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Premier League weekend: Five things we learned

Five things we learned from the Premier League weekend, featuring Arsenal and Man City’s battle for the title, the top four ‘race’, and the player Gareth Southgate should consider including in his Euro 2024 squad. 

Title race chugs along towards inevitable conclusion

We are at the stage of the season where the Premier League title will be decided by whoever blinks first – but it very much feels like neither Arsenal nor Manchester City are going to do so before the final day.

The Gunners were dominant in their 3-0 win over Bournemouth on Saturday, and could have won by a bigger scoreline. If that was meant to put pressure on the holders, then Pep Guardiola’s men didn’t show it, swatting aside Wolves 5-1 the following day.

Is there any team out there capable of being a fly in the ointment of this title race? It seems unlikely. The easy money is on both sides winning out their remaining games, which would see Man City lift the trophy for a fourth consecutive year.

 

The quality of the top two cannot be denied, but it’s starting to feel like the 2018/19 title race between City and Liverpool all over again. The two clubs were unstoppable in the final stretch, but there was a distinct lack of drama throughout the run-in. It lacked that crucial ingredient needed to engage neutral spectators; a misstep by one or both teams, a colossal cock-up, a bottle job somewhere along the way.

When we think of the best title races, it’s the blunders that stick out in the memory: Man United bottling it at West Ham on the final day in 1995, Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers blowing up, Steven Gerrard’s slip.

Perhaps we’ll be proved wrong and there will be an historic hiccup over the next fortnight, but we can’t see it happening.

Premier League awards: ‘Spoiled brat’ Haaland, exceptional Elliott

Villa are crawling toward top four finish

Do Aston Villa have anything left in the tank? After suffering a 4-2 defeat to Olympiacos in the Uefa Conference League on Thursday, they looked abject against Brighton. They were getting bodied at the back while they were barely able to lay a punch on the Seagulls.

If it wasn’t for Robin Olsen, who was standing in for the injured Emi Martinez, then Unai Emery’s men would have been beaten out the gate. As it was, they lost by a solitary goal.

Luckily for them, Spurs are in free fall and seem incapable of stopping the rot. Liverpool inflicted their fourth successive defeat, their longest losing run in 20 years. The feelgood factor that surrounded Tottenham earlier in the season has dissipated greatly, with the imbroglio between teammates Emerson Royal and Cristian Romero at the break a clear manifestation of the frustration in the dressing room.

When Spurs hammered Villa 4-0 in March, they put themselves in the driving seat for Champions League qualification. But since then the car has veered off the cliffs entirely, winning just two of their next eight Premier League matches.

It’s baffling to see, particularly as Tottenham have had to play far fewer games than the likes of Villa this season. The Villans will be grateful, but they desperately need the finish line to get here quickly.

Postecoglou addresses waning Spurs confidence following Liverpool rout

Forest take major step towards Premier League safety

After going four games without a victory, Nottingham Forest gave their hopes of survival a much needed boost with a 3-1 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

Reds fans were probably expecting yet another setback when Ben Brereton Diaz converted from the spot in the first half. But a double from the sensational Callum Hudson-Odoi either side of Ryan Yates’ first Premier League goal secured three precious points.

Luton, meanwhile, could only get a point out of their encounter with Everton on Friday night, leaving them three points adrift of 17th-placed Forest with just two games to go. The Hatters need to beat both West Ham and Fulham to give themselves a chance of staying up.

Burnley, however, look doomed. The Clarets had been picking up some good results since mid-March, but Newcastle United laid the absolute smackdown on them at Turf Moor over the weekend. The 4-1 defeat wasn’t just morally deflating, it also leaves them five points from safety.

Winning at Tottenham this Saturday might not even be enough to save their skin; if Forest draw with Chelsea then Burnley will be relegated back to the Championship after just one year.

Every club to have fallen from Premier League to League One

Rice evolution continues to gather pace at Arsenal

Arsenal knew they were buying quality when splashing a club-record fee on Declan Rice last summer, but the midfielder’s evolution in an Arsenal shirt has still surprised. Pigeonholed, a little unfairly, as a ball-winner with the ability to drive forward in possession, a new, complete version of the England midfielder has been unlocked in North London this season.

Rice was at his rampaging best in Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Bournemouth, a performance that saw the midfielder eat up the ground in a galloping, all-action display. He crashed into challenges in trademark fashion, while channelling his inner Frank Lampard with intelligent late runs into the Bournemouth box.

A career-best campaign of end product continued with a goal and assist, as Rice regained possession in a dangerous area to tee up Leandro Trossard, before a typically lung-busting run forward ended with a goal of his own in stoppage time.

It’s now 15 goals and assists in the Premier League for Rice this season, more than he managed in the last three seasons at West Ham combined (14). Unleashed from the shackles, he’s gone to another level at the Emirates.

Wilson sends Southgate statement

Injuries have dictated that Callum Wilson has become a forgotten figure in the race to make this summer’s England squad. Fitness problems have plagued the Newcastle forward this season, though he provided a reminder to Gareth Southgate of his quality this weekend.

The 32-year-old was a surprise starter at Burnley but justified his inclusion, as Wilson proved a menace to the Clarets to push the struggling side closer to the drop. His hold-up play was good and all-round movement excellent, while he showed his instincts with an alert finish on the rebound to open the scoring.

The race to join Harry Kane in the squad for Euro 2024 is a competitive one, with Ollie Watkins expected to be included. Should Southgate opt for a third out-and-out number nine after the announcement of expanded squads, Wilson could move into contention.

He’s scored nine goals at an average of one every 108 minutes in the Premier League this season, a significantly better ratio than either Dominic Solanke (178 mins) and Ivan Toney (317 mins). More experienced than either of that duo in an England shirt, Southgate might take that into consideration.

Tweets of the Week – Carragher on tour, Ipswich go up, Erling Haaland

See Also – Premier League team of the week for matchday 36

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