ProSoccerTalk’s Top 5 Goals – English Premier League (Matchweek 31)

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It was yet another mind-blowing weekend for goals in the Premier League.

While some clubs fought for spots in Europe, others challenged to get themselves in the Top 10 while others battled to avoid the dreaded relegation zone. Regardless of the motive, there’s little doubt that the final-stretch intensity has set in across the Premier League. The result was goals, goals and more goals – many so fantastic in nature that to do them justice we’re reviewing the Top 5 of Matchweek 31.

The list is so good that it’s worth mentioning who didn’t make it. You won’t see Jan Vertonghen’s silky finish against Swansea, or Jay Rodriguez’ clinical opener that turned the Chelsea defense inside out. You won’t see Jordan Henderson’s relaxed poke against Aston Villa or Hal Robson Kanu’s suicidal diving header against Arsenal. You won’t see Gary O’Neill’s incredible swerving game-winner against West Brom or Christian Benteke’s first-time rip that cut open the Liverpool defense like a Ginsu. And you won’t see Michu’s snap header to the far post or Yaya Toure’s bust-through the box and near-post finish from next to no angle.

All of those were fantastic goals – but these are the best.

5. ANDY CARROLL – WEST HAM UNITED

Welcome back, Andy Carroll! The West Ham striker was an absolute beast in his club’s 3-1 destruction of West Brom on Saturday, hitting a sensational brace for the first time in nearly two years. He opened the scoring in the 20th minute when he slipped his defender and pounded a frightening header past Ben Foster. He outdid himself in the 80th minute when James Collins lofted a free-kick from half field into the box. Carroll took his run from the top of the 18 yard box to the right side of goal, let the ball float over his right shoulder and slammed a first-time volley into the far corner to seal the Hammers’ victory.

4. GARETH BALE – TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 

Gareth Bale’s been getting so much press lately that I tried to avoid putting the Spurs dynamo into this list, keep the boy’s ego in check a bit. But to do so would be an injustice to football and an unreasonable denial of the truth – that Gareth Bale is a truly remarkable footballer capable of truly remarkable feats. On Saturday his 17th goal of the season was not only another game-winner but it marked his seventh Premier League goal scored from outside the 18 yard box. Seven? That’s just plain silly. The strike was unlike any goal I’d witnessed in a long time. After receiving Jan Vertonghen’s pass with his right foot, the Welshman rabbit-hopped into an outside of the left foot shot that corkscrewed into the top corner, leaving Swansea keeper Michel Vorm helpless and fans breathless.

3. RICKIE LAMBERT – SOUTHAMPTON 

If you’ve watched Rickie Lambert play then you already know why so many people (myself included) are busting vocal chords over Roy Hodgson’s repeated refusal to call him into the England squad. The 6’1″ striker is not only lethal in the air and in front of goal but he’s making quite a name for himself from 25 yard spot kicks. One match removed from his strike that found the back of the net against Liverpool, Lambert was at it again on Saturday. Merely two minutes after John Terry leveled the match for Chelsea, Lambert stepped to the free-kick and unleashed a calculated pill that dipped over the Blues wall and bulged the net. The goal handed Southampton a crucial 2-1 victory and confirmed Lambert’s status atop the charts for English goal-scorers with 14.

2. AROUNA KONE – WIGAN ATHELTIC

The Ivorian was mentioned in the Narratives leading up to Matchweek 31 and he didn’t disappoint. With the match locked in a 0-0 stalemate in the 80th minute, Kone burst past his marker and latched on to Jordi Gomez’ through-ball to smash home the game-winner from the top of the box. With the goal Wigan grabbed all three points and wiggled itself out of the relegation zone.

1. KEVIN MIRALLAS – EVERTON 

Ask any Evertonian and he will tell you the same thing – Kevin Mirallas is the next great footballer at Everton. With Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini out for the Stoke clash, it was up to Mirallas to bring home the points and the Belgian did so in fantastic fashion. Stoke’s Marc Wilson lofted in a free-kick in the 28th minute that Everton keeper Tim Howard punched out to Mirallas, standing about 20 yards outside the box. The winger collected the ball, fought off Steven N’Zonzi, and torched Stoke’s defense with eight touches across 70 yards before slotting the ball home with aplumb.

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Southampton

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Southampton 2-0 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday, with the Blues setting up an FA Cup final clash with Manchester United on May 19.

Antonio Conte‘s side scored twice in the second half with Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata on the scoresheet against a sorry Saints outfit.

Here’s what we learned as Chelsea have set up a tasty clash with Jose Mourinho next month.


GIROUD AN ELEGANT ASSASSIN

Olivier Giroud is quickly becoming a cult hero at Chelsea. The Frenchman dribbled delicately around three Southampton defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy before prodding home to put his side ahead.

It was a elegant, yet clumsy, goal and summed up Giroud’s penchant for delivering goals of the highest difficulty.

Giroud has now been involved in 22 goals in 26 FA Cup appearances (15 goals, 7 assists), more than any other player in the completion since his debut in 2013.

The Frenchman is now pushing hard to be Chelsea’s first-choice central striker ahead of Alvaro Morata, although the Spaniard did grab a goal late on to wrap up the win.

Giroud has scored four goals in 13 appearances in all competitions since arriving from Arsenal in January but the way he holds the ball up and links with Eden Hazard is a huge plus for Conte. Giroud could also start up top with Morata if Chelsea tweak their system and at the age of 31 there is still plenty of life left in him and not just as a late sub, the role Conte earmarked for him.


COULD CONTE STAY…

Antonio Conte will likely still leave Chelsea at the end of the season but the Italian coach seems to badly want his time at Chelsea to end with a trophy.

But here’s a thought: if Chelsea beat Man United and somehow make it into the top four at Tottenham’s expense (they are five points back with four games to go), will he remain in charge for the final year of his three-year contract?

The Blues cruised into the FA Cup final and looked fired up from the start as Eden Hazard pulled the strings and Giroud made a nuisance of himself.

Conte’s comments all season long suggest he will depart Chelsea this summer and seek a new project, but if he does so after winning the FA Cup (after being runners up last season) to go along with the PL title he won last season, and then finishing fifth, that’s not a bad two years in the PL.

The Italian will depart with his pride and reputation intact even if he doesn’t defeat his old foe Mourinho in the final next month.


SOUTHAMPTON’S STRUGGLES

Saints are in the Premier League’s relegation zone for a reason and their total lack of confidence was clear for all to see at Wembley.

Mark Hughes‘ men have five games left to save themselves but it almost seems as if Saints’ players have resigned themselves to relegation from the Premier League despite sitting just four points from safety. One win in their last 21 PL games (that came against West Brom) tells the story of a side crumbling before our eyes.

After they shipped 12 goals in four Premier League, all of them defeats, Hughes has set Saints up in a 5-3-1-1 formation to try and make them tougher to break down.

It is working, at least defensively, with a 0-0 draw at Leicester on Thursday, but going forward they totally lack any cohesion and only created three real chances on Sunday as Shane Long made a hash of a great opportunity, Charlie Austin hit the post and Nathan Redmond tested Willy Caballero.

Saints are in a really bad place as they now have to find a way to stop themselves hurtling towards relegation. Their game at home against Bournemouth next weekend is a must win. Simple.

Chelsea joins Man Utd in FA Cup Final

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Chelsea will meet old pal Jose Mourinho in the FA Cup Final after beating Southampton 2-0 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata scored the goals for Antonio Conte‘s men, whose date with Manchester United comes at the same venue on May 19.

Southampton will turn its attention back to the relegation battle, four points behind 17th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Willian hit the cross bar with an early effort as Chelsea looked very much up for the semifinal.

Olivier Giroud had a 39th minute chance zip wide of the frame, as Chelsea posted nine of the first half’s 11 shot attempts while holding 60 percent possession.

Saints would have been happy to get to the locker room at nil-nil.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Twenty-eight seconds into the second half: That’s when Giroud scored, with Chelsea’s first long ball knocked down by Eden Hazard on the edge of the 18 and played to the Frenchman.

Giroud cut between two Saints defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with his right foot.

Hazard curled an effort of his own wide in the 48th minute.

Saints snapped to life, and Shane Long touched around Wily Caballero but too strong to equalize at Wembley.

Nathan Redmond forced a wild save out of Caballero in the 72nd minute, and nearly claimed the corner.

McCarthy tipped a Hazard shot over the bar minutes later.

Morata put it to bed on a cross from his in-tune assist man Cesar Azpilicueta.

The finish was thrilling nevertheless, with Charlie Austin hitting the far post and Saints getting a goal line clearance at the other end.

Wenger: Praise after exit announcement “more than I deserve”

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Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem like the type to go on a victory lap, but the Arsenal boss is handling his resignation and the accompanying praise with pure class.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

Wenger announced the end of his long Arsenal tenure earlier this week, and has been met by heaps of praise from ex-players, fans, current Gunners, and even rivals.

The Frenchman addressed the plaudits following a 4-1 win over West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“I would like to thank everyone who has been very nice and kind and praised me more than I deserved it. I would like to say thank you everyone. It’s been a great period for me and I’m thankful for that.”

Arsenal punished West Ham after the Irons equalized through Marko Arnautovic, getting a lucky goal from Aaron Ramsey and two fine finishes from Alexandre Lacazette in the win.

“I was focused on winning the game. We just tried to be professional and do our job even when the circumstances are different. It was a good team spirit and good preparation for Thursday.

“I think we constructed patiently. We didn’t make big mistakes. First of all before winning a trophy, you need to get through the semi-finals. This is a good way to prepare – scoring goals against a strong West Ham team who have done well recently.”

Next up: A huge test in the UEFA Europa League semifinals, with Atletico Madrid visiting for Thursday’s first leg. Wenger rested several big names, and Atleti has just one win from its last four matches (including a Madrid Derby draw at the Bernabeu).

WATCH: Chelsea’s Giroud scores 27 seconds after halftime

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Southampton held firm against Chelsea’s challenge for 45 minutes of Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium.

Well, 45 minutes and 27 seconds.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

The first long ball of the second half saw Chelsea’s Eden Hazard leap to trap, and the Belgian played a quick ball forward to his striker.

That’s Olivier Giroud, who dribbled between two defenders and Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with the outside of his right foot.