The race for the Top Four is tighter after Arsenal seized all three points at Stoke City, while Swansea City’s goal of avoiding relegation is within reach following a big win of their own on a five-match day in the Premier League.
A dominant first half came close to producing nothing, but Olivier Giroud scored the first goal of his brace to give the Gunners a halftime lead. He scored again in the second, as did Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, and Hector Bellerin nabbed two assists as Arsenal pulled to within a point of fourth-place Liverpool with two matches to play.
The win is Arsenal’s first in seven tries at the bet365 Stadium.
Riyad Mahrez committed a double-touch on a penalty kick, disallowing his equalizer, and Manchester City was the beneficiary of a questionable onside ruling in a fortunate win over game Leicester to kick off the day of action. Man City is three points clear of fifth place Arsenal and two ahead of Liverpool with two matches left on its docket.
Swansea City is on the verge of ensuring Premier League safety after getting goals from Fernando Llorente and Kyle Naughton in an easy-enough win at the Stadium of Light. If Hull City loses on Sunday, it will be incapable of catching Swans and Crystal Palace.
Southampton’s Southern neighbors also are firmly in the fight for eighth after knocking off Burnley at the Vitality Stadium. Junior Stanislas put the Cherries ahead only to see Sam Vokes level the score, but Joshua King buried his 16th goal of the PL season to give the win to Eddie Howe‘s men.
Brad Guzan denied Shane Long‘s back post pass attempt when he dove to gather it, as Saints were in better form but unable to finish.
Rodriguez put the visitors up in the 42nd minute, as Long met his mark this time around. The Irish striker raced onto a Jordy Clasie ball down the right to send a ball toward the penalty spot, and Rodriguez had little trouble beating Guzan. 1-0.
The opening moments didn’t have a ton of danger, though Robbie Brady banged a Burnley free kick off the proverbial woodwork.
Daniel Ayala had a chance for Boro off a set piece later in the half, but didn’t get the purchase required to find an opener.
Adama Traore opened up Burnley’s defense with some fancy dribbling later in the half, but his pass to Adam Clayton merely resulted in a shot directly into the hands of Tom Heaton.
Burnley was very fortunate to not be down a man when Patrick Bamford was chopped down en route to goal, but Martin Atkinson didn’t see it that way. It was a yellow card and a free kick, one that was cleared off the line.
Soon after, it looked like Ayala had scored but Atkinson ruled that an injured and face down Joey Barton‘s presence in the middle of the box didn’t warrant the goal.
Out: Oscar (Shanghai SIPG), John Mikel Obi (Tianjin TEDA), Patrick Bamford (Middlesbrough), Dion Conroy (Swindon Town), Marco Van Ginkel (PSV Eindhoven, loan), Jay Dasilva (Charlton, loan), Isaiah Brown (Huddersfield Town, loan), Fankaty Dabo (Swindon Town, loan), Charlie Colkett (Swindon Town, loan), Fikayo Tomori (Brighton & Hove Albion, loan), Mukhtar Ali (Vitesse Arnhem, loan)
Out: Tom Carroll (Swansea City), Anton Walkes (Atlanta United, loan), Ryan Loft (Stevenage, loan), Shayon Harrison (Yeovil Town, loan), Connor Ogilvie (Stevenage, loan), Luke Amos (Southend United, loan).
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger called the sizeable group of Chelsea loanees as “one of the big problems in the modern game.”
According to Wenger, a club with massive financial flexibility can afford to swing at a large number of young players and miss on a few, leaving those who fall short to fend for themselves and ultimately hurting player development on a large scale.
“You’ve invested a lot of money into players because we’re paying more and more money,” Wenger said. “Then at the age of 20 you don’t usually get much money for any of the players, so the reflex is to stockpile the players. That’s not right.”
Wenger did not mention Chelsea by name, but the Blues are known for sending vast swaths of young players out on loan, hoping a few will be good enough to return and play at Stamford Bridge.
“When you look at the number of loans that happen here and there, the whole system has to be thought about again because we have two kinds of solution in there. The first is to continue developing players, the second step is to make sure your investment is safe – that’s not the right way to think about it but it’s the natural reflex for the clubs.”
Chelsea sent at least 20 players out on loan this summer, including some to other Premier League sides like Nathan Ake at Bournemouth and Patrick Bamford at Burnley. They have a few playing in the Championship, such as Christian Atsu at Newcastle plus the duo of Tomas Kalas and Lucas Piazon both impressing at Fulham. They also sent some to frequent Blues loan destination Vitesse Arnham such as USMNT youngster Matt Miazga, Danilo Pantic, and Lewis Baker.
Despite all this purging of young players for first-team action elsewhere, the Chelsea youth squads still perform at a high level every year. The U-18 team, for example, currently leads the South portion of the table and has won the FA Youth Cup three years in a row.
Wenger’s proposed solution to the problem opens a whole new can of worms. “Maybe you could create a possibility for some clubs to own part of a League One club as a feeder club,” Wenger suggested. “After that, a limitation on the number of players on your books could work.”
Arsenal plays Chelsea next on February 4th at Stamford Bridge.