Arsenal freeze with their season on the line
If you had been living on the moon for the Premier League season and your first game was Newcastle vs Arsenal there would have been no doubts in your mind which side had everything to play for and which side were done for the season. Newcastle were chasing Champions League football, yes? That was the overriding impression on a night where Arsenal completely froze when the pressure was on. It was a nothing performance from Mikel Arteta’s men.
To create an expected goals tally of just 0.4 – their lowest return since August when thrashed by Manchester City – was staggeringly inept. Even with the game at 1-0 with 30 minutes remaining and their season on the line, the response from Arsenal was unimaginative and soaked with panic. Good teams at this level have the ability to create periods of sustained pressure on an opposition through clever and well-rehearsed patterns of play. It’s something Arsenal have managed on multiple occasions this season but for whatever reason, that went missing at St James’ Park.
“I don’t know why we’re not doing what the coach is asking for us,” Granit Xhaka said in the aftermath to Sky Sports.
It has been a demoralising and shocking turnaround for the Gunners, who this time last week were firmly in control of fourth place thanks to a four-point lead over Spurs with just three matches left to play. Seven days can be a long time in football.
Wilson runs hot on first start in 2022
Newcastle have hardly struggled since Eddie Howe took charge in November, but the 1-0 defeat to Liverpool and 5-0 thrashing at Manchester City in their previous two matches gave the impression the Magpies were on the metaphorical beach as the season neared an end with their relegation troubles in the past.
Howe’s side had just 11 shots across those two matches – none of which found the net – with Chris Wood and then Joelinton leading the line.
Wood has scored just twice since joining Newcastle in January while Joelinton looks far more comfortable in midfield – as shown by his buccaneering performance against Arsenal – and Wilson showed what his side had been missing on his return to the side against the Gunners.
The England international immediately set about testing the fitness of Ben White and Gabriel, who were regularly forced to run back towards their own goal as Wilson raced in behind them.
The 30-year-old didn’t test Ramsdale in the first half – during which he sustained a nasty looking mouth injury – but he peppered the Arsenal goalkeeper in the second period and played a crucial role in both of his side’s goals.
Wilson ended the game with more shots that any of his team-mates and more touches in the opposition box than any player on the pitch, showing the threat he posed in his first start for nearly five months.
Despite his lengthy absence, the striker is still Newcastle’s top scorer this season with six goals, and he will be hoping to add to his tally and help Newcastle end their season on a high when they travel to Burnley on Sunday.
Mahrez misses but City show powers of recovery
The London Stadium was a cauldron of noise as the home supporters, already in buoyant mood amid emotional tributes to their departing captain Mark Noble, jubilantly celebrated Jarrod Bowen’s second goal against Manchester City shortly before half-time.
This was a game in which most expected City to move six points clear of Liverpool, putting themselves on the brink of the title with one game remaining. But West Ham had other ideas.
Bowen’s double put City in unfamiliar territory. They had not trailed a Premier League game since February – let alone by two goals. But this team have a steely side in addition to all their quality.
Injuries had robbed them of Ruben Dias, John Stones and Kyle Walker, leaving them with a makeshift backline which West Ham succeeded in exploiting, but their response was immediate after the break as Jack Grealish pulled one back before Vladimir Coufal’s own goal brought them level.
They walked off the pitch at the end of it all in deflated mood despite their efforts, Riyad Mahrez’s botched penalty making the draw feel more like a missed opportunity than a creditable comeback.
But the point may yet prove crucial in the title chase and it keeps their destiny in their own hands ahead of their final game.
City could have crumbled. Instead, they showed powers of recovery in difficult circumstances.
It may make all the difference.
Everton must keep composure to secure safety
With 11 men on the pitch against Brentford, Everton would probably have won. They went 1-0 up, had the crowd behind them, and were playing with their tails up.
But in situations like theirs, moments like Jarrad Branthwaite’s horrible misjudgement and lunge on Ivan Toney, which got him sent off, can derail everything in a second. And though to their credit, they were ahead as late as the 61st minute, they were deservedly beaten by the Bees in the end.
Had Branthwaite stayed on the pitch Everton’s Premier League safety might well already be assured. Because he didn’t, they go into Thursday night’s crunch game with Crystal Palace on the back of a chastening defeat and running out of available defenders.
Given the character Frank Lampard’s side have shown in recent games, earning a first away win since August against Leicester last weekend, you would expect them to get over the line in the final two games of the season.
But if they don’t, it will probably come down to more moments of madness. Everton shouldn’t be anywhere near the relegation fight with the raw quality in their squad, but it takes a lot more than quality to achieve success.
They finally look capable and motivated after struggling for so long this season, but banishing those individual mistakes is still their biggest concern. Get through the next two games without any more repeats, and they should be playing Premier League football next season.
Lloris dodges bug to show epic Spurs leadership
How easy it could have been for Tottenham to fall back into the trap that scarred them 16 years ago.
It’s May 2006 and Arsenal and Spurs are gunning for fourth place. Ahead of their final day game away at West Ham, a mysterious illness hit Martin Jol’s Tottenham squad and a dismal draw at the Hammers saw Arsenal finish ahead of them in the final Champions League spot.
Lo and behold, a similar bug hit Tottenham this week. Antonio Conte was alarmed to hear from his medical team that several players – including both his first-team goalkeepers along with Harry Winks and Dejan Kulusveski – were too ill to start.
Tottenham folded in that situation 16 years ago, but they did not this time. Step forward Hugo Lloris, who not only played the whole 90 minutes but kept a clean sheet, which included making a crucial save from Maxwel Cornet’s one-on-one in the first half.
Head coach Conte hailed his captain for showing the determination to keep playing despite his illness, even though the Italian coach did not sound at all surprised.
“It wasn’t easy because yesterday morning the doctor sent me a message that a few players they felt not well, with a stomach problem, vomiting and also a fever.
“Hugo had a fever, but there was no chance of missing an important game. They showed to be very professional and understanding the importance of the moment. Hugo is our captain and he never wanted to miss the game.”
Since Conte joined the club, Lloris has tied himself down to a new contract and solidified himself as one of Tottenham’s most important stars. There is no doubt the French goalkeeper is central to Spurs’ progression under Conte.
Frank shows why he’s up for manager of the year
Thomas Frank was announced as one of five candidates on the shortlist for the Premier League manager of the season last week and rightly so. Guiding Brentford to mid-table on a small budget, while the other two promoted sides have endured torrid seasons, is mightily impressive.
The Danish boss showed exactly why he has got himself in contention alongside Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola with his tactical tweaks at Everton.
Trailing 2-1 at the break despite Everton’s early red card, he was bold enough to bring off Mads Sorensen for midfielder Vitaly Janelt to fill in at the back when Brentford did not have the ball, and play a part in their attacking unit when they did.
Another 13 minutes later he did the same thing again, adding central midfielder Josh Dasilva to his backline in place of right-back Kristoffer Ajer. Within seven minutes of that second change, Brentford had scored twice and were en route to victory.
Without the technical quality or resources of some of the teams around and below them, Brentford have had to think outside the box and draw on other aspects of their set-up for success this season. Frank’s own nouse, as shown at Goodison, plays a major part in that.
West Ham’s royal send-off for Noble a fitting tribute
A prince paying his respects to a Noble? The sight of Prince Albert of Monaco in the stands at the London Stadium was one of the more surreal moments of a Sunday in which West Ham gave club captain and stalwart a right royal send-off.
It turns out the prince and Noble share a mutual friend. But overall the occasion was a fitting finale to his committed, loyal 18-year career in east London.
A pre-match montage had him in tears, with the West Ham fans able to show their appreciation to a player who, in his own words, had lived their dream.
But when kick-off came he was on the bench. As ever, putting the team before himself, Noble had met with David Moyes this week to insist he wasn’t given game time for sentimental reasons. “It was only to be in the best interests of West Ham,” he said.
Noble leaves West Ham in a strong position, as their two-goal lead at half-time against Man City showed. They’ve had a fantastic season and the signs are they are on the rise. But it was significant that Moyes sent for Noble when City had pulled themselves level, when West Ham needed someone to give them a foothold again in the middle of the park. Even now, at the end of his career, Noble is still playing an important role when he’s on the field. It’s a tribute to his talents.
Off the pitch, there’s no secret about the influence he has in the dressing room and, in particular, on his successor at the heart of the midfield, Declan Rice. He revealed afterwards to Sky Sports that West Ham’s management want him to continue to play a role in the future.
That seems inevitable. Noble’s place has been and always will be at West Ham. Although, perhaps there is time for a well-earned holiday for now. Apparently Monaco is nice this time of year…
Burnley easier on the eye as defensive duo star
It was the second-half moment that nearly brought Burnley back into the game.
Jack Cork played it into Dwight McNeil, who then fed Ashley Barnes on the edge of the area. The Clarets striker could only crack a shot against the woodwork, in what was the visitors’ best chance to earn a precious point at Tottenham.
Such excellent football has not always been seen at Burnley. Under Sean Dyche, sacked earlier this season, the Clarets were much more direct and physical – the January signing of 6ft 7in striker Wout Weghorst told us as much.
But now Burnley, as they showed against Tottenham on Sunday lunchtime, are quite easy on the eye. Goalkeeper Nick Pope plays excellent balls out the back, the Clarets are not afraid to press teams high and they create plenty of chances from open play – Barnes’ woodwork effort and Maxwel Cornet’s missed one-on-one opportunity on Sunday are just two examples.
But that is not what Burnley need. They need the pragmatic and efficient style of Dyche if they want to stay in the Premier League.
Centre-back Nathan Collins and goalkeeper Pope both impressed at the back. The Clarets – against the best Premier League combination of all time in Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son – managed to stop Tottenham from scoring in open play and only a contentious penalty call saw that backline – marshalled by Collins and Pope – fall on the losing side on Sunday.
“[He was] amazing,” said Burnley caretaker Mike Jackson when asked about youngster Collins. “That’s brilliant for him and he’s taken on that challenge, taken on one of the best strikers around [in Kane] which is great for a 21-year-old. It doesn’t surprise me because I know what he’s like.”
And on Pope, Jackson added: “He’s been brilliant, not just on [the saves]. His performance levels, I just keep seeing him improving and the work he puts in as well with Wayne Hennessy and the goalkeeper coach. He’s a top, top goalkeeper.”
Those two give Burnley confidence that they can keep the backdoor shut, to stop them falling through the trapdoor. They have two games to prove just that.
Gelhardt carrying the fight for Leeds
When you are down at the bottom fighting for your lives, you need players like Joe Gelhardt at the forefront of your play.
Although his final ball is sometimes lacking, he plays with a fearless nature mixed in with so much positivity. There was no looking for the easy pass against Brighton. He took the fight to them with some bulldozing runs and dangerous forward passes.
The whole occasion at Elland Road could have also been a different one had his goalbound strike not hit his own man Liam Cooper with the ball heading into the net in the early stages. For the next 91 minutes, that chance looked to be defining Leeds’ day at the office as their fight for survival looked an ominous one until Gelhardt sparked them into life in injury-time.
Some players may have let that earlier unlucky goalscoring situation make their heads drop but Gelhardt kept going until the last minute where it was his tenacious skill on the byline that set up the vital equaliser scored by Pascal Stuijk.
Next week at Brentford, he is the first name on the teamsheet in what could be the biggest game in Leeds’ Premier League history.
Positives for Leicester as Vardy, Barnes and Maddison shine
“A winning mentality is formed every day and in every game you play.”
The message is clear from Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers to his side following their 5-1 hammering of Watford at Vicarage Road.
In terms of this season, the Foxes only aim for their final two games of the season at Chelsea and at home to Southampton is a top-half finish, but the longer-term aim is clear for Rodgers and his side.
“I’ve spoken about the importance of putting a marker down for next season,” Rodgers added. “We didn’t want to go out with a whimper and be soft and think there’s nothing to play for. Even if you have nothing to play for as such, in terms of trophies or European places, that’s when your winning mentality comes into it. I have a huge pride in the players for what they’ve done in the last couple of games, to continue with that fight and aggression. It bodes well for us going into next season.”
What also bodes well for Leicester is the form of key attacking trio Jamie Vardy, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes. All three were in the goals at Vicarage Road, showing their importance to Rodgers’ side.
All three have had spells on the sidelines this season as Leicester have struggled with injuries, but they are fit and firing now, and giving a glimpse of what might have been for Leicester this season.
But more importantly, what could be on the horizon if they keep their star trio fit and get some additions through the door this summer.
Plenty for Edwards to ponder ahead of Watford bow
There was optimism before the game.
Watford fans on their way to the game were talking about a fresh new start that was coming under Rob Edwards and then the new boss was paraded in front of stands at Vicarage Road and given a superb ovation by the home fans.
The positive energy seemed to translate onto the pitch as Joao Pedro gave Watford, who looked freed by the fact their relegation had been confirmed, the perfect start.
However, Roy Hodgson’s final home game in charge quickly turned sour as Watford gifted goals to James Maddison and Jamie Vardy before Leicester took full control in the second half with the goals racking up.
“Watford’s performance has been disgraceful,” Tim Sherwood said on Soccer Special. “They haven’t shown up. They have contributed absolutely nothing to this game.”
It was a fair assessment as Watford’s season at Vicarage Road ended in a whimper. Midway through the second half, plenty of Watford fans made their way to the exits. They’d seen enough for this season and for those that stayed there were a fair few boos at the full-time whistle.
So, what would Edwards have made of it sitting in the stands? There will be plenty of change this summer with a number of players heading for the exit door. There’ll also be new faces in the door as Edwards looks to shape his squad.
He’d have known he had a big job awaiting him this summer, but after today’s game, he’ll be fully aware of the size of the rebuild facing Watford as they head for the Championship.
Norwich must keep hold of Pukki this summer
One shudders to think just how much worse Norwich City’s already demoralising season would have been but for Teemu Pukki.
The Finland international earned his side a deserved point at Wolves on Sunday afternoon after a fine solo goal – his 11th in the Premier League so far this campaign in 36 matches easily making him the Canaries’ top scorer, and that’s not including three assists as well to his name.
In fact, the striker has now been directly involved in 61 per cent (14/23) of all already-relegated Norwich’s goals in the top flight this season, with only Alan Shearer (62 per cent for Blackburn in 1995/96) and Matt Le Tissier (69 per cent for Southampton in 1993/94) having ever been involved in a higher share of their team’s goals in a single campaign in the competition.
Numbers which surely make it vital manager Dean Smith and the club keep hold of the 32-year-old this summer if they harbour any ambitions to come straight back up next season.