10 things we learned in the Premier League: Week 22
There seems to be a real amount of bellyaching, if that isn’t too harsh of a term, because we’re sitting here in February without an absolute sense of who will be the two, or three final Premier League teams to contend for the Premier League Trophy.
A bonkers weekend of Premier League results also did absolutely nothing for the narrative, especially after Man City didn’t take advantage of Arsenal’s loss at Sean Dyche’s Toffee Shop.
Admit it -- yes, even you, Arsenal fans -- saying without reservation that one team is going to be in the Premier League title fight on the final day is very difficult this season and that’s probably for a number of reasons.
For one thing, this is the first Feb. 5 in the last six years that either Manchester City or Liverpool isn’t atop the Premier League table.
And that atop the table, Arsenal, has not been in the top five on a Premier League table at this point in a season since the 2016-17 season. That, coincidentally, was the last time City or Liverpool didn’t win the league.
So, yeah, it takes a leap of faith to declare that Arsenal’s five-point lead with a match-in-hand is as comfortable a lead as it would appear were City or Liverpool here... and probably Chelsea, Man City, and even Spurs. This is new territory. And it’s exciting which, by the very nature of verb, is not comfortable, sound, or solid.
Here’s what the Premier League table’s looked like at the end of February 5 since the 2015-16 season (Keep in mind this is also “matches in hand” time of year the last four seasons, and that usually there have been many more matches played because the World Cup wasn’t in November).
Premier League table on Feb. 5 of the last eight seasons
Season denoted by * indicate there are matches-in-hand amongst teams
2015-16: Leicester City (50 points), Man City (47), Spurs (45), Arsenal (45), Man Utd (40)
2016-17: Chelsea (59 points), Spurs (50), Man City (49), Arsenal (47), Liverpool (46)
2017-18: Man City (69 points), Man Utd (56), Liverpool (51), Chelsea (50), Spurs (49)
2018-19: Liverpool (62 points), Man City (59), Spurs (57), Chelsea (50), Man Utd (48)
*2019-20: Liverpool (73 points), Man City (51), Leicester (49), Chelsea (41), Spurs (37)
*2020-21: Man City (47 points), Man Utd (44), Leicester (42), Liverpool (40), West Ham (38)
*2021-22: Man City (57 points), Liverpool (48), Chelsea (47), Man Utd (38), West Ham (37)
*2022-23: Arsenal (50 points), Man City (45), Man Utd (42), Newcastle (40), Spurs (39)
I mean, that is some viewing, isn’t it? Only three times in eight has the table had as many as four teams within 10 points of first at this point in the season, and we’re a point away from having all five.
You’d have to favor Arsenal to deliver the goods still; Past performance be darned, the Gunners may be unleashing a new dynasty or even just a ridiculous single season on the world. And they could lose to Man City twice and still have a match-in-hand to make up the point.
But as those two matches indicate, Arsenal is also yet to play Man City in the Premier League play. They’ll also see their young squad taxed by Europa League at some point (Aren’t these new knockout round play-offs enticing but so off-putting?)
Anyway, the point is that I want you to know that I understand if you’re feeling thrown by the table this week. The truth is there’s an awful lot of season left -- around 3-4 matches per team less than usual -- and the following is true:
- Arsenal is still the front-runner
- Arsenal has also continued to leave the runway clear for an in-form Man City
- Man City is very much not in-form
- Manchester United, Tottenham, and even Newcastle have realistic mathematical paths to climb into the discussion if they win their games against Arsenal and Man City.
Soooooooo.... what did you learn from the Premier League this weekend? Cause here’s where our writers are living, as Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Andy Edwards (AE), and Nicholas Mendola (NM) share their observations from across the most recent PL games.
10 things we learned in the Premier League: Week 22
1. Kane Spurs put a bit of chaos in Premier League title fight on historic night (Spurs 1-0 Man City): Look, this is likely still just a three-team Premier League race even taking into account what we’ve posted above. And I personally might want to argue the case that Manchester City has the best odds to sort it all out given past history, but who knows what’s going to happen to Pep Guardiola’s clearly on-fire galaxy brain if City surges in the Champions League, let alone drops out of it. But I can also tell you that a City win on Sunday after Arsenal flopped at physical Everton on Saturday -- get ready for more of that, Gunners -- would’ve had me feeling like both Manchester sides held the only hope that the title fight wouldn’t just be a scrap over which Gallagher brother’s Oasis songs were the best. There’s just something about Harry Kane, though, and Antonio Conte is the man pulling the strings down in London. Throw in Newcastle only having to worry about one match that isn’t in the Premier League for the rest of the summer, and Spurs’ win over Man City sounded a note for chaos. Can you imagine Arsenal not falling completely off but going through a naive spell? Can you dial up a scenario in your head where Christian Eriksen’s injury and Casemiro’s red card tax United out of title fight? And might you see Man City’s season going with more ennui than a Morrissey B-side or, worse, Belgium’s World Cup campaign? Folks, anything might be possible this Premier League run-in! (NM).
2. Casemiro’s not-so-idle hands put three points in uneasy place (Man Utd 2-1 Crystal Palace): Scoring chances were plentiful for the Red Devils (14 shots, with an xG total of 2.04) and eventually Marcus Rashford put one away in the 62nd minute, giving him 11 goals in 13 games. Those numbers go with four assists in all competitions since returning from the 2022 World Cup. It appeared at that point that Palace would go quietly into the night and humbly accept defeat, until Casemiro was sent off in the 70th minute for putting both hands around Will Hughes’ neck. United was resilient and had to be, as Crystal Palace took just six minutes to take advantage of their numerical advantage; Cheick Doucoure volleyed from the edge of the penalty area and Jeffrey Schlupp redirected the initial effort on target and past David de Gea to set up a tense final 15 minutes and nine nearly never-ending minutes of stoppage time. But Man United will wake up Monday and wonder why they can’t be the in-form team that runs up the table. (AE)
3. Everton does best Burnley imitation, bullies leaders Arsenal (Everton 1-0 Arsenal): From the very first whistle Everton looked well-organized, had a clear plan, and their players believed in what they are doing. The new manager bounce from Sean Dyche was incredible but it isn’t just a bounce. It’s because he’s a very good manager who did a phenomenal job at Burnley. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was the focal point up top, and Dwight McNeil and Alex Iwobi delivered energy and quality from out wide. Abdoulaye Doucoure, Amadou Onana, and Idrissa Gana Gueye will excellent in midfield and the solid back four never looked out of position. This was exactly what we would expect from a Dyche side and if Everton changed their kit colors to claret it was like watching his peak Burnley teams. Arsenal was bullied throughout, couldn’t find their rhythm, and had no answer for the energy Everton showed. Now, can Dyche get that effort and organization week-in, week-out? It is clear the Toffees have the players to drag themselves away from a relegation scrap and also now clear they have a manager who is able to lead them up the table. Dyche to Everton felt like a perfect fit about five years ago and it has started exactly how he would have hoped. (JPW)
4. Lopetegui’s Wolves feast on wounded Reds as top-four hopes locked in the medical tent (Wolves 3-0 Liverpool): Injuries definitely start the story of this one, a 3-0 that was much closer on the xG scoreboard but just as divided in spirit. Jurgen Klopp’s one-time mentality monsters looked mentality defeated, especially in front of either goal, as the boss exclaimed after the game — full comments below — that the club was lined up as directed but “passive, not active.” Wolves, meanwhile, were very active, and Klopp would’ve wondered what might’ve been when Neves lashed in the third goal by darting between a collection of lined-up Liverpool backs to snap home the end product of Adama Traore’s robust work breaking the lines and conducting a trademark dribble. The Reds have big holes by Darwin Nunez is snakebit in front of goal and Cody Gakpo may get there. At the moment, Liverpool’s entire attack seems to be, “Let’s hope Mo Salah cooks today.” Not great, Al. (NM)
5. Anthony Gordon looks uncaged in short but thrilling Newcastle debut (Newcastle 1-1 West Ham): We knew that Anthony Gordon was fast, worked hard, and had promise, but the blonde-topped pest that is Newcastle’s new $45 million man was flat-out electric in his first match for Newcastle. He could’ve easily had one assist today off the bench and two was reasonable. His introduction to the game gave the second half interest given he just moved up north but you know what? He delivered in every way imaginable but a goal. I thought his price tag was silly and the asking price laughable, but would be super happy to be wrong and the initial results are very good. Maybe Gordon was being held back this year at Everton, or maybe he just caught the vapors of an SJP debut. Either way, it looks nice for Newcastle who won’t be happy with a point vs West Ham but should be: The Irons are much better than their season’s results. (NM)
7. Leicester wins thriller at Villa, but the manner don’t matter more than the result (Aston Villa 2-4 Leicester): Leicester overturned not one, but two deficits to put an end to their five-game winless skid and secure a 4-2 victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park on Saturday. The victory takes Leicester (21 points), who had previously taken just one point of a possible 15, up to 13th in the Premier League table, now three points clear of the relegation zone. Eight teams remain within three points of 18th-place Everton, including those currently below them. Aston Villa (28 points) are not among them, but they remain 11th following the defeat. (AE).
8. Gritty Nottingham Forest sees off disjointed Leeds (Nottingham Forest 1-0 Leeds): Nottingham Forest did not play well but they did what they had to do as defensively they are so solid; Steve Cooper’s men have a clear plan and they are doing the basics so well. With Brennan Johnson in this kind of form plus other threats on the break, Forest are looking set to stay in the Premier League quite comfortably.
Meanwhile, Jesse Marsch and Leeds look very disjointed as they continue to integrate new signings and get players back to full fitness. They looked like a team struggling for confidence and with no win in their last seven the pressure is mounting on Marsch. It seems like they just need one lucky break to get going again and regain their early season form. The Leeds fans aren’t happy, however, and a bad week with their two games against in-form Man United could see the owners forced into a change. (JPW)
9. Savvy Bees make most of Saints’ weaknesses (Brentford 3-0 Southampton): Brentford are very good at whipping in crosses and winning balls in the air. Like Dracula, Southampton do not like crosses. This did not seem to be a good matchup for Saints before this game and it went exactly that way. Thomas Frank’s side were ruthless when their chances arrived and Southampton’s jumbled defense gave them too much time to pick out crosses and then switched off to defend the players arriving to score. These were basic errors from Southampton and it’s the reason they are bottom of the league. These crosses and the chaos they cause before, during, and after the ball is coming in is also why Brentford are pushing for European qualification. This turned into a very routine win for the hosts as the pressure continues to mount on Nathan Jones with six defeats in his seven Premier League games in charge. Saints aren’t cut off at the bottom, yet, but it is getting to a very precarious situation for Jones as new players have arrived but there has been no real improvement for Saints since Ralph Hasenhuttl was fired in November. (JPW)
10. Bournemouth shows hope but Brighton’s got too much class (Brighton 1-0 AFC Bournemouth): Kaoru Mitoma certainly looks to be comfortable in the Premier League, and who needs a 20-yard banger or intra-box juggle-and fire every week? This time Mitoma turned up with a late header for his show-stopper. But Bournemouth can and should feel renewed optimism after new owner Bill Foley sanctioned moves for some badly needed flair players. One of those, Dango Ouattara, looks downright dangerous, while Ivorian attacker Hamed Traore and Ghanaian striker Antoine Semenyo are proper alternatives to Kieffer Moore and injured Dominic Solanke. When the Cherries get Marcus Tavernier back, the puzzle will be much closer to their best. How many pieces remain missing is what will dictate whether Bournemouth keeps its puncher’s chance to stay up. (NM)