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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.

Ilkay Gundogan, the run-in, and the art of coming up clutch

The best players deliver in the biggest moments and Ilkay Gundogan is a footballer who just gets an extra edge when the stakes are highest.

So often in recent seasons the midfielder has found form at a crucial time for Manchester City, delivering when his side need him most during the run-in.

He scored as City beat Brighton on the final weekend to win the title in 2018/19. In 2020/21, he embarked on an unprecedented run of goalscoring form to propel City – without a recognised centre-forward – to another title.

Last season he delivered the clutch moment of his career to date, with two goals off the bench against Aston Villa on the final weekend to ensure City saw off Liverpool to be crowned champions once again.

City are powering down the final straight right now and Gundogan has again come alive in the run-in. No player in the Premier League has more goal involvements (6) than the midfielder this month, with Gundogan the star of the show in City’s win at Everton.

He scored two brilliant goals and created another as the champions cruised to a 3-0 win at Goodison Park, opening the scoring with a genius flicked effort past Jordan Pickford. After setting up Erling Haaland for the second, he bent home a brilliant free-kick to seal the win.

Gundogan is out of contract this summer and could leave on a free transfer. If he departs, he will do so as a modern City legend. He has done more than enough in the big moments to warrant that status.

Arsenal dreams all but over after Emirates collapse

There might not have been a formal coronation just yet, but it would be an almighty collapse should Manchester City’s machine lose the title from here.

City can be crowned champions for a fifth time in six seasons next weekend, after nearest challengers Arsenal were beaten by Brighton this weekend. A second-half collapse saw the Gunners lose 3-0 in north London, effectively ending their chances of winning the Premier League.

Arsenal were eight points clear of City after 18 games this season, but have stuttered during the run-in to be overhauled. Defensive issues on home soil have been a major problem for Mikel Arteta’s side, who despite a league-leading number of clean sheets on the road have struggled badly to keep things tight at an expectant Emirates.

Arsenal have now conceded 25 goals at home in the Premier League this season, more than Nottingham Forest and Leicester and over three times as many as Manchester United have conceded at Old Trafford. Only in 2019/20 have the Gunners conceded more home goals in a season since leaving Highbury, while it’s just one clean sheet in their nine league games.

William Saliba’s absence has been felt, while the pressure of the title race might just have got to a talented but inexperienced side. Spirits will be low after their latest loss and its consequences, but perspective should be taken when reflecting on what has been a hugely encouraging campaign of progress.

Aston Villa’s offside trap

Aston Villa maintained their push for European football with a crucial win over rivals Tottenham, a result which moved Unai Emery’s side level on points with the north Londoners.

Emery has done a fantastic job since inheriting a team flirting with relegation earlier this season, transforming Villa into one of the Premier League’s most impressive outfits. Villa have won six consecutive home games and have not conceded from open-play during that run, with a huge factor in the club’s turnaround the implementation of a high defensive line.

Emery has drilled his side to push high defensively and the risk-to-reward is falling in Villa’s favour to date. Since the Spaniard’s appointment on November 1, no side in the Premier League has caught opponents offside more than Villa (92), who have executed an offside trap 27 more times than any other team.

With the team’s base higher up the pitch, Villa can press higher and with aggression, regaining possession in dangerous areas. The tactic has worked so far, with only Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta having returned a better points-per-game average than Emery (1.96) this season.

Brilliant Brighton can thrive despite sales

Roberto De Zerbi has admitted that Brighton might struggle to retain their star names this summer, with Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo each linked with big-money exits.

Brighton, however, have a structure in place to thrive even amid sales and the club’s mix of excellent recruitment and strength of system should ensure the Seagulls remain on an upward curve.

De Zerbi’s side produced arguably their best performance under his management this weekend to beat Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates and effectively end the title race in the process.

Brighton are a captivating watch and their commitment to their brand of football should be commended. The Seagulls are brave in possession and fluid in formation, with De Zerbi’s style and system ensuring performances rarely drop despite changes in personnel.

That should continue even if their marquee midfielders leave this summer and recruitment has already began for next season. Joao Pedro is set to arrive from Watford and is a player with promise, while Mahmoud Dahoud is expected to sign from Borussia Dortmund on a free transfer and should prove a shrewd addition to the midfield ranks. Meanwhile James Milner, even at 37, can add value, versatility and experience to De Zerbi’s options.

You can’t win anything with kids

Alan Hansen famously came to regret his comments on Manchester United’s inexperienced side during the 1995/96 season, but the current campaign has shown experience can be rather useful in the Premier League.

Arsenal have exceeded expectations to challenge for the Premier League title with one of the division’s most youthful sides, but have fallen under the pressure of the run-in to a Manchester City team steeped in title-winning experience.

Meanwhile, Southampton – the division’s youngest team on average this season – were the first team relegated from the Premier League at the weekend. Age has been far from the sole issue in a season full of problems, but could Southampton have had a better chance at survival with more ready-made and Premier League proven options?

The Saints have gambled with their recent recruitment on emerging prospects with room to improve, but promise has not turned into results and the club’s 11-year stay in the top flight is over.

Alongside them in the relegation places and battling desperately to survive are Leeds and Leicester, who rank third and fourth respectively among the Premier League’s youngest teams. Finding the right balance between youth and experience can be key to success.

Read – Premier League Awards: Brilliant Brighton, Gundogan’s genius

Read Also – Premier League Team of the Week – Matchday 36

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