Premier League weekend - Five things we learned - De Bruyne Saka Man City Arsenal
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Premier League weekend: Five things we learned

Premier League weekend: Five things we learned, including renewed survival hopes, Manchester United’s leaky defence, and the steel of a new-look Arsenal.

Relegation battle beginning to heat up

In the opening months of the season, there was a fear that we would be denied the thrill of a real relegation battle this season. Difficult starts for the three promoted teams showed the chasm between English football’s top two divisions, leading to criticism of a growing gap.

As we reach the run-in, however, the likelihood of a fascinating battle to beat the drop is opening up. The Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability Rules have dropped a cat among the pigeons, with deductions for Everton and Nottingham Forest tightening things up down at the bottom.

Brentford are not out of the woods either, despite an improved performance against Manchester United, and with Sheffield United and Burnley showing signs of improvement we might get a little more drama than most envisaged earlier in the campaign.

Has there been any progress at Chelsea?

Chelsea’s disastrous campaign last term was widely predicted to be a one-off. The sheer scale of the club’s investment meant their 12th-place finish was expected to be an anomaly. It hasn’t proved to be the case.

In another season of disappointment, their 2-2 draw with Burnley was another low. Dropped points to the relegation-threatened Clarets would have been a bitter blow to fading hopes of European football regardless, but doing so when the visitors had 10 men for the entire second half is inexcusable.

The performance mirrored their season. Cole Palmer was arguably the sole genuine positive, another display where the summer signing was a cut above in quality among his teammates. Chelsea end the weekend 11th, and have now conceded 47 goals this season – the same number the Blues conceded across the entire 2022/23 season. Has there been any tangible, or lasting, signs of progress?

“Today we didn’t show the capacity, the energy, the hunger that is the minimum to compete in the Premier League,” Pochettino said in his post-match press conference. “In the defensive phase, we conceded too much. That is why I am so upset and disappointed.

“It is more here [pointing to his heart] and more here [pointing to his head] than in your legs. It is more about being stronger as a group, stronger to be like a team. For different reasons, we are so slow evolving in this area and that is the key today.

“It is not about finding excuses but the team played well, we had energy when we were going forward, but when we didn’t have the ball we didn’t show the same energy.”

Manchester United defence exposed – again

Manchester United rode a wave of hope into the international break, with a dramatic FA Cup win over Liverpool increasing optimism around Old Trafford. The Red Devils remain only one performance away from crisis, however, and a submissive showing at Brentford is an instant reminder of their deficiencies.

The 1-1 draw was a harsh reflection on the game for Brentford, who fired 31 efforts on goal in west London. Thomas Frank’s team hit the woodwork on four occasions, exposing a Manchester United team that has conceded more shots (181) than any other side in the Premier League this season.

Kobbie Mainoo and Scott McTominay were outworked in midfield, while Andre Onana was perhaps the sole member of the back five to come out with credit. The returns of Lisandro Martinez and Casemiro from the bench offer hope that solutions can be found, but the first port of call for the summer should be finding the solidity – either through personnel or system – that has too often lacked in the Ten Hag era.

Manchester City’s struggles with top sides continue

The title showdown between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad proved to be underwhelming viewing, as both sides looked short of their usual swagger in a cagey goalless draw.

Pep Guardiola’s side failed to score in a Premier League fixture at home for the first time since 2021, a 57-game streak, with Erling Haaland restricted to zero shots on target for the second time against Arsenal this season.

The Citizens failed to create clear-cut chances against a well-organised and determined Arsenal, and the draw extended a poor record against the Premier League’s top sides this season. City have failed to win in all seven games against the other sides currently in the table’s top five, a concerning statistic ahead of the visit of fourth-placed Aston Villa on Wednesday evening.

Guardiola’s team can ill-afford to drop further points in midweek after falling three points behind league leaders Liverpool.

Arsenal versatility can end in title success

Declan Rice talked up a ‘new Arsenal’ in the pre-game narrative, a team prepared to silence the critics who claimed the Gunners choked in run-ins for the top four and title across the last two seasons.

Rice has been front and centre of an improved Arsenal this season, one which has found multiple ways to earn results, a diversity that could yet lead to the ultimate success. The north Londoners exorcised their demons of last season’s crushing 4-1 defeat at Manchester City in a battling goalless draw at the Etihad that keeps them above the champions. It was a spirited showing that saw William Saliba and Gabriel shine in central defence, with Erling Haaland and Phil Foden restricted to the fringes of the contest.

Arsenal have conceded the least goals in the division and have the lowest Expected Goals Against (xGA). At the opposite end, they’ve blown teams away on occasion and have added additional threat by becoming the best set-piece team in the division.

The draw at Manchester City has allowed Liverpool to open up a two-point lead at the top, but this felt like a huge step for an emerging Arsenal team. Rice might be right in his assessment that this is a new Arsenal, one ready to shed the unwanted tags of past campaigns.

Read – Premier League Team of the Week – Matchday 30

See more – Tweets of the Week: Sandro Tonali, migrant league, the Kane curse

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