8 Things We Learnt From Premier League GW23
21 Feb 2023
After a huge midweek fixture at the top of the table last week, the weekend’s Premier League action saw more twists and turns as we edge ever closer to the climax of the title race. Here is our round up from last week’s round of fixtures:
Gunners Keep Title Aspirations Alive With Late Win At Villa
If you had asked a group of Arsenal fans at 9pm on Wednesday night what they thought of their title prospects it would have been a challenge to find many optimists. Man City had just finished taking their customary victory lap at the Emirates, sending them top of the table at the Gunners expense as momentum had certainly swung their way in the title race.
Arsenal had to sit on that bruising loss for three days before their 12:30 kick off away to Aston Villa, who coincidentally are managed by former Arsenal boss Unai Emery – quite the headline brewing.
Emery’s side ruthlessly exploited the recent defensive frailties that have started to show up in Arsenal’s game, so when after a breathless first 45 minutes Mikel Arteta and his boys found themselves 2-1 down, the writing looked to be on the wall. Anyone who watched Arsenal’s Amazon documentary this summer knows the fiery Spaniard would no doubt have let his side have it during the break and sure enough they came out with a renewed vigour.
Ollie Watkins, Bukayo Saka and Phillipe Coutinho all delivered spectacular goals in a dramatic half of football and after mounting pressure from his side Oleksandr Zincheko joined the cast, finishing off a nice corner move, rifling a left footed banger from outside the box for his first Arsenal goal. With the game in the balance and desperate for a win Arsenal pushed high exposing themselves to a number of dangerous Villa counters. On one such occasion it took the combined effort of kepper Aaron Ramsdale and the crossbar to keep out a fierce Leon Bailey strike.
Already saved by the woodwork once, it would come in clutch again as Jorginho’s speculative edge of the box effort crashed the bar and bounced in off the back of former Arsenal keeper Emi Martinez’s head in the 93rd minute. Gabriel Martinelli rounded it off with a fourth, slotting the ball into an empty net as Villa sent all men up to find an equaliser from a corner. One of the games of the season with huge implications on the title race and filled with an immense amount of subplots. You could see the relief in the faces of the Arsenal players, the mental damage done on wednesday could only be reversed by a win that really tested the depths of Arsenal’s resilience.
Call it the sign of champions, call it lucky but the Gunners have shown an ability to bounce back this season that Arsenal sides of yesteryears would have killed for.
Rashford Continues Fine Form Against Foxes
Manchester United truly have a packed fixture list at the moment, with two games a week in their current timescale, yet this team continues to deliver in all competitions and went into the game against Leicester hoping to stay in a title fight. Leicester had improved a fair bit after a poor start to the season, yet the Red Devils were just too good for the Foxes and truly put them to the sword.
It wasn’t that way at the start, with Leicester causing a few problems. A nice link-up between Harvey Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho almost opened the scoring but David De Gea made a good save from Barnes’ effort across him. It was then Iheanacho’s turn as his header from Timothy Castagne’s cross
was brilliantly saved by a diving De Gea. It was a record-equalling 180th clean sheet for Manchester United, and he certainly deserved it.
Eventually, Manchester United got into gear and a curling outside the foot-ball forward from Bruno Fernandes found Marcus Rashford who coolly finished into the far corner. He then grabbed his second in the second half, as Fred played him through, nutmegging Danny Ward. It was a 50/50 decision over whether he was offside or not, but VAR ruled in his favour and with 24 goals this campaign, this is his best goal-scoring season in red. The third came
as a result of lacklustre defending and good build-up play, with substitute Jadon Sancho finishing off a 1-2 with Fernandes, as he continues his return to form.
It could have been even worse for the East Midlands outfit, as Diogo Dalot somehow missed a certain goal after some link-up play with Fernandes, Lisandro Martínez’s header from Luke Shaw’s free-kick hit the crossbar, and Wout Weghorst continued to struggle in front of goal. This was truly a
sensational performance from the Red Devils. Marcus Rashford continues to cause fear in the eyes of defences, Bruno Fernandes is looking like he is back to his best, and David De Gea showed he still has some top-class performances left in him. After both Arsenal and Manchester City dropped points recently, they are only five points off 1st place, so anything is possible. After a tasty Europe League 2nd leg, League Cup final, and F.A. Cup game, they face Liverpool at Anfield which should be a fine fixture. Leicester’s slight return to form has been ended and they looked very weak at the back. They
now face Arsenal at home, who will be rejuvenated after their late win at Villa. While Leicester will be looking ahead to next season, these next few weeks will be very exciting for fans of Manchester United.
Magpies Mauled By Liverpool Attacking Trio
Liverpool may have finally clicked into gear after becoming the first side to win at St James’ Park this season. After a stop-start campaign hampered by a weak midfield rotation and injury problems across the pitch, Jurgen Klopp’s team have begun to build a chemistry that has been lacking in the Premier League. A fine breakaway goal from Darwin Nunez, followed by a Cody Gakpo finish from a sumptuous Mo Salah cross was enough for the Reds to wrap the game up by half time. Helped out by a moment of madness from Nick Pope, Liverpool looked relatively comfortable in the second half after a flurry of pressure from the home side and were able to close the game out with a clean sheet.
The first half performance was probably the worst of the season for Eddie Howe’s side. For a team which has built from the foundations of their back five, the Magpies looked second best to Liverpool’s front three and were susceptible to fast counter attacks started by Alisson. The home side were still able to cause problems for Liverpool with Allan Saint-Maximin hitting the woodwork, but the lack of quality in front of goal needs to be worked on if they wish to maintain their spot in the European places.
The offensive trifecta of Gakpo, Nunez, and Salah has looked lethal in Liverpool’s last two games and will be crucial if the Merseyside team wish to be successful in a late European push. There have been many false dawns for Klopp this season but it feels as if everything is finally clicking into place. Newcastle on the other hand will be without their first choice between the sticks for their cup final next weekend, and Eddie Howe will need to address their slump in front of goal in order for this season to live up to early expectations.
City Rue Missed Chances As Forest Frustrate The Champions
With Arsenal having won their lunchtime fixture at the death against Aston Villa, the pressure was on Manchester City to keep the gap at the top tight through means of a victory against Nottingham Forest. Forest hosted City in their 3pm kick off at The City Ground – in a game that was so important for both teams.
The gameplay resonated a typical City performance – possessive, consistent football with a high intensity. Knocking on the door throughout the whole of the first half, with Forest only registering two shots in the opening 45, Manchester City took the lead through Bernardo Silva in the 41st minute – a goal which would’ve come to the relief of many fans. However, despite City’s dominant performance, on loan goalkeeper Keylor Navas had an inspired performance. Throughout the second half, the Costa Rica international made some incredible saves, with the best of the bunch coming from a direct free kick just kept out with a hand stretched to the top corner. Forest’s resilience to stay in the game payed off as well; a counter attack in the 84th minute resulted in the ball being squared across the City penalty area before Chris Wood tapped in past Ederson, sending the City Ground into an atmospheric frenzy. 1-1, full time.
City drop points, and Arsenal increase their gap at the top of the table to two points with a game in hand. In what may prove an all important point for Nottingham Forest with the margins in the Premier League table being so tight this season – Steve Cooper and his men can hold their heads high after their resilient performance, whereas Guardiola’s side will stoop their heads low regretting the missed opportunities that weren’t capitalised on.
Son And Spurs Pile On Moyes Misery
Antonio Conte’s continued absence on the Spurs sideline, a season ending injury for Rodrigo Bentancur, and a frustrating loss in the Champions League in midweek meant that Tottenham needed a positive result against West Ham in order to steady the ship. The North London side have infamously been lackadaisical in the opening period of games this season and could have found themselves behind thanks to an effort from Jarrod Bowen, West Ham’s only real threat all game.
Spurs however managed to weather the West Ham storm and eventually capitalised in the second half through a composed Emerson Royal finish. The points were sealed in typical Tottenham fashion, as Harry Kane played a ball in behind for Son Heung-Min to latch onto, rolling the ball past Lukasz Fabianski in the Hammers’ net. The result saw them leapfrog Newcastle into the Champions League places, but Tottenham will need to maintain a level of consistency which has been desperately lacking if they wish to secure a top four spot.
Sunday’s game now puts serious pressure on David Moyes, as his side drop into the relegation zone after a season that has never really got going. Declan Rice has not been his usual self, and as the leader of the team it seems obvious that the England midfielder will be looking elsewhere come the end of the campaign. This West Ham squad however has been good enough to secure European football in the last two seasons, so it may well be Moyes who pays the price for their shortcomings if he can’t rectify things quickly.
Saints Pile Pressure On Potter
All is not well in the world of Chelsea. In fact for most associated with the west London side the club is bordering on a crisis. To have bottom of the table, managerless Southampton rock up to Stamford Bridge and take all 3 points would be enough to send the club into meltdown…
Unfortunately for under-fire Chelsea boss Graham Potter that’s exactly what happened. Southampton were the ones who set the initiative in the early stages, aggressively pressing which nearly saw them go ahead if not for a goal line intervention from Kalidou Koulibaly. With both teams in bad form, expecting much in the way of quality from either side would’ve been a tough ask. However it was a singular moment of first half quality which ultimately proved decisive.
These days James Ward-Prowse approaching a freekick feels like someone stepping up to take a penalty – you just can’t shake the unwavering sense of inevitability. The combination of whip and dip along with the remarkable consistency he strikes freekicks with is absurd and that’s what Kepa Arrizabalaga was probably thinking when the ball whizzed past him into his net in first half stoppage time.
With a lead to defend away from home, the pattern of the second half went exactly as you would expect. Southampton sat back and invited Chelsea to beat them and on another day they might have got their wish. Raheem Sterling came on at half time and had two gilt-edged chances to score. His profligacy and Chelsea’s lacklustre approach saw Southampton escape Stamford Bridge, doing the double on the Blues for the first time since 1986 – a result they will be hoping kickstarts a great escape from the relegation zone.
A lot of Chelsea fans want Potter gone citing a lack of identity, confusing tactics, and a belief that the job is too big for him, but the message out of Chelsea is that he is here to stay for the foreseeable future. With Spurs next week and Dortmund in the Champions league the week after we’ll soon find out how strong that position is. No doubt everyone will be watching to see whether Todd Boehly’s £600 million gamble crashes and burns, or whether through patience a true force rises from the fire.
Seaside Clash Settled By Solomon
Many would have seen Brighton v Fulham at the start of the season as a potential relegation battle, yet these two sides have caused a few surprises, both finding themselves in the fight for a place in the Europa League. Both sides were in pretty good form as Brighton hadn’t lost in the new year, while Fulham had lost just once to Newcastle. Despite the stats and the game itself being in Brighton’s favour, Fulham had a moment of magic that won them the game.
Brighton dominated throughout but failed to really test the goalkeeper, Bernd Leno. The Fulham fans can thank him for their victory, as he came out to meet opportunities by Evan Ferguson and Solly March. When the Seagulls did manage to get a chance, they would either head wide as Lewis Dunk did from March’s corner or tamely hit toward the goal as Alexis Mac Allister did from March’s superb cross. They did have the ball in the net, but unfortunately for Facundo Buonanotte, his assister Deniz Undav was in an offside position. Brighton only had themselves to blame, as Fulham won the ball back in defence before Carlos Vinícius made a run and slipped the ball to Manor Solomon, who finished coolly across the goalkeeper and into the far corner.
This game really showed the unpredictable nature of the beautiful game, as Fulham took all three points. Brighton created some great chances, but never really made Bernd Leno work and it cost them. They now have some time to refocus with a break due to the League Cup final and an FA Cup tie, before they host West Ham on the 4th of March. Fulham continue to go above and beyond what was expected of them and are only four points off the Champions League places. While fans may dream of something extraordinary, they face a tricky tie at home to Wolves on Friday. This was certainly an interesting game to watch, and while the Seagulls will kick themselves, the Cottagers will go on dreaming of European football next season.
Dyche Delight As Coleman Conquers Leeds
Everton put Leeds to the sword on Saturday with their second home win in as many games under Sean Dyche. The former Burnley manager has breathed new life into the Toffees since arriving on Merseyside and has already managed to make Goodison Park an unwelcome sight on any opposition fixture list.
Dyche’s simplified, direct style has paid dividends for Everton, with Dwight McNeil causing havoc from the flank. The Blues have also become a huge threat from set pieces, owing to the physicality of the likes of James Tarkowski and Amadou Onana. The game was one by a sensational strike from seasoned veteran Seamus Coleman, who hit the ball early and caught out Meslier at his near post. Leeds offered precious little in this game – a testament to Everton’s discipline and defensive resilience.
After the sacking of Jesse Marsch and the imminent appointment of former Watford boss Javi Gracia, Leeds fans will be fearing the worst as they look over their shoulder at the bottom of the table. With Everton on the rise and wins for both Bournemouth and Southampton on the weekend, it couldn’t be tighter around the drop zone and the Yorkshire side will be desperate to address their slump.