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Premier League weekend: Five things we learned

Following the latest round of Premier League action we look at five things we learned from the weekend fixtures.

Anger at officials’ incompetence

It’s never one of our favourite topics to discuss Premier League officiating, but alas here we are. Not for the first (or last) time we find ourselves discussing the incompetence of officials at the very highest standard of the game.

This weekend alone we saw multiple decisions which could have major ramifications on the final table, as Arsenal, Brighton and Chelsea were all on the wrong end of decisions. The former will dominate the headlines given Arsenal’s dropped points in the title race, which come just days before title rivals Manchester City arrive at the Emirates.

The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) have since admitted two ‘significant errors’ with VAR decisions this weekend, but the apologies are unlikely to appease Arsenal or Brighton. The former mistake came as Lee Mason ‘forgot’ to check on Christian Norgaard’s position during a second phase of play, having initially reviewed Ethan Pinnock’s position in the build-up to Brentford’s equaliser. Norgaard – coming back from an offside position – teed up Ivan Toney’s goal.

There was also controversy at Brighton, as John Brooks drew the offside lines from the wrong defender and deemed Pervis Estupinan’s goal incorrectly offside. With Chelsea also angered after the failure to award a late penalty at West Ham, it has placed VAR and Premier League officials under the microscope once again. VAR is not making decisions itself, but those operating it are continuing to make massive mistakes even with the greater technology on offer.

Manchester City smell blood

Manchester City’s week could hardly have began in worse fashion after the announcement of potential sanctions from the Premier League, a bombshell which has rocked the club and wider Premier League.

City face a nervous wait on charges of more than 100 alleged financial breaches, but issued the perfect response to the uncertainty on the pitch. With Arsenal having dropped points the previous day, City knew a win would reduce the gap on the Gunners and up the pressure on their title rivals ahead of Wednesday’s huge showdown at the Etihad.

Pep Guardiola’s side flew out of the blocks to race into a three-goal lead, with the impressive Rodri heading home an early opener to settle any nerves. Ilkay Gundogan and a Riyad Mahrez penalty effectively wrapped up the win before half-time, a result which means City can move top of the Premier League on goal difference with a win at Arsenal in midweek.

City boast the significant advantage of title race experience and will smell blood ahead of their trip to north London. Arsenal are without a win in three games in all competitions and a positive result for City on Wednesday could provide a huge psychological blow.

Terrific Toney can mix it with the best

We wrote earlier this season how Ivan Toney’s betting charges had been a (potentially brief) blessing in disguise for Brentford.

The uncertainty surrounding Toney’s immediate future has meant that rival clubs have steered clear of the centre-forward, whose performances this season would otherwise have seen prevalent transfer links. Toney is having a superb season at Brentford and scored his 14th league goal of the campaign to earn the in-form Bees a draw at Arsenal.

Only Erling Haaland (25) and Harry Kane (17) have scored more goals than Toney this season, who produced another centre-forward clinic against the table-toppers. His goal might have come in controversial fashion, but it was reward for a performance in which he bullied the Gunners’ backline.

William Saliba, so impressive this season for Arsenal, struggled badly up against Toney and lost each of his ten aerial duels. In contrast, Toney won 17/20 duels and 12 in the air as Brentford utilised his power to get up the pitch and unnerve Arsenal.

His all-round game has got better and better since Brentford’s promotion to the Premier League and Toney is a talent who can compete on a bigger stage than the Bees can currently provide. Expect interest to significantly ramp up in the 26-year-old, if he avoids severe punishment for his alleged charges.

Iheanacho proves his worth

Brendan Rodgers has struggled to find the solution to Leicester’s issues at centre-forward, with Patson Daka having failed to convince as the long-term replacement for Jamie Vardy.

Vardy’s decline has come quicker than expected this season. The 36-year-old reached 15+ goals in a Premier League season for fifth consecutive campaign in 2021/22, averaging a goal every 120 minutes. He has just one in the Premier League this season, in 1173 minutes of action.

Rodgers has perhaps retained faith in Vardy given his past exploits, but the powers of the Foxes forward now appear diminished. It has handed a recent chance to Kelechi Iheanacho, who for so long has been viewed as a valuable option but rarely as the leading man.

The Nigerian had started just one league game before the turn of the new year, but has since provided seven goals and assists in four starts across all competitions. Against Spurs this weekend he was outstanding, teeing up James Maddison’s goal before deceiving Eric Dier with some fine footwork to get on the scoresheet.

Iheanacho linked well with his teammates and provides multiple threat as a focal point. His return against Spurs means the 26-year-old now ranks tenth for minutes per goal or assist in Premier League history, for players with 150+ appearances in the league. Given he has rarely commanded first-choice status, it is a remarkable return. The shirt should be his to lose after his performances in recent weeks.

Stumbles open up top four race

The race to finish in the Premier League’s top four is beginning to look like an open one. Arsenal and Manchester City remain in title contention, while in-form Manchester United are now closer to that duo than they are to dropping out of the Champions League places.

Behind them, however, things are heating up. Newcastle saw their hopes suffer a setback with a draw at Bournemouth, as Eddie Howe endured a frustrating return to his former side. It’s now one win in five league games for the Magpies, for who a series of draws have allowed others to close the gap.

Their nearest challengers, Spurs, capitulated at Leicester this weekend. Spurs have lost four of their last seven league games and surrendered an early lead to lose 4-1 at the King Power Stadium. Debutant Pedro Porro endured a torrid time at wing-back and Antonio Conte’s return to the touchline proved one to forget.

Brighton can move within three points of the top four with a win in their game-in-hand, but also dropped points against Crystal Palace this weekend. As did Chelsea, who despite impressive periods drew at West Ham.

Could those stumbles open up an unexpected opportunity for Liverpool? The Reds are 12 points adrift of the top four and in poor form, but boast two games in hand on Newcastle. With those two set to meet in the Premier League this weekend, a win for Jurgen Klopp’s side at St James’ could open up the Champions League chase.

Read – Premier League Team of the Week – Matchday 23

Read Also – Ranking the 8 best right-backs in Premier League history

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