With another round of Premier League action in the books, we take a look back at what happened in the English top flight over the weekend.
Arsenal’s season is falling apart
Arsenal is a mess right now.
Disjointed in attack and fragile at the back, the Gunners’ season is crumbling on the pitch, while off it, the fan base continues to grow fractured amidst the fierce debate over Arsene Wenger’s future.
Saturday’s harrowing performance at the Hawthorns, lacking in both spirit and quality, saw the maligned Frenchman have to face further questions over his next move. While the 10-2 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League was humiliating, there was a sense that this 3-1 loss to West Brom could prove more influential in his decision to stay or go.
Related – Wenger says Arsenal future has been decided: You will know ‘very soon’
Questions are being asked of Wenger’s ability to control the locker room, as an apparent lack of effort – particularly in the porous defending on a pair of West Brom goals from corner kicks – has led to speculation that the players are no longer behind the angular 67-year-old.
These are the rumours that inevitably fly when both performances and results go sour. Rumours, and, in this case, planes carrying banners.
Arsenal, now slumping all the way down to sixth in the table, has won only three of its last nine matches in all competitions. Two of those victories were against non-league sides (Sutton and Lincoln).
It’s been ugly, fraught with conjecture over the future of both marquee players and the bench boss, and now has many seriously questioning whether the north London side will miss out on Europe’s showpiece tournament for the first time in over two decades.
A draw was one of Guardiola’s ‘happiest days’
Two sides with the same issues and the same strengths played an enthralling encounter at the Etihad Stadium.
While a 1-1 draw was a fair result between the attack-heavy Manchester City and Liverpool, both teams were wasteful – especially when Adam Lallana fluffed a tap-in in comedic fashion – and referee Michael Oliver will no doubt be reviewing his performance after a reluctance to make a decision.
Still, it’s an improvement on the officiating of Mark Clattenburg and Mike Dean, who seem to adore centre stage.
Given that we’re entering the business end of the season, the draw strangely works out best for the home side. City now has a five-point cushion in fourth place, and a game in hand on Liverpool (albeit against Manchester United).
“How we fight, how we run, how we put our spirit there – it is one of the happiest days of my life as a manager,” said Pep Guardiola, visibly relieved at returning to positive results after the Monaco disappointment.
Related: Why Guardiola is deciding whether to stick or twist this summer
A top-four finish could be established a few weeks after the international break, leaving Guardiola to give more attention to what could be a very busy summer in Eastlands.
All’s Well That Ends Well
Perhaps the public outcry surrounding Claudio Ranieri’s sacking was much ado about nothing, as the aptly named Craig Shakespeare oversaw yet another win for the revived Foxes.
Slaven Bilic’s West Ham United found itself 2-0 down within seven minutes after Riyad Mahrez’s cross alluded everyone before sneaking in at the far post, and then Robert Huth nodded in an inviting lifted delivery from Marc Albrighton.
The eventual winner was Jamie Vardy’s 38th-minute close-range finish, which was sandwiched by a Manuel Lanzini free-kick and Andre Ayew header.
Shakespeare’s success has been built on continuity. Just 12 different players have started in his four wins – Yohan Benalouane stepped in for Wes Morgan on Saturday – with the key members of last season’s title-winning side taking prominent roles.
Whether Shakespeare adopting a rather stand-off approach will work in the long term remains to be seen, but with a Champions League quarter-final with Atletico Madrid on the horizon and a meteoric ascent up the table, Ranieri standing next to opera legend Andrea Bocelli at the King Power Stadium last May seems like a long, long time ago.
Around the grounds
Romelu Lukaku is slowly pulling away in the race for the Golden Boot. The imposing Everton superstar became the first player in the Premier League to hit the 20-goal plateau this season, hitting a late brace in the 4-0 victory over relegation fodder Hull City to bring his tally to 21 on the campaign.
His two closest competitors, Harry Kane (19 goals) and Alexis Sanchez (18 goals) might not get a chance to close the gap on the big Belgian anytime soon, either. Kane is sidelined with an ankle ligament injury, while Sanchez appears to have suffered a similar problem on Saturday.
Related – Watch: Lukaku first to 20 with late brace against lowly Hull
Perhaps a scoring crown will finally be enough to quiet those with the irrational belief that Lukaku, still just 23 years old, is not one of the continent’s most dominant pure strikers.
- Bournemouth 2-0 Swansea City
- Crystal Palace 1-0 Watford
- Middlesbrough 1-3 Manchester United
- Sunderland 0-0 Burnley
- Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Southampton
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)