The last set of fixtures in the Premier League, before the international break, produced more talking points, across the race for the title, the race for the Champions League, and down at the bottom of the table. Here is the roundup of this weekend’s Premier League talking points.
Arsenal lose at West Brom, as top 4 place looks in danger
The Sun rises, the grass is green, the sky is blue, and Arsenal always qualify for the Champions League. For the last 18 seasons Arsenal have done enough to make the Champions League, and Arsenal have never finished outside the top 4 during Arsene Wenger’s reign. However following a 3-1 loss to West Brom Saturday lunch time, there is a real chance that this record is about to disappear.
Off the back of more supporter protests, with banners in the crowd protesting Wenger’s stewardship and a plane flown over the Hawthorns with the message clear Wenger out, Wenger would’ve been left stunned by the lack of defensive cohesion in his team. Arsenal allowed Craig Dawson to score two headers from corners, with the defence looking like they had never met each other before. Despite an Alexis Sanchez equaliser, Arsenal created very little from 77% possession. It was Dawson’s second header that killed the game off, and left Wenger starting into the abyss.
The atmosphere around the Gunners at the moment is toxic, there is discontent in the stands, and the players don’t look motivated. There are also murmurs of Wenger signing a new contract. For now, the task for the Gunners is to finish inside the top 4. They do have 2 games in hand over 4th place Liverpool, but have lost 4 of their last 5 games. Wenger said himself, that there are some serious challenges ahead for Arsenal
“We face some serious challenges. The City game at home is a big game for us.”
Crystal Palace continue to move away from the relegation zone
A month ago Crystal Palace looked doomed, and were a sure-fire bet to end Sam Allardyce’s record of never being relegated from the top division. Palace were 19th on 19 points after defeat by Stoke on 11 February. However, 3 wins in a row, the third one coming on Saturday at the expense of Watford, have moved Palace up to 16th in the league and 4 points clear of the relegation zone.
This was another grotty and dogged performance from the Eagles, as they failed to register a shot on target. Crystal Palace came into the game on the back of narrow wins over Middlesbrough and West Brom and once again battled their way to victory.
Sam Allardyce’s side did not force Watford keeper Heurelho Gomes into a save, but they did have chances to add to their goal in the second half through Yohan Cabaye, Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha.
Palace have won three consecutive Premier League games without conceding – classic Allardyce perhaps, but only the third time the Eagles have managed it. With home games against Leicester, Burnley and Hull to come, they have taken a huge step towards safety.
Late Chelsea goal, brings them closer to Premiership title
Gary Cahill more than made up for conceding a penalty, by scoring a late winner for Chelsea, as they took another major step towards claiming their 5th Premier League crown. Stoke made it very hard for the champions elect, and battled for every second ball. Willian had given Chelsea a first-half lead with an in swinging free-kick from the left that left Lee Grant caught out.
However, Stoke levelled when Cahill pushed Jonathan Walters in the back to concede a penalty, which the Potters striker fired home on 38 minutes. Chelsea, without the injured Eden Hazard, looked to be heading for a draw, when Cahill popped up in the 87th minute to give Chelsea the win. The way that the players and Antonio Conte celebrated the goal, you would of thought they had won the league already.
Late in the game Stoke had Phil Bardsley sent off, who had been in a running battle with Diego Costa throughout the game. While Costa once again proved himself a focal point of controversy with his running battle with Stoke defenders, Conte will care very little as this result leaves Chelsea 10 points clear at the top, with 10 games to go.
Like Father, Like Son
Kasper Schmeichel inspired memories of his famous father, as he pulled off an amazing save in the dying moments of Leicester’s 3-2 win over West Ham, to give the foxes all 3 points. Leicester had started the game at a frenzied pace, and were 2-0 up within 7 minutes, with goals from Riyad Mahrez and Robert Huth.
Manuel Lanzini put West Ham back into contention with a magnificent free-kick on 20 minutes, only for Jamie Vardy to restore his side’s two-goal advantage before the break as he pounced on lax defending from Marc Albrighton’s corner to strike past Darren Randolph.
Andre Ayew added a 2nd for West Ham, to set up a frantic end to the game. Schmeichel pulled off a number of quality saves, as he clawed out Andy Carroll’s header on 77 minutes while falling behind the line and kept his composure as West Ham peppered the Leicester area with crosses and corners in the second half. But it was his game winning save from Andy Carroll’s thumping shot, six yards out, that was the talking point of the game. As Schmeichel, got himself into a star shape and used his right hand to keep out Carroll’s shot.
This was Leicester’s first away win of the season, and their 4th consecutive victory in a row under Craig Shakespeare. This win leaves the foxes 6 points clear of the relegation zone, and 16th in the league. If results go their way after the international break, they could end up as high as 10th.
Man United move off up to 5th in the league, as they put pressure on the top 4
Manchester United claimed their 600th win in the Premier League, with a 3-1 win over Middlesbrough on Sunday lunch time. Man United manager Jose Mourinho had claimed that with the congested fixture pile up, that United would probably lose this game. However, despite a bright start for Boro, United never looked like losing this game.
Despite Middlesbrough having the lion’s share of possession, United used the pace of Marcus Rashford to full effect, and It only took seven minutes for Rashford to unpick the Boro defence and put them on high alert. Antonio Valencia sent him clear in behind Bernado, but Rashford’s shot was too close to Victor Valdes. One thing that England manager Gareth Southgate will have noted, is how well Jesse Lingard and Rashford linked up during the game.
Marouane Fellaini scored his first Premier League goal since December 2015, as Ashley Young’s deep cross found him at the back post to head past Victor Valdes. Lingard then scored his first goal of the Premier League season, with a terrific strike. He picked the ball up in his own half and raced to the edge of the box, unchallenged by Boro’s defence. Lingard arrowed home a shot from 25 yards into the top corner.
Boro were invited to attack United’s goal in the last 25 minutes, and there pressure paid off as Rudy Gestede pounced on a mistake from Chris Smalling to make it 2-1. But following some pressure from Boro in the final 10 minutes, Antonio Valencia made it 3-1, as he chased down the ball from a Boro corner, and put Boro keeper Victor Valdes under pressure. Valdes slipped, and Valencia was able to tap in, to score his first goal of the season.
United moved up into the top 5, for the first time in 184 days and are currently on an 18 game unbeaten streak in the league. They have 2 games in hand over Liverpool, in fourth, and are 4 points behind them.
Pep Guardiola has ‘One of the happiest days of my career’ as Man City drew with Liverpool
In what was being billed as the game of the weekend at the Etihad top 6 specialists Liverpool were hoping to get yet another positive result against one of the top Premiership teams and the game didn’t disappoint.
It was a game that had nearly everything, faced pace attacking play, missed chances and refereeing decisions that made you scratch your head, both teams could feel hard done by.
City started the brightest and had the better of the opening exchanges David Silva with a half volley just wide of the top corner, a tough finish but Silva more than capable.
But it was Liverpool who took the lead as James Milner put the Reds ahead against his former club with a penalty six minutes after the break, Gael Clichy penalised for a raised boot on Roberto Firmino.
Sergio Aguero scored the equaliser, scoring in his fifth successive Premier League game at Etihad against Liverpool, Kevin de Bruyne’s with the cross after 69 minutes.
It was from then on both sides’ wasted ideal opportunities to secure a vital win required in the race for top-four places especially with Man United looking industrious of late.
Adam Lallana produced the miss of the season when he somehow failed to tap Firmino’s pass into an empty net from 6 yards out on 81 minutes.
Both sides had to settle for a draw in a game Michael Oliver will want to forget in a hurry with a portfolio of incorrect decisions.
For Pep, he described the draw as ‘one of the most special days of my life’, hard to believe for a man who’s one of the most decorated active managers in world football, but who am I to say a home draw against Liverpool isn’t up there with his best!
Attentions now turn to the International break after which Man City have an away game at Arsenal, a win would pretty much end Arsenal’s top 4 aspirations.
Premier League Table
By Rich Lee and Michael Thatcher