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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.

Watkins’ work evident

In the months prior to Unai Emery’s arrival as manager at Aston Villa, the club had struggled to find a balancing act in the final third. Combinational changes involving either – or both – of Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings failed to find a formula that worked, before Emery decided the former was to be his main man.

It has been a decision that has paid off.

Emery has refined Watkins’ game and the work on the training ground has been evident. Encouraged to remain more central and closer to goal, the 27-year-old has been watching tapes of names such as Edinson Cavani in a bid to improve.

The results are remarkable. Watkins has been directly involved in 16 goals in 17 Premier League games under Emery after a masterful centre-forward performance against Newcastle this weekend. Watkins created the opener and scored two of his own in Villa’s 3-0 win, a result which made it five consecutive league wins and seven in eight games for Emery’s in-form side.

Newcastle couldn’t cope with Watkins, whose pace and power has long been a handful, but with fine-tuning and confidence has turned the forward into one of the Premier League’s most effective options.

Eddie Howe’s side boast the division’s best defensive record and had conceded three goals on just one occasion previously this season. That was until facing Watkins this weekend, a forward who gave the Magpies’ backline their most difficult afternoon of the season so far.

Caicedo can be Bellingham alternative

Jude Bellingham is perhaps the most coveted name in European football right now, with the demand for his services having reportedly priced out Liverpool.

Liverpool are not the only leading side in search of an upgrade in midfield this summer and the ideal candidate for the Premier League’s wealthiest clubs could be on their own doorstep. Moises Caicedo underlined his status as one of Europe’s best young midfielders with an outstanding performance in Brighton’s 2-1 win at Chelsea.

Caicedo made a game-leading nine tackles – Chelsea’s entire midfield combined made just two – won 11 duels and recorded a pass accuracy of 92%. Rather than a conservative range however, he made seven of his passes into the final third and showcased his ability to press high with three possession wins in advanced areas.

The Ecuadorian might be more defensively-minded than Bellingham, but he has all the attributes to dominate games in the centre of the pitch. Tenacious without the ball and cool and composed with it, he could be the perfect player to upgrade the engine room at Anfield or elsewhere.

Of midfielders aged u23 in Europe’s top five leagues, just two – Bellingham and Enzo Le Fee – have played more progressive passes than Caicedo this season.

Solanke shows his class at last

Dominic Solanke has not had the easiest of times in the Premier League.

Despite Jose Mourinho’s declaration that the forward would become a full England international on his watch, a breakthrough at Chelsea failed to materialise. A move to Liverpool then failed to result in regular football, while a stuttering start to his Bournemouth career saw Solanke score just three goals in his first 42 top-flight appearances for the club.

Two seasons in the Championship proved an ideal environment for Solanke to find his form and confidence, firing Bournemouth to promotion after 29 league goals last season. Goals have predictably been harder to come by in the Premier League, but there’s more to Solanke’s game than finding his name on the scoresheet.

The 25-year-old was excellent this weekend as he scored one and created two more in the Cherries’ 3-2 win at Tottenham. Spurs struggled to deal with Solanke’s movement as he dropped deep between the lines to pick up possession and create space for teammates.

Solanke threaded a perfect pass into Matias Vina for Bournemouth’s first goal, before scoring himself with a delicious finish lifted over Hugo Lloris. He added a second assist in stoppage-time, in what could just be a huge win for Gary O’Neilโ€™s team. It’s now five goals and six assists for Solanke in the Premier League this season, a fine contribution but just a fraction of what he brings to this team overall.

Are Arsenal faltering again?

The Premier League picture can change quickly in a season. Just over a week ago Arsenal had a healthy advantage at the top of the division, but back-to-back draws have seen their comfortable cushion significantly shortened.

In almost identical circumstances to last weekend’s draw at Liverpool, the Gunners flew out of the traps at West Ham to take a two-goal lead before falling apart. Said Benrahma’s penalty brought West Ham back into the game just before the break, before two minutes that changed the narrative of the game.

First Bukayo Saka blazed a penalty wide for Arsenal, after Michail Antonio was penalised for a handball. Saka’s error from the spot was punished just seconds later, as Jarrod Bowen equalised for West Ham.

Arsenal were unable to respond and the draw leaves their lead at four points, though Manchester City – on a run of ten consecutive wins – have a game in hand. Arsenal no longer have any room for error, ahead of a huge showdown between the teams at the Etihad later this month.

Last season, Arsenal lost six of their final 12 games to miss out on Champions League qualification, with the social media vultures out in force to take aim at Arteta’s ‘chokers’. The stakes are much higher this time around and Arteta will hope his team can hold their nerve.

Lindelof takes chance, Maguire struggles again

Lisandro Martinez’s metatarsal injury is set to sideline the Manchester United defender for the rest of the season, a significant blow to the club’s hopes of a top-four finish and cup success.

Martinez has been an integral figure for Erik ten Hag, though the Dutchman was forced to return to an old pairing against Nottingham Forest this weekend. With Raphael Varane also out injured, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof started as the Red Devils’ centre-back options.

Unusually, Maguire started from the right and Lindelof the left, with Ten Hag admitting the ‘angles’ are better for the former on his dominant side. Despite that tweak however, Maguire endured a difficult afternoon at the City Ground. Booked inside the opening four minutes, the England international struggled to deal with Taiwo Awoniyi, took several heavy touches and made one simple pass out of play entirely.

In comparison, Lindelof slotted back into the side well and was comfortable in possession. The Sweden international has struggled for minutes this season, but this was a performance that will offer Ten Hag encouragement ahead of the run-in. On this evidence, it is a simple choice as to who replaces Martinez going forward.

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