenal’s 2003-2004 “Invincibles” team, who went through the whole season unbeaten, had been thwarted.
It would also have lightened the mood after they conceded four goals in the last 22 minutes at St James’ Park after Abou Diaby’s sending off sparked a second-half meltdown, culminating in Cheik Tiote’s late screamer for Newcastle.
“At 4-1 we panicked a bit,” Wenger told Sky Sports, saying the match careered out of his side’s control after Diaby’s controversial sending off for a shove on Joey Barton following a robust tackle by the Newcastle midfielder. “I think Diaby was too nervous in his reaction, but Barton should have been sent off too for the tackle.”
United are top with 54 points from 25 games above Arsenal, who have 50 while Manchester City, for whom the ever-reliable Carlos Tevez bagged a hat-trick on his 27th birthday in a 3-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, are on 49 from 26. Chelsea are fourth with 44 from 24 games.
Fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur also have 44 after substitute Niko Kranjcar’s last-gasp winner in a 2-1 home victory over Bolton Wanderers.
The goal glut began at lunchtime with Stoke City’s 3-2 win against Sunderland and continued unrestrained throughout the day with Louis Saha scoring four times in Everton’s 5-3 home win against Blackpool, Wigan Athletic beating Blackburn Rovers 4-3 and Fulham and Aston Villa drawing 2-2 at Villa Park.
The previous record tally of goals in a single Premier League day was 36 on Nov. 27 last year.
Nani gave United a third-minute lead after a mesmerizing run from the right ended with him blasting a shot past Wayne Hennessey, but United were strangely fragile.
Elokobi headed his first league goal in English soccer to level soon after and Doyle touched in from close-range five minutes before halftime for what proved the winner.
Arsenal’s failure to hold a lead was on another scale entirely. Theo Walcott fired them ahead in the first minute at Newcastle and Johan Djourou headed a second soon after before Van Persie’s double had some disenchanted home fans heading toward the exits with barely half-an-hour on the clock.