On The Ball with Mark Wheat: Arsenal gain more ground at the top

Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal celebrates scoring their second goal against Liverpool on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013.
Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal celebrates scoring their second goal against Liverpool on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013. (Getty Images via BBC Sport Facebook page)

On the Ball with Mark Wheat is a new Monday feature on The Current that celebrates the connections between music and soccer, with an eye to the past weekend's results.

As Mark Wheat's time off wraps up, digital producer Luke Taylor finishes out his loan spell with On The Ball. Mark Wheat returns next week.

Again, another exciting weekend across several leagues:

Minnesota United FC finished their season with a veritable goal fest on Saturday night in Tampa, Fla. The Loons beat the Tampa Bay Rowdies 6 - 4, and secured a fourth-place finish in the NASL league table. Minnesota's Omar Daley scored a hat trick, while Pablo Campos added two more goals. Retiring defender Kevin Friedland was an available sub on Saturday night, but did not play. Again, congratulations to Kevin on a fine playing career!

Minnesota v Tampa match highlights:

Minnesota United FC are now off for the winter (the North American season runs opposite to the European one — presumably because winters in much of North America are too harsh to make the game practicable. Would you want to see an outdoor Edmonton v Minnesota fixture in January? Me either).

Speaking of the season in North America, the heat is on as eight MLS teams compete for the MLS Cup. Among those pairings, things have hotted up in the Pacific Northwest as Portland Timbers defeated Seattle Sounders 2 - 1 in the first leg of their MLS Cup playoff tie. The next leg is on Thursday night at JELD-WEN Field in Portland, Ore.

In the Premier League on Saturday, there was no pottering around (sorry — groan!) in Stoke-on-Trent as Stoke City welcomed visitors Southampton to the Britannia Stadium on what was, by all accounts, a very windy day. Thirteen seconds into the match, Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic scooped up a ball in the area and booted it down the pitch — but with a strong tailwind, the ball sailed past Southampton keeper Artur Boruc for a goal. In the true spirit of goalkeepers' camaraderie, Begovic himself felt a bit embarrassed for his colleague Boruc, but admitted scoring a goal was a "cool feeling." Believe it or not, this was not the fastest goal in Premier League history; that honor is still held by Spurs defender Ledley King, who scored after 10 seconds against Bradford in 2000.

Southampton leveled the score just before half time and the game ended a draw, earning the Potters one point and keeping them clear of the drop zone.

A critical tabular move happened on Saturday's early kickoff: Newcastle v Chelsea. Newcastle defeated the Blues 2 - 0, and the result elevated Liverpool to second place in the table, just in time to take on first-place Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in North London.

Matt Becker of Roseville, Minn., is the writer of the excellent cricket blog, Limited Overs. Turns out Matt is also a huge Arsenal fan; a couple years ago, he even celebrated a birthday by going to a game at the Emirates with his wife (who just happens to be the talented local singer-songwriter, Niki Becker).

On Saturday, Matt watched the game at The Local in downtown Minneapolis. Here's what he had to say about it:

"With Saturday's late afternoon win, I think Arsenal supporters can safely say that — for the first time since 2008 — our club are now officially Premier League title challengers.

"It was a great day for the entire Arsenal eleven, but standout performances for me include Mikel Arteta in the midfield — who shielded the back four and deflected one Liverpool attack after another — and centerback Laurent Koscienly, who negated the in form Luis Suarez all afternoon. (Suarez did get through the entire game without biting anyone, so there's a silver lining for the 'pool supporters).

Next up for Arsenal in the league is another big test: away to Manchester United. But for now: It's good to be a Gooner."

Meanwhile, a south Wales derby gave Cardiff City a 1 - 0 win over Swansea, but those two sides remain one point separated mid-table.

Here's the entire weekend wrap-up, from NBC Sports:

And given the result at Ashburton Grove, this week's music pick goes to Arsenal. It's Ben Folds' "From Above"; yes, one reason for that is that Arsenal now have the view "from above" — i.e. five points clear at the top of the table, but also because the words to this song were written by none other than author Nick Hornby, a lifelong Arsenal supporter.

Mark Wheat returns to On The Ball next week.

What games were you watching this weekend? What results surprised you? Didn't surprise you? Share your thoughts below.

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