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Three things learned: Tottenham’s win v Arsenal

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur dominated Arsenal in the North London Derby at Wembley on Saturday, as Harry Kane‘s header sealed a huge win for Spurs in front of a record crowd of 83,222 for a Premier League game.

The home side were guilty of missing several chances in the second half but it didn’t matter as the Gunners had now answer.

Here’s what we learned from Spurs’ win at Wembley.


HEROIC HARRY KANE DOES IT AGAIN

We are running out of ways to praise Harry Kane.

The local lad did it once again against Arsenal on Saturday, scoring a towering header for his seventh goal in as many Premier League games against Spurs’ bitter rivals.

Kane, 24, is having yet another fairytale season and leads the Premier League with 23 goals after becoming the top scorer among Europe’s top five leagues (in all competitions) in 2017 with 56 goals.

He could’ve had yet another hat trick in the NLD as he nodded over in the first half from close range, then glanced a header just wide moments after he gave Spurs the lead and soon after he had a thunderous drive beat away by Petr Cech.

As Kane wheeled away to celebrate in front of a jubilant Wembley, he pointed to the Spurs fans and clinched his fist. He’s one of their own and after Arsenal released him at the age of eight, he’s making them pay.

With seven points from their last three games against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men are bang in form and have second-place United in focus.


SPURS’ HIGH-PRESS TO PERFECTION

By now we know how Pochettino sets his teams up. Apparently nobody told Arsenal.

The Gunners were hurried into clearances, gave the ball away in midfield and were left wide open on the counter multiple times. In a game they needed to win to give themselves a serious chance of finishing in the top four, the Gunners looked shaky from the start.

Cech gave the ball away on multiple occasions in the pouring rain under pressure and Arsenal were the much happier side to go in level at the break, despite showing flashes of promise on the break even if the final ball wasn’t there.

Tottenham should have wrapped things up with more than 20 minutes to go as Kane had multiple chances, Cech denied Erik Lamela, Son skied over and Dele Alli poked wide. If Spurs would have won 3-0, Arsenal could have had zero complaints.

Ahead of the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash vs. Juventus in Turin this week, Spurs are in sensational form at precisely the right time of the season.


WILSHERE THE BRIGHT SPOT FOR ARSENAL

With 20 minutes to go Wilshere had Arsenal’s first shot on goal. That said it all.

Arsenal showed plenty of promise on the break in the first half but couldn’t get that final ball correct. When Wilshere did, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was flagged offside.

In the second half he launched into tackles, curled an effort towards the top corner which Hugo Lloris saved well and as at the heart of everything good Arsenal did. With Mesut Ozil’s contract locked down, Wilshere should be next and it can’t come soon enough. After a run of three months as a regular, the England midfielder is finally back to his best.

Arsenal could fall as much as eight points off the to four by the end of the weekend and their inability to deliver in big games, away from home, has cost them dear in the past few seasons.

The Gunners are winless in their last 16 PL away games against the current top four, with their last victory coming at Man City in January 2015.

In truth, they never looked like winning on Saturday as the mercurial talents of Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan lacked the tenacity of Wilshere and were dominated.

Three things learned from Tottenham’s win v. Man United

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LONDON — Tottenham beat Manchester United 2-0 on Wednesday as Spurs closed the gap on the top four and second-place United with a dominant display.

A goal from Christian Eriksen (after just 11 seconds) and a Phil Jones own goal put Spurs ahead and they never looked back against Jose Mourinho’s shell-shocked unit who never got going in front of a record crowd for a Premier League game at 81,798.

Here’s what we learned from a raucous Wembley Stadium.


UNITED PUNISHED FOR POSITIVITY

When the teamsheets came out, United had been a lot bolder than they usually were under Jose Mourinho away from home against a top six rival.

It cost them dear.

With Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku all in the same starting lineup, this was perhaps a glimpse at a new attack-minded era since Sanchez’s arrival. It was, at times, embarrassing, for United.

They didn’t have balance in central midfield with Pogba pulled all over the place and Nemanja Matic overwhelmed, and that in turn starved United’s attackers of the surface they craved.

It was a bold move from Mourinho to go all-out attack from the start and it backfired massively. We all wondered what Sanchez’s arrival meant and where he would slot in, but the Red Devils looked completely top heavy.


TOTTENHAM’S TOP FOUR HOPES BACK ON TRACK

After a draw at Southampton last time out in the Premier League, then a draw at fourth-tier Newport in the FA Cup at the weekend, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men weren’t exactly in their best form heading into this game.

They delivered a stunning display, full of endeavor and passion as they first bullied United out of the game, then created chance after chance on the counter.

The one criticism you could have of Spurs is that they weren’t clinical enough, but then again, they didn’t need to be and never looked in danger against a lackluster United.

In front of a record crowd for a Premier League of 81,798, Spurs fans reveled in victory as they moved two points away from the top four on a night which also saw Chelsea thumped 3-0 at home to Bournemouth.

Spurs face Liverpool, Arsenal and Juventus coming up in a huge month in February and this win will set the tone for a pivotal stretch perfectly.

With Lucas Moura arriving on Deadline Day from PSG an introduced at half time of this win, Arsenal six points behind them after their defeat at Swansea and three of the current top four far from solid, Spurs have momentum and will be feeling good heading into the final third of the season and still in the UEFA Champions League.


SANCHEZ SHACKLED

The boos, predictably, rang out every time Alexis Sanchez touched the ball.

Making his Premier League debut for Man United after his move from Arsenal, Sanchez was shackled expertly by Spurs defense with Kieran Trippier snapping into tackles, Jan Vertonghen matching his pace and Eric Dier covering the space inside United’s left flank expertly.

Sanchez didn’t have a sniff all night long as Mourinho pushed him into the middle from the left to try and get him involved in the game. It didn’t happen. Apart from a few counter attacks in the first half, United weren’t awarded for their attacking lineup and Sanchez was given rough treatment but the fans and Spurs’ players all night long.

This was not a fine display from the Chilean on his PL debut for United and it underlined that he’s lackluster form for Arsenal for much of this season is still there.

Three things we learned from Liverpool v. Man City

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LIVERPOOL — What. A. Game. Manchester City’s unbeaten run is over.

Liverpool battered Man City 4-3 at Anfield on Sunday (City scored twice in the dying stages) as Jurgen Klopp taught Pep Guardiola a lesson once again as no manager has beaten Guardiola more than Liverpool’s German boss.

A second half blitz from the Reds destroyed City and ended their bid of becoming just the second team in Premier League history to go an entire season unbeaten.

Here’s what we learned from an absorbing encounter at Anfield as Liverpool beat the PL leaders in stunning fashion.


NO COUTINHO? NO PROBLEM

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stepped up to make an early claim as the heir to Philippe Coutinho‘s crown at Liverpool.

With Coutinho sold for $197 million to Barcelona last week, the big question around Liverpool was who Jurgen Klopp would try to sign to replace Coutinho. But with Adam Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain around, Klopp seems keen to give them a chance to stake their claim as Liverpool’s new No.10 who can feed Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.

The Ox took his chance.

Yes, he isn’t the same cerebral playmaker as Coutinho, but he has the power, drive and pace to get at the opposition. Liverpool used him in what he regards his best role in the center of the pitch and the Ox scored a sublime opening goal. He won the ball, drove into space and drilled home to give Liverpool the perfect start.

Oxlade-Chamberlain also rattled into tackles, whipped in testing deliveries for Man City’s defense and went close early in the second half with another driving run that forced a save from Ederson.

Yes, Coutinho is a special talent who is tough to replace, but the Ox’s performance proved he is more than capable of at least softening the blow of his exit to Barcelona.


MAN CITY  OWN WORST ENEMIES AS UNBEATEN RUN ENDS

It was a devastating nine-minute spell from Liverpool which ended Manchester City’s 30-game unbeaten run in the Premier League.

But Pep Guardiola’s men were their own worst enemies as they lost for their first time in 23 games this season and there hopes of replicating Arsenal’s Invincibles were over.

On paper this trip to Liverpool and the game at Tottenham in April were their toughest games remaining.

Guardiola’s side looked shaky from the start but recovered well in the first half when they equalized and could have taken the lead early in the second half had Nicolas Otamendi’s header gone in and not hit the bar.

Still, Ederson looked shaky all game long as he came and half cleared crosses and took chances with his feet as he handed Salah the chance to lob into an empty net for Liverpool’s fourth.

John Stones was caught flat at the back and bullied by Roberto Firmino for Liverpool’s second and slack passing between Fernandinho and City’s defense set up Sadio Mane for a fine third.

City have bent but not broken in games against Crystal Palace and Newcastle away from home in recent weeks but against a top four opponent with a potent attack their deficiencies were magnified and ruthlessly exposed.

Guardiola’s men will still be at least 12 points clear by the end of Week 23 and should still win the league comfortably, but the cracks are starting to show.


LIVERPOOL MAKE THEIR CLAIM FOR SECOND

With Liverpool now 18 games unbeaten in all competitions and up to third in the table, only behind second-place Manchester United on goal difference, Klopp’s boys are making their claim to be the best of the rest after City.

Once again they dismantled one of the big boys.

Since Klopp took charge of Liverpool in 2015, Liverpool have won more points in games between the “big six” than any other side (42) and have more wins in those games than any other team. Consistent against midtable teams has been their Achilles heel but there’s no doubting than can go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the PL and deliver.

They were at their ruthless best on Sunday, ripping City apart time and time again in the second half as they finished their chances this time, unlike the first half they mostly dominated in the 5-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season as the game changed when Mane was sent off.

There is a growing optimism around Liverpool and among their fans that Klopp’s long-term plans are coming to fruition. With Virgil Van Dijk on board (although he didn’t play on Sunday due to injury) their defense will improve drastically and going forward they can destroy anyone, as City witnessed.

With Chelsea and Man United struggling for form, it seems like Tottenham and Liverpool are the obvious choices to battle for second behind City this season.

Four things we learned from Arsenal v. Chelsea

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What a game. Arsenal and Chelsea played out a pulsating 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday to showcase the bets the Premier League has to offer.

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Arsenal took the lead via Jack Wilshere, but Chelsea scored twice through Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso before Hector Bellerin equalized late on.

Here’s what we learned from an absorbing encounter in north London between the crosstown rivals.


CECH, COURTOIS EXCEL

We rave about sublime goals and attacking play time and time again (we usually do when Arsenal play at home. See: Arsenal v. Tottenham, Arsenal v. Man United and Arsenal v. Liverpool this season) but Wednesday was the time to applaud two top-class goalkeepers who put on a clinic despite conceding two goals each.

Both Thibaut Courtois and the man he took the No.1 jersey from at Chelsea, Petr Cech, excelled as they each made at least three key saves and Courtois was the slightly busier of the two.

Courtois usurped Cech as Chelsea’s first-choice goalkeeper in 2014 and you can see why it was such a tough decision for Jose Mourinho at the time. Both goalkeepers are very similar in the way they play the game, their size and their strengths.

Both made good stops with their feet and also by coming out and smothering chances with Cech denying Alvaro Morata late on but standing his ground at the crucial moment.

With Courtois said to be in talks with Chelsea over a new contract amid constant links to Real Madrid, he continues to be the main man battling David De Gea as the top goalkeeper in the PL. Yet the experienced head of Petr Cech also reminded us just how good he still is.


WILSHERE CONTINUES RESURGENCE

Jack Wilshere has now started six-straight PL games for Arsenal for the first time since September-October 2013 and he continued his resurgence with a fine goal and an all-action display in central midfield.

Is their still rust after his numerous injuries over the past few years? Yes. Undoubtedly. But the England midfielder is doing his chances of earning a new contract at Arsenal no harm, just as Arsene Wenger said last month.

Wilshere, 26, is at a real crossroads in his career but if he can stay fit we all know the quality he has on the ball and being able to make the Gunners tick in central midfield. He is rusty and at times the pace of the game seemed to nullify his impact, but he popped up to score a goal and tried his best to drive Arsenal on from midfield despite getting a yellow card in the first half for clattering Cesc Fabregas.

The one disappointing moment from Wilshere was when he went down easily under a challenge from the excellent Andreas Christensen in the second half but wasn’t shown a yellow card for simulation. He should have been sent off before he scored Arsenal’s first goal in a breathtaking draw.


VAR DEBATE CONTINUES

The debate of simulation has cropped up time and time again over the festive period and it did so at the Emirates. Two crucial moments in the game both involved questionable dives from star players and both could have been cleared up with the VAR system.

Wilshere should have been handed a second yellow card for simulation by referee Antony Taylor, it was as simple as that and the referee had a decent view but may have been slightly blocked.

Then, the big turning point of the game came as Hazard won a penalty kick. The Belgian went down under minimal contact from Hector Bellerin but Taylor pointed to the penalty spot and Chelsea equalized just as Arsenal were in the ascendancy and looked like running away with things.

Wenger was furious with a late handball decision against his side at West Brom on New Year’s Eve which cost them a win, while the likes of Wilfried Zaha has been accused of diving and Mourinho complained about a handball which could have led to a penalty kick for his side over the festive period.

When Chelsea and Arsenal meet in the in the League Cup semifinals later this month VAR will be used and both managers will probably be very happy with that.

Given VAR’s problems at the Confederations Cup last summer, you can understand why the PL is waiting before bringing it in full time.

But with so many debatable calls and managers upset with decisions from referees, surely now is the time to give the officials extra help and take some of the tougher decisions out of their hands and to a team upstairs watching on TV?


STONE COLD MORATA

Alvaro Morata has been deadly for most of his first season at Chelsea in the Premier League. He wasn’t on Wednesday.

The Spaniard missed three glorious chances, slotting wide after going clean through early on, then dinking over in the second half when one-on-one with Cech, while he hit a tame effort at the Arsenal goalkeeper in stoppage time with the score locked at 2-2.

Morata can’t be faulted for the way he’s settled in the PL since arriving at Chelsea in the summer (12 goals in all competitions so far) but he certainly fluffed his lines in the big moments on Wednesday.

He should have given Chelsea the three points which would’ve pushed them up to second place in the PL table and on the same night that Diego Costa scored on his second debut for Atletico Madrid, the man who replaced him at Chelsea, Morata, proved his isn’t quite as clinical. Not yet, anyway.

Three things learned from Arsenal v. Liverpool

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LONDON — The festive season got off to an incredible start at the Emirates Stadium on Friday as Arsenal and Liverpool went hell for leather and delivered an early Christmas present.

Liverpool were 2-0 up after 52 minutes with goals from Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah and it looked like they’d be heading for a routine away win.

Then the craziest five minutes the Emirates has ever seen arrived with Alexis Sanchez pulling one back, Granit Xhaka hammering home from distance when Simon Mignolet should’ve done better, and then Mesut Ozil dinking home to create pandemonium and make it 3-2.

Roberto Firmino made it 3-3 with less than 20 minutes to go and that’s how it would finish despite chances for both teams to win it late on.

Here’s what we learned from an encapsulating encounter at the Emirates.


DEFENSIVE FRAILTIES GALORE

Both Arsenal and Liverpool had conceded the highest number of goals in the top seven going into this game. Yep. We can all see why.

Performances littered with defensive mistakes from both teams show exactly why they’re so far behind leaders Manchester City.

This game could have easily finished 5-5 and Liverpool will be ruing their missed opportunities, especially Salah, as they should have been at least 4-0 up at half time.

Yet Arsenal hung in there, probably knowing that a Liverpool defensive collapse was coming. They didn’t have to wait long. With three goals in five minutes, Arsenal turned the game on its head as Joe Gomez was caught sleeping, Mignolet made a hash of a long-range effort and then Ozil breezed through the heart of Liverpool’s defense.

For Arsenal, they were too slow to track Coutinho’s run for his header and Wilshere was guilty of failing to follow Salah’s run when he put Liverpool 2-0 up.

Both clubs prefer to attack. We get it. But so many basic defensive errors were on show to remind us of their weaknesses.

This performance highlighted exactly why both of these teams will not be challenging for the title this season and why they deserve to be in a top four battle.


WILSHERE CONTINUES TO SHAKE OFF RUST

The mutiny at Arsenal was in full flow once again as the half time whistle approached.

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, the Gunners’ two wantaway stars, were being called every name under the sun by their supporters for not trying hard enough and Arsene Wenger had abuse hurled at him readily.

After the break things changed rapidly in that crazy five minute spell and one player who received plenty of praise from the fans was Wilshere.

Optics can be deceiving with Wilshere running hard, trying to shut down Liverpool’s midfield but he struggled to cope with the power of Can and the trickery of Firmino, Coutinho and Salah dropping deeper.

Wilshere did dig in and win the ball back on multiple occasions, but he was also guilty of giving the ball away cheaply and being caught in possession.

As the game wore on Wilshere improved and after a lengthy spell on the sidelines he is starting to shake off the rust.

He isn’t back to his best but he’s getting there.


COUTINHO ON ANOTHER PLANET

Philippe Coutinho played a different game to the other players on the pitch on Friday.

The Brazilian is in simply irresistible form as he smashed a shot just wide, then whipped in two delicious crosses before heading in the opener in the first half and dictated the tempo of Liverpool’s attacks all night long.

Coutinho, 25, is untouchable as he speeds up and slows down the entire game at will.

He gave Arsenal’s defense a torrid time and in this kind of form it is easy to understand why Barcelona will push so hard to sign him in the next two transfer windows.

Coutinho is on another planet.