What did we learn during Matchweek 33 of the 2021-22 Premier League season?
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Here’s a look at 10 things which stood out, as our writers Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Nicholas Mendola (NM) and Andy Edwards (AE) share their observations from across the most recent Premier League games.
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Let’s get to it.
10 things we learned in the Premier League – Matchweek 34
1. Both Arsenal, Manchester United have to improve defensively to cement top four status (Arsenal 3-1 Man Utd): This is the key factor for both. Arsenal were missing their star full backs and holding midfielder, while United were without Maguire and Shaw who are both likely to start next season despite their recent struggles. For most of this season Arsenal have improved defensively and that is why they are in a great position to finish in the top four. They have to keep solid defensively in the years ahead to cement that top four status and United have to improve defensively (which probably means buying two new center backs, a holding midfielder and a right back) if they’re going to get back into the top four annually. Improving defensively is easier said than done but it is essential for both of these team to progress and close the gap on Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea (JPW).
2. Salah finds his moment to become derby difference maker (Liverpool 2-0 Everton): Everton frustrated Mohamed Salah – and the rest of the Reds – for an hour of play, giving Liverpool the ball but daring them to find their Egyptian star. Fittingly, Salah was in barely a yard of space when he got a hold of Divock Origi’s turn at the near post and lofted a perfect cross to the back post for Robertson to thump home for the game’s first goal. The world’s best players only need a moment, that’s all Everton gave Salah and it was more than enough for 1-0. Divock Origi added a goal and Liverpool won the derby in control though not without controversy. (NM)
3. Gabriel Jesus emerges to make striker claim (Man City 5-1 Watford): When Sergio Aguero left the club last summer, Manchester City pursued Harry Kane (to the tune of $140 million), but to no avail. Pep Guardiola has preferred a false-nine over Gabriel Jesus playing center forward most of the time, even pushing the Brazilian out to the wings when he is selected. 32 games into the season, Jesus had returned all of three Premier League goals, but he has scored big goals in big games (in a 1-0 win over Chelsea in September, and the 2-2 draw with Liverpool two weeks ago). At this point of the season, every game is big and every goal even bigger. Man City found lots of early joy out wide against Watford, and it had to be Jesus, the lone “natural” striker in the squad, to make the runs and finish a pair of first-half crosses (before adding two more in the second half). If he’s only just now hitting a purple patch (5 goals, 1 assist in his last three starts), a few more timely goals could be the last piece of the Premier League and UEFA Champions League puzzle. (AE)
4. Tottenham sleeps again, increases focus on North London derby (Brentford 0-0 Spurs): If Tottenham fails to finish in the top four (three?) it’ll be because they have this knack of sleeping through 1-0 (or 0-0) matches against teams they should beat on paper, just figuring that they’ll find that goal. It happened against Saturday, when Tottenham couldn’t even manage to force a save out of David Raya. Spurs have now been shutout 1-0 in losses to Brighton, Burnley, and West Ham this season, also drawing Everton 0-0. There have been two 2-0 and three 3-0 losses, too, but it’s these games that just snip a little bit of hope from a season’s goals until they are danging by a thread. Tottenham’s last six wins have all come by multi-goal margins. Fortunately for Spurs, neither Arsenal nor Man United have shown a knack for pulling out the close ones either and United has walked itself out of the race. Whether Spurs or Arsenal have the advantage, the North London derby continues to pull all eyes toward it like a fourth-place magnet. Now, however, the Gunners are on pace to enter the game knowing a draw would keep them in fourth…. though NLDs are always about a victor. (NM)
5. Leicester makes no bones about focus on Conference League (Leicester 0-0 Aston Villa): Despite holding 64 percent of possession in the game, Leicester managed just five shots, including just three in the first 75 minutes. Given his team selection, Brendan Rodgers didn’t appear to be looking past Aston Villa as the Foxes prepare for Jose Mourinho’s Roma in the semifinals of the Europa Conference League on Thursday, but their painfully slow tempo and risk-averse passing painted a different picture. They’ll likely be on the back foot for a fair portion of that tie, so it makes sense that Rodgers will have drilled his squad on smart possession and sound defensive transitions, using Saturday’s game as a low-stakes test of their readiness (AE).
6. Chelsea super subs Pulisic, Lukaku, Ziyech make point to Tuchel (Chelsea 1-0 West Ham): All three had a big impact as Lukaku won a penalty kick, Pulisic scored the winner, and Ziyech showed some lovely touches. The fact Chelsea could bring these three off the bench showed the strength of their squad. Now all three should probably start against Manchester United on Thursday (JPW).
7. Cristiano Ronaldo proves he can be key part of Erik ten Hag’s rebuild (Arsenal 3-1 Man Utd): Much of the talk has been about whether or not Ronaldo should be kept around next season as part of ETH’s rebuild. On this showing it is essential. He scored a classy goal, smashed home another which was marginally offside and played in clever passes to his teammates throughout. The 37-year-old has now scored 22 goals in this very poor United side this season and if he’s given proper service next season, he’s shown he can score 25-30 goals once again. He should have been on penalty kicks as Bruno Fernandes’ miss at 2-1 was crucial in the outcome of this game. Now the question is this: will Ronaldo want to stick around given that United won’t be in the Champions League next season? He’s not a Europa League player, is he? (JPW)
8. Clarets win again, relegation scene is tense (Burnley 1-0 Wolves): Burnley’s win gives drags Leeds’ attention to the bottom three (or four) and gives necessary pause for Everton, whose match(es)-in-hand do not look as pleasant from under that red line. Burnley will also feel it will be able to ride momentum against a weak Watford, as the stunning decision to fire longtime boss Sean Dyche one week after a big win over Everton is looking like a stroke of genius (NM).
9. Magpies brimming with confidence ahead of stretch test: (Norwich 0-3 Newcastle): Newcastle’s won four-straight Premier League matches for the first time since April 2018, and Magpies fans will be dreaming as Eddie Howe’s men are 10W-3D-3L since the end of a three-match December losing skid. Here are Newcastle’s losses since Steve Bruce was fired and Eddie Howe took the wheel: Chelsea, Arsenal, Leicester, Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, Everton, Tottenham. It’s worth noting that Newcastle absolutely controlled Everton in the loss, and also beat Everton and Leicester in the same stretch, but getting a result from Liverpool, Man City, or Arsenal would only serve to send percolating Geordies into full boil with a summer transfer window on the horizon (NM).
10. Ward-Prowse creeping up on Beckham record (Brighton 2-2 Southampton): James Ward-Prowse has now scored 14 Premier League goals from direct free kicks and he’s four behind David Beckham’s record of 18. Aside from his free kick ability, JWP smashed home another beauty in the second half to equalize and he also went close on a few other occasions. He is the heartbeat of this Southampton side and he dragged them back into it at Brighton and grabbed a point. Southampton are a very hard-working team but Ward-Prowse has that x-factor with his quality in the final third (JPW).Follow @NicholasMendola