It was a massive weekend for Arsenal and a good one for Manchester United and Liverpool as the only ‘Big Six’ teams to collect three points as the Premier League continued its festive fixtures this weekend.
The Gunners outslogged Brighton and Man United got by Wolves, as Arsenal now leads the league with seven points and can have the advantage of 10 the next time Man City takes the field. Liverpool also beat Leicester, keeping their way into top four action.
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That’s because the second-placed Citizens dominated Everton – Erling Haaland scored again – but was undone by a Demarai Gray beauty to join Chelsea and thumped Tottenham as top-end teams to drop points. Third-placed Newcastle continued their unbeaten ways but failed to convert many chances in a draw with Leeds in a big test at Arsenal on Tuesday.
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So what does it all mean?
Here’s a look at 10 things that stood out (as Matchweek 17 continues on Tuesday and Wednesday), as our writers Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Andy Edwards (AE) and Nicholas Mendola (NM) share their observations of the most Latest PL games.
10 things we learned in the Premier League: Week 18
1. Arsenal sends a new, threatening title message to chasers (Brighton 2-4 Arsenal): Mikel Arteta’s men will not be happy with their shakiness in defense while boasting 3-0 and 4-1 leads in the Amex, but the sign they showed to the rest of the league in this six-goal thriller is high. Arsenal can now lose both of their Premier League matches to Manchester City and still control their title destiny, a thought that would have been farfetched before the season and crazy just a year ago. The Gunners have scored the second-most goals in the league (Man City) and have the second-stingiest defense (Newcastle). There is no question that the Gunners now have to be considered a team that can win the Premier League. Wow. Soak it in, Gooners. (NM)
2. Everton defend with nine, 10, 11; Make life very difficult for Man City (Man City 1-1 Everton): Three center backs with two full backs stay at home almost all the time. Three central midfielders who operate almost exclusively in their own half. Toffees center forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin had 15 touches of the ball in 70 minutes, more than half of which came in Everton’s half of the pitch. It was ugly, negative football from Frank Lampard’s side, and it was effective in affording Manchester City precious little time or space in the penalty area. Riyad Mahrez’s mad run to set up Man City’s goal was only spectacular because that’s what it took to beat Everton’s defense on the day. The latest XG tally favors Man City, 2.04 to 0.09. Less than one-tenth for Everton. 598 passes completed, to 183. 16 shots, to 2. 74 percent of possession, to 26. Woe, one goal, to one. (AE)
3. Marcus Rashford bounces back from ‘internal discipline’ benching (Wolves 0-1 Man Utd): Marcus Rashford was left out of the starting XI after arriving late to a meeting, but he is back in good graces as he leapt off the bench and pushed United into the Premier League’s top four. He has been in sensational form this season and especially in recent months for club and country. Asked by BT Sport after the game if Rashford had the right answer to being dropped, United’s manager was in a happy mood. “That’s the right reaction.” Asked if this was the end of the matter with Rashford, here’s what the United coach said: “Of course. Everyone has to match the rules and values. If you work like that, that’s the right answer.” (JPW)
4. Conte could go early as lazy Spurs lose more ground (Spurs 0-2 Aston Villa): Yes, Tottenham are missing Dejan Kulusevski, Rodrigo Bentancur and Richarlison, but Tottenham should have a lot more going for them than this display. They looked disinterested from the start, although we are used to them starting the game slowly and then coming back in the second half. They were even worse in the second half this time. The fact that Antonio Conte has yet to commit to his future beyond this season says it all. He doesn’t believe Tottenham will give him the squad he needs to succeed in north London. There is an absence at Spurs that centers around the uncertainty surrounding Conte’s future. They need January additions but they also need commitment from their manager. If they don’t come soon then they should part ways as soon as possible. (JPW)
5. Chelsea fails up top as Boley’s forest bully a punt (Nottingham Forest 1-1 Chelsea): Raheem Sterling got his goal but will bemoan his lack of company on the score sheet as the wide men delivered chances but the scorers were nowhere to be found in blue shirts. USMNT star Christian Pulisic joined Sterling in his live from the start. He dribbled across his own half before slotting up the right to move Chelsea ahead early in the game, shortly after delivering the cross that led to Sterling’s goal with a dart around the left edge of Forest’s back line. Kay Havers had 48 touches but Willy Boley was all over him and the Forest center back was ready for the challenge at the other end when he leaped with Pulisic – unhinged for hands to the American’s face – and nodded a second ball back to Aurier after Havertz’s. Clearing attempt fired directly into the air. Graham Potter could receive reinforcements in other positions, but consistent center forward finishing – Havertz is the best bet – must arrive if Chelsea are to claim a top four spot.
6. Newcastle wasteful and Leeds’ Meslier, Adams handles the rest (Newcastle 0-0 Leeds): Newcastle took several huge chances wide or over the frame – Sean Longstaff’s two wayward efforts being the most glaring examples – and Illan Mesler claimed a whole load of crosses with aplomb. Leeds got good performances from Liam Cooper and Robin Koch and really firmed up once Rasmus Kristensen came on for Luke Ayling. But the real star was Taylor Adams, who did well with the challenge of Bruno Guimares and Miguel Almiron. The USMNT man had nine recoveries and created a couple of chances (according to Fotmob), one of the few Leeds players to make such a claim on the day. (NM)
7. Wout Faes’ ill-fated day leads to Liverpool comeback win (Liverpool 2-1 Leicester): Leicester City’s first own goal Wout Faes’ first own goal came in the 38th minute when he badly missed an attempted clearance from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross over the head of goalkeeper Danny Ward. Seven minutes later, Faes again put the ball in his own net, and how it played out was no less painful to watch. Darwin Nunez lifted the ball over Ward but only found the front face of the far post. The ball bounced back into play, into Faes’ path about two yards off the goal line. In a rushed attempt to clear the ball, Faes hammered it into the ceiling of the net and sent Anfield into tears once again. A 1-0 Foxes lead was turned on its ear, and Liverpool stayed in charge. (AE)
8. Until learning from mistakes, stop buzzing to make the early lead stick (West Ham 0-2 Brentford): For the second time in five days, Brentford started a game fantastically and raced to a 2-0 lead, but this time the Bees held firm to close out a 2-0 win away to West Ham on Friday. Despite leading Tottenham 2-0 after the hour mark on Boxing Day, Brentford (23 points – 9th place) came away with just one point in a thrilling 2-2 draw. Thomas Frank’s men learned from their Monday missteps and turned in a complete, 90-minute performance against West Ham. (AE)
9. Improved Saints switch away, and Cottagers grab all the points (Fulham 2-1 Southampton): Southampton were unlucky to be behind after a shot deflected off James Ward-Prowse and flew into the goal, and those are the kinds of things that happen when you’re bottom of the table. Saints to their credit hung in there and were deservedly equalized by Ward-Prowse’s almost customary free kick magic. Saints had chances to win it and looked very dangerous. But Nathan Jones will be devastated his side switched off: a Fulham corner was flicked on and unmarked Palihinha scored the winner. There were plenty of positives for Saints to take, but with a massive home game against Nottingham Forest on Wednesday, they simply have to win this one to give them more belief that they can get out of the bottom three. (JPW)
10. Palace calms down, earns deserved win at Bournemouth(AFC Bournemouth 0-2 Crystal Palace): Patrick Vieira was bitterly disappointed to see his team not only lose 3-0 to Fulham on Monday, but also end the game with just nine men in a truly disastrous situation. Saturday’s result – and a performance to match it – will help ease fears after suffering back-to-back defeats to Nottingham Forest and Fulham either side of the World Cup break. (AE)