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10 things we learned in the Premier League: Week 31

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle hit the tactics board to analyze Arsenal's mistakes that caused the Gunners to let a 2-0 lead slip through their fingers against West Ham.

This was quite a weekend for the Premier League’s big races.

The title race is tighter than its been in some time after Arsenal coughed up another two-goal lead and dropped two points.

The top-four race is more congested after Aston Villa and Brighton impressed while Newcastle and Spurs both dropped points.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

And the relegation fight, once looking to include half of the Premier League table, is now looking a lot more focused.

And we’ve still got Leeds vs Liverpool to come at 3pm ET Monday, where the visitors current form and hosts current predicament mean anything can happen at Elland Road (Watch live at 3pm ET on USA Network or stream online via NBCSports.com).

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 31

1. Is fatigue and even boredom behind Arsenal’s twin lapses? (West Ham 2-2 Arsenal): Arsenal were so dominant in the first half it was scary. They went 2-0 up inside 10 minutes and looked like they would score with every attack. But a pattern is emerging. They’re stuttering when they go 2-0 up. Thomas Partey switched off in a bored manner and allowed Declan Rice to win the ball, leading to Gabriel making a poor challenge to give West Ham the penalty for their first goal. They then allowed one long ball over the top to find a completely unmarked Jarrod Bowen to make it 2-2. How does that happen? These sloppy defensive mistakes seem to be creeping back into Arsenal’s game but they have been there all season. Perhaps missing William Saliba and Oleksandr Zinchenko is having a bigger impact than we thought? After all, Arsenal have a small squad and Arteta has run them into the ground this season, focusing on keeping them together while the chemistry has been so good. Perhaps he is now paying the price for Arsenal being so good for so much of the season that he didn’t feel the need to rotate his team? Fatigue mixed with boredom is resulting in Arsenal crumbling in games to hand Man City the initiative in the title race. (JPW)

2. Pep’s indestructible Man City rides with Haaland (Man City 3-1 Leicester City): This seems cruel given Arsenal’s spot in the Premier League’s catbird seat but right now the division’s second-place side looks like one of the best to ever play the game. City is putting teams away before the grass has lost its slickness, and Erling Haaland is simply devouring back lines and goalkeepers in one bite. In short, he looks like a mixture of the biggest superhero holding the cunning of the biggest villain: a mixture of Thor and Thanos, for the Marvel crowd. City has to stay sharp through a Champions League second leg and an FA Cup semifinal versus Sheffield United before meeting Arsenal on April 26. (NM)

3. Unai Emery’s surging Villa have reasonable top-four dreams (Aston Villa 3-0 Newcastle): Look, it may be a long shot but the way Aston Villa are playing right now combined with their remaining schedule suggests they could somehow sneak into the top four. Remember: when Unai Emery took charge in November they were just one point above the relegation zone after sacking Steven Gerrard. With five wins in a row and seven victories in their last eight, they are now sixth and are in the hunt for European qualification. This Villa side always had the quality for a top 10 finish but they are overachieving under Emery who has set them up to be solid defensively but also carry a real threat in the final third (they have scored in all of his 18 PL games in charge). Every single player understands their role and they play in a beautiful, yet simple, way. With Ollie Watkins in this kind of form (11 goals in his last 12) their balanced play has a focal point who is making the difference in the final third. Villa play against top four rivals Manchester United and Tottenham in their next five games and if they win both of those they could somehow finish in the top four. (JPW)

4. Cherries red-hot at just the right time - and against the right opponent (Spurs 2-3 Bournemouth): Bournemouth have now won more games (five) out of their last nine than they did in their first 22 (four), and it has them just one or two more wins away from survival and a second-straight season in the Premier League. Before the nine-game run began (Feb. 18), the Cherries sat 19th in the table, without a win since Nov. 12 (7 games) and just one win in their previous 13 outings. Tottenham failed to capitalize on third-place Newcastle’s heavy defeat to Aston Villa earlier in the day, and has won just twice in six outings despite an almost-exclusively bottom-half fixture list. (AE)

5. Chelsea’s archipelago of forwards left deserted (Chelsea 1-2 Brighton): Chelsea is a mess right now. Frank Lampard flipped the script on his lineup, apparently more interested in the unlikely comeback that could come on Tuesday against Real Madrid then collecting points in the Premier League. It decidedly did not look close to working, as Lampard has 0 points in three matches (Wolves away, Real Madrid away, Brighton at home). Surprise starter Denis Zakaria did not thrive in the moment and Enzo Fernandez looked uncharacteristically frayed next to him. Conor Gallagher was lively but unsharp as the midfield left all five participating forwards on islands and Chelsea’s archipelago only struck when Mykhailo Mudryk drove the center of the pitch to get Gallagher his deflected goal. That’s it. The Blues had eight shots, none of them particularly dangerous besides the goal (we guess), and kept almost 60 percent of the ball. Chelsea’s home crowd was treated to a lineup that treated the occasion like a friendly, and it got a performance similar to a meaning-free 90 minutes. (NM)

6. Maguire, Lindelof stand tall as Man Utd finally unravels Navas (Nottingham Forest 0-2 Manchester United): It wasn’t quite “No Varane, no Lisandro, no problem” and it was against a less-than-dangerous opponent, but Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof backed up manager Erik ten Hag’s faith in their capabilities. Maguire was fortunate to avoid a handball call early but it was on a cross into a mess of bodies, while Lindelof was essentially error free as the duo combined with 18 recoveries and nine clearances. Throw-in a very comfortable David De Gea and United enjoyed their challenge before coming out scot-free. This would’ve been a 4-0 or 5-0 cruise on a day without Keylor Navas between the sticks at the other end. (NM)

7. Southampton going down with a whimper (Southampton 0-2 Crystal Palace): This is a team scrapping for their lives, who currently sit bottom of the table and were in the midst of a winnable home game against Palace. Watching this game, you would think Saints are 11th, have their flip flops on, and have nothing left to play for this season. There was no urgency, no belief, and no fight. The latter is a non-negotiable in the position Saints find themselves in. Somehow they are still just four points from safety with seven games to go but they have a ridiculously hard schedule remaining and there is little to suggest the Saints will do anything other than amble towards relegation between now and the end of the season. It is a sad sight to see a team give up their Premier League status in such dismal fashion. (JPW)

8. Diego Costa rolls back years to keep Wolves trending up (Wolves 2-0 Brentford): At the age of 34, not much was expected of Diego Costa when he unexpectedly turned up at Wolves earlier this season. But Saturday was finally his day. He bullied Brentford, scoring the opener as he set up the counter and finished it off, too. He ran himself into the ground as peak Diego Costa. His flicks were working, his movement and general partnership with Matheus Cunha was excellent, and he gave Wolves a focal point to build and sustain attacks. In truth, this Wolves squad is far too good to be in the bottom half of the table. From Pablo Sarabia, Costa, and Cunha to Matheus Nunes, Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho and Jose Sa, they have too much quality to be anything other than a top 10 Premier League team. You get the feeling Lopetegui will turn them into that next season as he’s done a stunning job to turn their season around. There has always been a solidity about Wolves but now there is a hunger in attack. Part of that is because Costa has regained his fitness and is rolling back the years. (JPW)

9. Everton’s struggles under Dyche looking familiar to predecessors (Everton 1-2 Fulham): After winning two of his first three games in charge, including a 1-0 victory over Premier League leaders Arsenal, the results are starting to look quite familiar for Sean Dyche. Small sample size, of course, but Dyche’s win percentage (27.27) is now worse than that of Frank Lampard (27.91) and Rafa Benitez (31.82) — Dyche’s most recent predecessors and the managers who oversaw the majority of Everton’s nosedive. Everton have kept three clean sheets (in 11 games) since Dyche replaced Lampard, and the club has won three games under Dyche. You can probably guess which three. (AE)

10. Brighton’s De Zerbi controls Chelsea, adds intrigue to 2023-24 (Chelsea 1-2 Brighton): Full credit to Brighton and Hove Albion. For any team, even Chelsea, to be controlled it means another team has to control it, and Brighton was first in absolutely everything except goalkeeper on Saturday. And that’s not a shot at Robert Sanchez, who was beaten by Conor Gallagher’s deflected strike, but otherwise fine (Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga had eight saves and was phenomenal). Brighton seems likely to go to Europe, where De Zerbi will like his chances against almost anyone provided he can hang onto some of his bigger pieces like Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister. In fact, Brighton’s offseason and 2023-24 campaign has as much intrigue as more than half of the ‘Big Six’. (NM)

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