What a day in the Premier League.
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Saturday saw eight games take place with two seven-goal thrillers, narrow wins for Manchester United and Liverpool, plus 27 goals in what proved to be a seismic day in the relegation battle and top four race.
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Below is a look at the key takeaways from an intense, enthralling day across the league.
Arsenal’s hunger breaths new life into their season
Unai Emery‘s Arsenal showed incredible desire from the first whistle to beat a lackluster Chelsea side and the way Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang set the tone in attack was superb. The duo hunted down Chelsea’s defense and stopped Jorginho getting on the ball to set up attacks. Even when Chelsea did penetrate the Arsenal midfield, their defense stood tall with Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis solid in the shutout victory. With Arsenal now just four points behind Chelsea, you have to say that Emery has shown more progression with his Arsenal side than Maurizio Sarri has with Chelsea over the past few months. It has been a big call from Emery to leave Mesut Ozil out, but the way his players have defended as a group suggest that he got it spot on and Arsenal’s philosophy as a team is now clear. Between now and the end of the season, if Arsenal’s defenders stay fit then you’d expect them to overtake Chelsea and be right in the top four race alongside Manchester United and Tottenham. Arsenal simply had to beat Chelsea, and after a few disappointing defeats they showed the hunger and desire required to win a massive London derby.
Sarri under pressure at Chelsea already as false nine falters again
“It would appear that this group of players is extremely difficult to motivate.” Those were the words of Maurizio Sarri after Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal which left them in fourth place but just four points ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United. The Italian coach only arrived in the summer but he is already under pressure at Chelsea and stayed in the locker room for a long time talking to his players after the game, then used a translator (something he doesn’t always do) to answer questions from the media as he wanted to get his message across loud and clear. He certainly did that. Sarri’s persistence to play Eden Hazard as a false nine just isn’t working and Chelsea didn’t have a focal point in attack and were way too easy to defend against for Arsenal. That has become a running theme in recent weeks and with Olivier Giroud on the bench, Alvaro Morata on his way out and Gonzalo Higuain said to be arriving soon, Sarri is pinning all his hopes on Higuain and Hazard to rescue this season. Jorginho has ever ran out of steam or other teams have worked out how to get at the deep-lying playmaker (probably a combo of both) and right now there is no Plan B to Sarri-ball. Maybe Christian Pulisic will have a different manager by the time he arrives at Chelsea in the summer…
Cracks appearing in Liverpool’s makeshift defense
There is no two ways about it, Jurgen Klopp was a relieved man after Liverpool’s thrilling 4-3 victory against Crystal Palace at Anfield. In the end Liverpool came away with the victory to extend their lead atop the Premier League table to seven points, but they rode their luck and fell behind in the first half against Palace. Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend pulled their full backs all over the place and Liverpool’s makeshift defense were pushed to its limits. Before Saturday they had conceded just three PL goals at home all season long. Palace scored three and could have had more with James Milner — playing out of position at right back due to injuries — sent off after a difficult time trying to lock down Zaha in particular. Mohamed Salah dragged Liverpool over the line again, but there’s no doubt that with Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold out injured Klopp will have to get creative with his defensive lineups in the coming weeks. The saving grace for Liverpool is that they are out of both of the domestic cup competitions and that could be key in the title race with Man City.
Solskjaer can do no more as United edge towards top four
Seven wins from seven games in all competitions, what more can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer do as Manchester United’s caretaker boss? They’re back in the top four race and now face Burnley, Leicester and Fulham before a crunch clash with Liverpool next month. United sit just three points off the UEFA Champions League places and if Solskjaer can get them in the top four and go deep in the UCL and FA Cup this season, his chances of getting this job on a permanent basis will increase significantly. The two players who have shone brightest since he replaced Jose Mourinho are two who became the biggest enigmas under the Portuguese coach: Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford. The former has scored five goals and has four assists in the PL since Solskjaer arrived, while Rashford has now scored in five of his six PL games in charge. The latter looks sharp, confident and Solskjaer revealed how he is helping him calm his finishing down in front of goal. At 21 years of age Rashford has the world at his feet and right now he, and Solskjaer, can do no wrong.
Southampton’s resurgence continues
Ralph Hasenhuttl has won more Premier League points than Pep Guardiola since he arrived at Southampton on Dec. 8. Think about that. He took over a team which had won just once in 15 games to start the season and they’ve now beaten Arsenal, Huddersfield, Leicester and Everton in his first eight outings in England. The Austrian coach is fired up on the touchlines and that passion has translated to his players in a very Jurgen Klopp-esque way. Saints beat Everton 2-1 on Saturday and they should have won by four or five goals after hitting the post twice and totally dominating the Toffees. In their next three games they have Crystal Palace, Burnley and Cardiff City and a chance to push themselves up into midtable and away from the relegation battle for the first time this season. It is hard not to believe Hasenhuttl when he says “we have built something up here and I hope we can carry on like this.” Right now, Saints have a clear plan on how they want to play, they’re fitter, hungrier and are full of talented youngsters who are being given the chance to shine. Hasenhuttl’s revolution is built on high-pressing and speed in attack. Defensively Saints are improving and right now they are finally, after two years of standing still, reaching their potential.
Classic PL encounter as Wolves, Leicester slug it out
Wolves and Leicester just went at it at Molineux and the 4-3 win for Wolves will go down as a classic Premier League game. Wolves raced into a 2-0 lead, Leicester fought back to 2-2, they traded another goal each and neither team had control throughout. Wolves’ stoppage time win, which saw Diogo Jota complete his hat trick, left Claude Puel clutching his face in despair and Nuno Espirito Santo running onto the pitch to celebrate with his players. The true end-to-end nature of the Premier League was on display in this Midlands derby which was aided by two teams chasing seventh place and with little to lose. The result was an absorbing clash which was summed up perfectly by Man of the Match Jota: “This is the Premier League.”