It was a massive weekend for Arsenal and a good one for Manchester United and Liverpool as the lone “big six” teams to collect three points as the Premier League continued its Festive Fixtures this weekend.
The Gunners outslugged Brighton and Man United got by Wolves, as Arsenal now leads the league by seven points and can have the advantage 10 by the next time Man City takes the pitch. Liverpool also beat Leicester, keeping its way in the top four fight.
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That’s because the second-place Citizens dominated Everton — Erling Haaland scored again — but were undone by a Demarai Gray beauty to join drawing Chelsea and thumped Tottenham as top-end teams to drop points. Third-place Newcastle continued its unbeaten ways but failed to finish numerous chances in a draw with Leeds heading into a big Tuesday test at Arsenal.
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So what’s it all mean?
Here’s a look at 10 things that stood out (as matchweek 17 continues on Tuesday and Wednesday), as our writers Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Andy Edwards (AE), and Nicholas Mendola (NM) share their observations from across the most recent PL games.
10 things we learned in the Premier League: Week 18
1. Arsenal sends a new, threatening title message to chasers (Brighton 2-4 Arsenal): Mikel Arteta’s men will not be happy with their shakiness in defense while boasting 3-0 and 4-1 leads at the Amex, but the sign they showed to the rest of the league in this six-goal thriller is loud. Arsenal can now lose both of its Premier League matches to Manchester City and still control its title destiny, a thought that would’ve seemed farfetched before the season and insane just a year ago. The Gunners have scored the second-most goals in the league (Man City) and have the second-stingiest defense (Newcastle). There’s no question that the Gunners now must be considered a team that can win the Premier League. Wow. Soak it in, Gooners. (NM)
2. Everton defend with nine, 10, 11; make life very difficult for Man City (Man City 1-1 Everton): Three center backs with two full backs staying home at virtually all times. Three central midfielders operating almost exclusively in their own half. Toffees center forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin had 15 touches of the ball in 70 minutes, more than half of which came inside Everton’s half of the field. It was ugly, negative football from Frank Lampard’s side, and it proved effective at affording Manchester City precious little time or space inside the penalty area. Riyad Mahrez’s mazy run to set up Man City’s goal was spectacular only because that’s what it took to beat Everton’s defense on the day. The final xG tally favored Man City, 2.04 to 0.09. Less than one-tenth for Everton. 598 passes completed, to 183. 16 shots, to 2. 74 percent of possession, to 26. Alas, one goal, to one. (AE)
3. Marcus Rashford bounces back from ‘internal disciplinary’ benching (Wolves 0-1 Man Utd): Marcus Rashford was left out of the Starting XI after arriving late to a meeting, but he’s back in good graces as he jumped off the bench and pushed United into the top four of the Premier League. He has been in sensational form this season and especially in recent months for club and country. Asked by BT Sport after the game if Rashford gave the right answer to being dropped, United’s manager was in a happy mood. “That is the right reaction.” Asked if this was the end of the matter with Rashford, here is what United’s coach said: “Of course. Everyone has to match the rules and values. If you work like this, this is the right answer.” (JPW)
4. Conte could walk early as sluggish Spurs lose more ground (Spurs 0-2 Aston Villa): Yes, Tottenham is missing Dejan Kulusevski, Rodrigo Bentancur, and Richarlison but Tottenham should have much more about them than this display. They looked disinterested from the very start, even though we are used to them starting games sluggishly then roaring back in the second half. They were even worse in the second half this time. The fact Antonio Conte has yet to commit his future beyond this season says it all. He doesn’t truly believe Tottenham will give him the squad he needs to be successful in North London. There is a malaise at Spurs which centers around the uncertainty about Conte’s future. They need January additions but they also need commitment from their manager. If they doesn’t arrive soon then they should part ways as soon as possible. (JPW)
5. Chelsea fails up top as Boly’s Forest bully a point (Nottingham Forest 1-1 Chelsea): Raheem Sterling got his goal but will lament his lack of company on the score sheet as the wide men delivered chances but the scorers weren’t found in blue shirts. USMNT star Christian Pulisic joined Sterling in being lively from the get-go. He dribbled across his own half before surging up the right to move Chelsea forward early in the match, soon after delivering the cross that led to Sterling’s goal with a dart around the left edge of Forest’s back line. Kai Havertz had 48 touches but Willy Boly was all over him and the Forest center back was ready for the challenge at the other end when he leapt with Pulisic — unwhistled for hands to the American’s face — and nodded a second ball back toward Aurier after Havertz’s clearing attempt fired straight into the air. Graham Potter might be getting reinforcements at other positions, but consistently center forward finishing — Havertz does seem to be the best bet — has to arrive if Chelsea wants to claim a top four spot.( NM)
6. Newcastle wasteful and Leeds’ Meslier, Adams handle the rest (Newcastle 0-0 Leeds): Newcastle blazed some huge chances wide or over the frame — two wayward efforts Sean Longstaff are the most glaring examples — and Illan Mesler claimed a whole load of crosses with aplomb. Leeds got good performances out of Liam Cooper and Robin Koch and really firmed up once Rasmus Kristensen entered for Luke Ayling. But the real star was Tyler Adams, who dealt well with the challenge of Bruno Guimares and Miguel Almiron. The USMNT man had nine recoveries and created a pair of chances (according to Fotmob), one of the few Leeds players who can make such a claim on the day. (NM)
7. Wout Faes’ ill-fated day leads to Liverpool comeback win (Liverpool 2-1 Leicester): Leicester City back Wout Faes’ first own goal leveled things up in the 38th minute, as he badly mishit an attempted clearance of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross over the head of goalkeeper Danny Ward. Seven minutes later, Faes put the ball into his own net again, and the way it played out wasn’t any less painful to watch. Darwin Nunez lifted the ball over Ward but only found the front face of the far post. The ball bounced back into play, into Faes’ path about two yards off the goal line. In a rushed attempt to clear the ball, Faes hammered it into the ceiling of the net and sent Anfield into raptures once again. A 1-0 Foxes lead was turned on its ear, and Liverpool stayed in charge. (AE)
8. Bees learn from mistakes, keep on buzzing to make this early lead stick (West Ham 0-2 Brentford): For the second time in five days, Brentford began a game fantastically and raced out to a 2-0 lead, but this time the Bees held firm to close out a 2-0 victory, away to West Ham on Friday. Despite leading Tottenham 2-0 after the hour mark on Boxing Day, Brentford (23 points – 9th place) came away with just one point in a thrilling 2-2 draw. Thomas Frank’s men learned from their Monday missteps and turned in a complete, 90-minute performance against West Ham. (AE)
9. Improved Saints switch off, and Cottagers seize all the points (Fulham 2-1 Southampton): Southampton was unlucky to be behind after a shot deflected off James Ward-Prowse and flew into the goal, and those are the kind of things that happen when you’re down the bottom of the table. Saints to their credit hung in there and were deservedly level through Ward-Prowse’s almost customary free kick magic. Saints had chances to win it and looked very dangerous. But Nathan Jones will be devastated his side switched off: A Fulham corner was flicked on and unmarked Palhinha scored the winner. There were a lot of positives for Saints to take but with a massive home game coming up against Nottingham Forest on Wednesday, they simply have to win that to give them more belief they can get out of the bottom three. (JPW)
10. Palace calms down, earns deserved win at Bournemouth(AFC Bournemouth 0-2 Crystal Palace): Patrick Vieira was bitterly disappointed to see his side not only lose 3-0 to Fulham on Monday, but also finish the game with just nine men in a truly disastrous situation. Saturday’s result — and a performance to match it — will help to allay fears after suffering back-to-back defeats to Nottingham Forest and Fulham either side of the World Cup break. (AE)