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Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win vs. Arsenal

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LONDON — Chelsea’s procession towards the Premier League title continued on Saturday as they beat London rivals Arsenal 3-1 to all but end any slim chance the Gunners had of wining the PL crown.

[ RECAP: Chelsea batter Arsenal ]

Marcos Alonso, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas grabbed the goals as a poor defensive display from Arsenal display saw Chelsea punish them ruthlessly.

Here’s what we learned from a sunny Stamford Bridge.


ALONSO’S GOAL DUBIOUS

If Marcos Alonso makes the challenge for his goal anywhere else on the pitch, he’s getting a free kick given against him and probably a yellow card.

Because he made it five yards from goal it seemed to be tolerated. It was a very dubious goal.

Alonso had a five-yard run on Hector Bellerin and climbed above the Spanish right back fair and square. However, his elbow was out to protect him and it smashed into Bellerin’s face. In real-time it didn’t look malicious but when you see the replays time and time again, Alonso knew what he was doing.

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies on Chelsea v. Arsenal ]

A dazed Bellerin had to be subbed out such was the impact he felt and Arsenal never truly recovered from both his absence and the momentum the early goal gave them.

Martin Atkinson allowed the goal but the decision was at best 50-50. Alonso and Chelsea probably got away with one. When you’re running away with the title after winning 16 of your last 18 Premier League games, those are the kind of calls that tend to go in your favor.

Look below and make up your own mind…


ARSENAL’S TITLE HOPES END IN A WHIMPER

12 points back with 14 games to go, Arsenal can now safely wave goodbye to their title hopes for another season after another abject display at Chelsea.

With Arsene Wenger watching on moodily from the stands, his players didn’t look up for the physical battle and were bullied by Chelsea. Especially in midfield.

The excellent N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic stopped Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from getting on the ball, and the lack of effort Theo Walcott made to track Alonso’s run for the opener said it all.

Desire. Drive. Determination. That was all missing from this Arsenal display.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was tasked with shutting down Kante in Chelsea’s midfield and about five minutes he ducked out of a challenge 40 yards from his own goal. Challenges like that set the tone.

Arsenal’s title hopes were on the line after their shock defeat at home to Watford in midweek. You would have never guessed that watching them limp to yet another defeat at Chelsea as they’ve now lost their last five PL trips to Stamford Bridge, conceding 15 goals and scoring three.

With the future of Arsene Wenger, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still up in the air, the next few months could be very uncomfortable for the Arsenal board as their side battle for an FA Cup final spot and a place in the top four once again. The latter is seeming increasingly at risk given the closeness of their competitors.


HAZARD BACK TO HIS BEST

The old Eden Hazard is back.

His jinxing runs were plentiful and his goal which sealed victory reminded us of the player who took the PL by storm in the 2014-15 season.

Hazard, still just 26 years old, has now scored 10 Premier League goals this season. His best tally in a single season is 14 which he achieved in back-to-back campaigns from 2013 to 2015.

It wasn’t just his goals and his clever ducking and diving which got fans on their feet, his hunger was evident as he did plenty of work back on the edge of his own box in the first half. He was everywhere.

Much has been made of Diego Costa‘s goals and Chelsea’s switch to a 3-4-3 system improving their defense, but if they do go on to win the title then Hazard’s return to glorious form will have played just a big a part.

Now, the challenge for him will be sustaining his magic for the next two to three seasons. His mojo is back but we all saw last season how quickly it disappeared.

Three things we learned from Man City’s win vs. West Ham

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LONDON — Manchester City put on an attacking clinic in their 4-0 win at West Ham United on Wednesday. 

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Gabriel Jesus lit up the game as City’s young attacking talent ran riot to put some pressure on Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur ahead of them in the table.

[ MORE: Man City’s future on show ]

Here’s what we learned from a masterclass in east London.


JESUS RULES SUPREME

Getting off the train in Stratford, east London, a few Man City fans were walking in front of me. Seeing their sky blue shirts, a couple of fans approached them.

“We are Brazilian,” they said, half whispering. “We are hear to watch Gabriel Jesus.”

They don’t need to whisper about it anymore. The kid is a star in the making.

After his impressive first start for City in the FA Cup win at Crystal Palace on Saturday, the 19-year-old carried that form on and delivered more magic.

From the first whistle Jesus looked on another level, cutting in from the right and dribbling past three West Ham defenders before clipping in a dangerous cross which was cleared. He was only just getting started.

For City’s first goal he surged forward in support of Kevin De Bruyne and played an inch-perfect ball back to KDB for the Belgian attacker to slot home without breaking stride. Before he scored his first goal in a City shirt to make it 3-0 he played a divine ball in-behind to Sterling which was put on a plate. He has everything.

The one area he also excels in is his work rate. Often he chases back but he has to watch the timing of his challenges as when on a yellow card (dished out for waving an imaginary card) he clattered in to a West Ham attacker and gave away a free kick in his own half.

With time he will learn and with time it seems he will develop into one of the best young strikers in the world. The $34 million City paid Palmeiras last summer for Jesus looks like an absolute bargain. They may will be ruing the fact that the deal only allowed him to join in January.


CITY’S FUTURE SECURE

When City’s third goal went in following a fluid move, the camera panned to Sergio Aguero’s face on the bench. He looked stunned. That’s because he knows now, more than ever, his place in Man City’s starting lineup is seriously under threat.

And that’s because it wasn’t just Jesus putting on a show on Wednesday. His partners in crime up front were just as dangerous with Raheem Sterling and especially Leroy Sane cutting West Ham’s pedestrian defense to shreds.

Sane, 21, is really finding his stride after a slow start to his first season in England. For City’s second goal he nutmegged Sam Byram in ridiculously easy fashion and then surged past Jose Fonte like he wasn’t there before finding David Silva at the back post to slot home. He then whipped in a cross which Jesus couldn’t quite reach early in the second half and was a constant pest.

Sterling, 22, was just as dangerous, drilling a shot just wide with the first attempt of the game, playing in Jesus for his goal and then winning a penalty kick for City’s fourth. Kevin de Bruyne buzzed around behind the front three of Sane, Jesus and Sterling and got a rest in the second half. Those four players are the future of City’s attack.

No wonder Aguero looked so shocked and concerned on the bench. City’s future is bright and the Argentine may struggle to be an integral part of it.

He isn’t on his own though. With Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta joining Aguero on the bench and Yaya Toure’s deal up in the summer, the changing of the guard at City has begun.


PAYET A DISTANT MEMORY, FOR NOW…

Outside West Ham’s new home at the London Stadium there used to be a mural to Dimitri Payet. That’s right, used to be.

In one one season he managed to become a god of London’s east end, worshiped by every single Hammers fans for his outrageous goals, flicks and assists.

In one day he whipped all of that away.

When Payet, 29, handed in a transfer request and refused to play for West Ham in early January, the entire fanbase turned against him. His manager Slaven Bilic came out in the press and hammered him for letting down the staff, his teammates and the fans.

Payet trained with the U-23 side for a few weeks and was eventually sold to Marseille the day before Deadline Day for $31.3 million. He took a pay cut to join his former club, who he left in the summer of 2015 to join West Ham, and it has also been revealed he wasn’t paid by the Hammers for January for his behavior.

West Ham’s owners lambasted Payet’s behavior but on his unveiling at Marseille he said he didn’t have to answer to anyone. He’s quite happy with his decision.

Bilic has suggested that over time Hammers fans may appreciate all of the magic moments Payet delivered in their seventh-place finish last season and be happy they saw him in his prime.

For now, though, the only physical reminder of Payet is a mural which has been painted over. Nothing more, nothing less.

Three things we learned from Man City vs. Tottenham

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Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur played out an entertaining, dramatic, controversial 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

City were 2-0 up and flying early in the second half after mistakes from Hugo Lloris were punished by Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne but Tottenham came roaring back as Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son scored to seal a comeback draw, and amongst all that a clear push on Raheem Sterling in the box went unpunished.

Here’s what we learned from a gripping encounter.


WASTEFUL CITY PUNISHED

Sure, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City will point to the horrendous referring decision moments before Tottenham’s equalizer but they only have themselves to blame for not beating Spurs.

With City leading 2-1, Raheem Sterling surged into the box and was pushed by last-man Kyle Walker when he was clean though on goal and about to shoot. No penalty kick was awarded by referee Andre Marriner and moments later Son equalized to deny City victory. Pep Guardiola was livid, and rightly so, as Sterling should’ve won a PK and Walker should have been sent off.

End of discussion.

Despite that inept moment from the officials, City didn’t help themselves in this game.

They led 2-0 early in the second half and City should have been up by a few goals at half time as Hugo Lloris saved from David Silva, plus Pablo Zabaleta drilled a shot wide, then Sergio Aguero had a header and left-footed shot saved by Lloris.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

It was a brave, energetic display from City who at times had four men in forward positions and forced Tottenham to ditch their 3-4-3 system midway through the first half. Such was City’s dominance, Spurs could’ve had no complaints had they trailed 4-0 before Dele Alli scored.

Guardiola looked devastated at the final whistle. After their humiliating defeat at Everton last time out, he knew his team missed a glorious opportunity to make up points on those teams around them after Liverpool and Manchester United dropped points on Saturday.

This was more like the City side we expected under Pep, but with much focus on their poor defending (goalkeeper Claudio Bravo has now conceded 16 goals from the last 24 shots on target he’s faced, by the way) this season it was once again their wastefulness in front of goal which cost them dear.


INJURY ISSUES PILE UP FOR SPURS

After losing Jan Vertonghen for at least the next six weeks, the last thing Mauricio Pochettino wanted to see was Toby Alderweireld limping off clutching his hamstring. That’s what happened on Saturday.

[ MORE: Spurs unveil stunning areas of new stadium ]

On Thursday I was chatting to a few Spurs officials at an event to promote the incredible features at their new stadium at White Hart Lane. It became clear that many people within the organization believe they’d be a lot closer than seven points off PL leaders Chelsea had injuries been kind to them this season.

When you look at it, they have a point.

Alderweireld missed a few months. Harry Kane too. Now Vertonghen. Erik Lamela is also out. Mousa Demble was banned for the opening month (that was his own fault due to a suspension) of the season and Dele Alli was nursing knocks in September.

Unlike many of their competitors for the title, Spurs have yet to have a run of games with a full fit starting XI. The fact that Vertonghen was missing on Saturday was a huge handicap as they needed him to be a key part of their three-man defense which has allowed Spurs to flourish in their six-game winning streak.

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies talk Man City, Tottenham ]

The fact that Spurs fought back from a 2-0 deficit to grab a point with both of their center backs missing, their ever reliable captain Lloris dropping two clangers, a tactical switch in the first half and another defender coming off at half time says it all.

Spurs stood tall through adversity and will no doubt be the happier team as they momentarily closed the gap to Chelsea to six points and sit in second place with 16 games to go. Pochettino won’t be happy, but he’ll take it.


CHELSEA THE BIG WINNERS

Antonio Conte and his Chelsea players will have a broad smile on their face on Saturday evening.

The Blues can move eight points clear of their closest rivals by the close of play on Sunday as Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Man United all dropped points on Saturday.

There is no doubting that Chelsea was the big winners on Saturay without even kicking a ball. Now, if they can get Diego Costa focused and back among the goals then everything is set up for a season-defining stretch in 10 days time.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Chelsea face Liverpool on Jan. 31 at Anfield and four days later host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. If results continue to go their way between now and the conclusion of that pivotal stretch, Conte’s boys may have the title wrapped up by the time April rolls around.

With Spurs’ injury issues in defense, Chelsea’s biggest rivals to their title challenge look like they will have to overcome severe adversity to hunt them down.

Conte and Co. will sleep well ahead of their clash against Hull City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Three things we learned: Man United vs. Liverpool

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Manchester United and Liverpool drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday as James Milner‘s penalty kick in the first half was canceled out by Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s late header as the points were shared between the bitter rivals.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

Jurgen Klopp looked like he’d get the better of Jose Mourinho for most of the match but Liverpool and United both remain firmly in the top four hunt.

 [ MORE: Klopp blasts “long ball” United

Here’s what we learned from a cagey encounter between these rivals at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Watch full match replay ] 


EMOJI GAME NOT STRONG FOR POGBA

Simply put, if you choose one of the biggest games on the planet to launch your own emoji, then make sure you play well.

Pogba, 23, didn’t do that and the most-expensive player in the world had a nightmare in several key scenarios during the game.

He lost Dejan Lovren time and time again on corner kicks in the first half and then was played through by Henrikh Mkhitaryan but scuffed his effort wide when he looked certain to score.

At the other end, Pogba then panicked when he lost sight of the ball as a corner came in and Lovren got the wrong side of him. He put his arm out and it was a clear handball as referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. Pogba looked mortified.

As his new emoji spun around the adverting boards, Pogba’s head must have been spinning. For the rest of the game he tried to make up for his monumental mistake but the Frenchman was caught in possession on multiple occasions and when that happened he looked like a horse galloping in quicksand as he tried to retreat and gain the ball back from Liverpool’s small, speedy attackers.

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies on Man United, Liverpool ] 

Following his slow start to life back at Old Trafford, Pogba had been mercurial in recent weeks as United won nine-straight games in all competitions. Against Liverpool his display stunk of someone trying too hard to impress and knowing everyone was watching him. That intense pressure shouldn’t impact Pogba, but it did. Big time.

After the initial deluge of #Pogba on the advertising boards int he first half, we didn’t see it in the second half. Brand Pogba took a big hit on Sunday.


LIVERPOOL LET OFF THE HOOK

United let Liverpool’s defense off the hook throughout this game.

Both Pogba and Henrik Mkhitaryan surged through huge gaps in Liverpool’s defense in the first half both Pogba dragged his effort wide and Mkhitaryan was denied by the brilliant Simon Mignolet in goal for Liverpool.

Mignolet also denied Ibrahimovic’s powerful low free kick in the first half and in the second half a giveaway from Trent Alexander-Arnold let Mkhitaryan race free down the right but his cross was missed by Anthony Martial under pressure.

United had the better scoring chances, by far, but looked rushed, panicked and like Pogba’s performance it seemed like the pressure was a little too much for them to handle.

For the equalizer Wayne Rooney, who had jumped off the bench at half time, used plenty of his experience to cross in and another sub, Marouane Fellaini, saw his header hit the post before Antonio Valencia pulled the ball back for Ibrahimovic to brilliantly head home. United let a much-changed Liverpool side off the hook. Simple as that.


KLOPP, MOURINHO STALEMATE… AGAIN

Klopp has now lost just one of his seven games against Mourinho as a manager and the Liverpool boss got his tactics spot on for most of the game on Sunday.

Lining up with a diamond in midfield from the start, Adam Lallana nullified Michael Carrick‘s influence and Klopp’s gameplan worked well up until the 60th minute. Mourinho had to go more direct, and it worked, but a draw was what neither manager wanted but had to begrudgingly accept. More often than not, they cancel each other out and Mourinho and Klopp now drawn four of their seven games against one another.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

For Liverpool, they are now seven points off leaders Chelsea but they are also just five points ahead of sixth-place United. It is all to play for with 17 games of the Premier League season to go as Liverpool and United drew their two games against each other this season.

What now for United? They sit 12 points behind leaders Chelsea but more importantly four points away from the top four and are just two points behind fifth-place after Man City’s defeat at Everton earlier on Sunday. United remain in the hunt but Klopp will be the happier manager after this draw at Old Trafford.

Three things we learned: Southampton’s win vs. Liverpool

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Oriol Romeu of Southampton holds off Adam Lallana of Liverpool during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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SOUTHAMPTON — Saints are one step closer to Wembley Stadium.

MORE: Lackluster Liverpool struggling

They beat Liverpool 1-0 at St Mary’s Stadium on Wednesday in the first leg of their EFL Cup semifinal as they take a lead with them to Anfield for the second leg in two weeks time.

Here’s what we learned from a chilly night at St Mary’s.


SAINTS STAND UP

After three-straight defeats in the Premier League it would’ve been easy for Saints’ players to sulk ahead of this semifinal, their first in the League Cup since 1987. They didn’t.

They came out fighting and without captain Jose Fonte, who has put in a transfer request and is unavailable for selection throughout the January transfer window, they were lacking their leader.

The rest of the squad stood up and were counted in front of a sold-out St Mary’s.

In midfield Oriol Romeu and Jordy Clasie set the tone, snapping in to tackles and disrupting Liverpool’s groove with brilliant displays. In defense Virgil Van Dijk has probably just allowed Daniel Sturridge to jump out of his back pocket and Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana were both too narrow and clogged up the space behind Sturridge. More on that later.

Saints did a great job to not only shut down Liverpool but when they won the ball back they kept it as Romeu and Clasie took the extra touch and second to steady themselves. Saints didn’t do that in their 0-0 draw against Liverpool at home in November as they somehow held on for a point. They looked more composed and confident this time out and if it wasn’t for a combination of Karius and slack finishing on the break it could’ve been even better for Southampton as Jay Rodriguez led the line confidently.

The fact Southampton’s fans will be upset they only beat Liverpool 1-0 says it all. The slump has been stopped and this big semifinal win against a team contending for the PL title will give Claude Puel‘s men confidence they can go to Anfield and get a draw or win they need to make their first major final since 2003. Saints’ players dug deep and put in a performance Puel would be proud of.


KARIUS PROVES HIS WORTH

Loris Karius may have kept his team in this tie.

In the first half the German goalkeeper made two fine stops from Redmond, early in the half and then just before half time, as two cutbacks evaded everyone and found Saints’ winger at the back post but he was twice denied.

Karius, 23, has had plenty of critics in his first season in England and has lost his place as first-choice to Simon Mignolet after some shaky displays and mistakes in the Premier League against Bournemouth and West Ham.

This performance may not win him back his place as Liverpool’s starting goalkeeper but it will go a long way to reminding Klopp just how talented he is. One slip up by Mignolet and Karius has to be straight back in.


MANE MISSED; ONE EYE ON UNITED

Liverpool badly missed former Southampton attacker Sadio Mane on Wednesday.

Mane, 24, is at the African Cup of Nations in Gabon with Senegal and his raw pace would have made a massive difference against his former club.

Liverpool looked stagnant in attack with Lallana and Firmino dropping deeper and deeper to get the ball but often stopped by Romeu and Clasie and there weren’t enough runs in-behind to stretch Southampton’s defense. Sturridge cut a frustrated figure up top on his own as he got his big chance to start and show his best ahead of the derby against Manchester United on Sunday.

This touch map sums up just how ineffective Sturridge was and it is unlikely he will lead the line against the Red Devils.

With a massive Premier League clash at United coming up, Sturridge is not on form and Liverpool may look to start Coutinho behind Firmino as they look to reignite their fluid attacking unit.

Did Klopp’s side have one eye on a game which could go a long way to not only deciding their title aspirations but also their top four hopes? They played like it.