English Premier League: 10 Things We Learned from EPL Week 18
The English Premier League is done and dusted for another week, and whilst Week 18 might be completed in terms of on-field action, the lessons and takeaways from it are still very fresh in our minds.
From Manchester City's last-gasp winner against lowly Reading to another undeserved penalty for Arsenal, Week 18 of the Premier League was another fascinating affair with plenty to take away and process for the weeks ahead.
Here's 10 things we learned from the EPL this weekend.
1. West Bromwich Albion Are Back
Normally, you'd say that a team couldn't be back or out of their form slump on one good performance, but in the case of West Bromwich Albion, we can definitely come close to calling it.
The Baggies 2-1 win at home over previously streaking Norwich City showed that they are still the real deal this season and an outside chance a top four spot. But, perhaps most importantly, it ended their four-game winless streak and kept them on pace with the league's other top-four challengers.
Norwich hadn't been beaten in their previous 11 matches heading into this one—winning against the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United in that time—and would have been full of confidence heading to the Hawthorns, where West Brom had previously been beaten.
But a goal in the final 10 minutes of play to young striker Romelu Lukaku was enough to give all three points to the home side and end West Brom's mini form slump.
Considering the class and momentum which their opponents had here, don't be surprised if this win doesn't spark the Baggies once more this year—don't be surprised at all.
2. Arsenal Are Still Not Convincing
Despite making it three wins in a row following their 1-0 win over Wigan Athletic, you'd have to say that Arsenal are still not convincing this year.
They might be up into the top-four courtesy of results falling their way and back in contention for a Champions League berth next season, but there is little doubting that the Gunners are still a long way off playing their best football this year.
Reading were poor last week rather than Arsenal being good—we saw that this week in the fact that the Lactics pushed the North London club the full 90 minutes at the D.W. Stadium and were perhaps unlucky not to walk away with at least a point for their efforts.
The same consistency problem still exists for the Gunners, as does the fact they don't have a go-to striker who can dominate at the top of the attack.
And until both of those are sorted, it's hard to feel completely confident in declaring that Arsene Wenger's men are genuine contenders again this season.
3. Are Everton Exposed at the Moment?
Everton picked up a huge come-from-behind win away from home to West Ham United on the weekend, but watching the Toffees play, you'd have to suggest that they look a little exposed at the moment.
Without star strikers Kevin Mirallas (injury) and Marouane Fellaini (suspension), the Merseyside club weren't their fluent selves in attack against the Hammers—struggling for direction and the ability to thread the final pass through to their strikers.
Granted the London club did play well and are a tough team to break down at home, but still, David Moyes' men will know that they were nowhere near their best this weekend and were lucky to walk away from Upton Park with all three points.
Neither Fellaini or Mirallas will be available in the near future for Everton; meaning that they need to find new goal-scoring threats in the time being to continue their strong run in the Premier League.
Only 10 points separates third and 15th at the time of writing this article—making the next few weeks that they are without their star strikers a very testing time for the Merseyside club. They could very well define their chances this season in the next six weeks of action.
4. 90th Minute Winners Are Defining Title Race
Were it not for another 90th minute winner, Manchester City would be the embarrassment of the Premier League for failing to score against the worst team in the league—Reading.
I mean, even Arsenal managed to score five last week, and they could barely beat Wigan. Surely City would have been able to net a bagful of goals this week?
You'd have been forgiven for thinking that, but as is so often becoming the case for Roberto Mancini's men, it was another last-minute goal that provided the results for them.
Were it not for goals scored in the 80th minute or later, City would have 14 less points than they do right now and would currently be a full win behind Chelsea and West Brom on the Premier League ladder.
Interestingly, applying the same rule to Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson's men would fall from 42 points to 33 points—throwing away their current lead on top of the table.
Last-minute goals are defining the title race this season so far; will they continue to do so through the latter part of the season also?
5. When Liverpool Get Hot, Watch out
Last week, at Anfield, Liverpool were terrible.
This week, at Anfield, Liverpool were incredible.
Sure Fulham weren't that great themselves and the Reds simply capitalized on good possession and attacking opportunities, but the fact remains that they still took their chances and found the back of the net—running out 4-0 winners on the night to give them their biggest win of the season so far.
Goals to Martin Škrtel, Steven Gerrard, Stewart Downing and Luis Suarez only begins to the story of Liverpool's dominance on the night against Martin Jol's men.
The Reds finished with 22 attempts on goal to Fulham's eight; 114 completed passes in the attacking third compared to the 76 of their opponents. They had more possession, better field position and simply created too many chances for the Cottagers to handle.
Liverpool haven't been hot too many times this season, but when they get there, they're definitely a team worth watching out for.
Especially when they've only lost twice since September.
6. Stoke City Are Tough
With another low-scoring draw, Stoke City have well and truly cemented themselves as the toughest team in the English Premier League this season.
Tough to beat at home; tough to beat away.
Tough to score against, pass well against, attack against.
But, at the same time, Stoke City are also incredibly tough to watch, tough to get excited about, tough to get enthused or emotionally involved with this season—simply because of the fact that there really isn't anything to get excited or enthused about.
Stoke have had 10 wins from their 18 league games this season—including five scoreless affairs, with both their attack and defense responsible for that.
Their defense has been incredible—keeping their opponents scoreless in every second game and conceding the fewest goals all season because of it. However, that has been cancelled out at times by their lackluster attack, which has scored the fewest goals all season and failed to score in nearly 40 percent of their Premier League matches this season.
As I said, tough to get excited about.
7. Swansea Still Strong at Home
They might have had back-to-back losses heading into this one, but Swansea City proved against the best team in the league that, at home, they are a tough team to beat.
Swansea didn't pick up all three points, but they did show that they can match United through the middle of the field and show that they can contain the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney in attack.
At Liberty Stadium, the Swans have now held the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool to draws this season and have scored a win against West Bromwich Albion, also.
Their away form isn't particularly potent—with four defeats already this year—but they cannot be ruled out as a genuine threat at home. Especially when Michu continues to find the back of the net.
8. Stewart Downing CAN Score Goals
After one of the worst seasons on record last season, Liverpool's Stewart Downing is proving he can do what he was brought in to do all along—find the back of the net.
Downing scored in the Reds' big win over Fulham—something he couldn't manage to do all season last year—giving him two goals through 12 appearances this season.
Here's a selection of comments from around Twitter on the revelation that Downing has become this season for Liverpool as he finally manages to offer something for the Merseyside club to work with in attack.
83 - Stewart Downing's first Premier League goal for Liverpool came from his 83rd shot. Perseverance.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 22, 2012
Even more astounding than Messi's tally... Stewart Downing has scored.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) December 22, 2012
BREAKING: The FA are set to test Stewart Downing for performance-enhancing drugs, as he manages a Premier League assist.
— BBC Sporf (@BBCSporf) December 22, 2012
In his 45th Premier League match for Liverpool, £20m Stewart Downing finally provides his first assist.
— Jonathan Stevenson (@Stevo_football) December 22, 2012
COMPARISON: Chelsea's Lucas Piazon: 2 minutes, 1 assist - Liverpool's Stewart Downing: 2 years, 1 assist.
— BBC Sporf (@BBCSporf) December 23, 2012
9. Eight Is Great for Chelsea
When they found the back of the net inside the opening three minutes, it was fairly safe to suggest that Chelsea were in for a big night.
What we did not know was just how big it would be.
Chalking up the biggest win of the Premier League season so far, Chelsea ran riot over a hapless Aston Villa—bagging eight goals at Stamford Bridge—to put them back inside the top three on the ladder.
The win marked the first time in the league that a team has had seven different scorers, with Fernando Torres, David Luiz, Branislav Ivanović, Frank Lampard, Ramires, Oscar and Eden Hazard all finding the back of the net in the huge win.
Lucas Piazón also had his penalty saved on the night.
10. Are Arsenal the New Divers of the EPL?
One final thing that we learned from the weekend's action—and it follows on from what we've seen previously this season—could Arsenal be the new "diving" team in the Premier League?
Theo Walcott's woeful penalty dive—which can be seen here for those that missed it—was the difference between victory and a scoreless draw for the Gunners, and it should be labelled as nothing short of pathetic from the England international.
Sure, it might not beat the effort from Santi Cazorla that won Arsenal a penalty against West Brom, but not by much—this one was just as bad from Walcott.
Combined then with all the flopping that took place from the North London club this weekend, from Kieran Gibbs to Cazorla, the question must be asked as to whether Arsene Wenger's men have become the worst diving team in the Premier League?
Maybe it's not just Manchester United after all.
What did you learn from the Premier League this weekend?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!