English Premier League: 10 Things We Learned from EPL Week 23
The English Premier League hasn't failed to deliver once this season, and Week 23 certainly wasn't the week it went back on its promise.
Highlighted by two spectacular matches on Sunday, the Premier League once again provided plenty of entertainment with great goals and high-quality drama throughout.
There was much to be learned about the title race, top-four, relegation battle and so much else in this weekend's Premier League matches, so let's jump straight in.
Here's 10 things we learned from the Premier League this week.
1. Daniel Sturridge Continues to Impress
Liverpool brought in Daniel Sturridge over the winter transfer window to complement striker Luis Suarez at the top of the Reds' attack and provide another attacking outlet for the club.
Yet not even they would have envisaged that the former Chelsea man would be this impressive in his opening few games for club, who would have given him a couple of matches to settle in.
The England international netted again for the Reds in their 5-0 thumping of Norwich City, giving him three goals in his opening three appearances for the Merseyside men.
Manager Brendan Rodgers surely has to give Sturridge a permanent starting role now given his impressive start—a move that will surely delight both the fans and the striker himself.
The Reds are only seven points outside the top four, and playing some seriously good football with Sturridge and Suarez at the top of their attack. With plenty of the Premier League season remaining, who knows what could happen over the final few months.
2. Chelsea's Midfield Is Simply Too Strong
Arsenal might have been missing Mikel Arteta for their key London derby against Chelsea, but even had he been there, the result would not have been any different.
The Blues midfield is simply too strong at their best for any team in the Premier League, and they proved that to be true once again this weekend against the Gunners.
Ramires was the big difference in defensive midfield—having one of his finest games for the west London club all season in both attack and defense.
Frank Lampard was sensational as per usual; Juan Mata his devastating creative self that finished beautifully to give Chelsea the opening goal of the match.
Their central midfield was simply so strong that wingers Eden Hazard and Oscar were relatively quiet throughout the match—unable to do all that much in attack.
Arsene Wenger's men did come back at the Blues in the second half, particularly through Santi Cazorla's midfield mastery, but it was too little too late for the Gunners.
Chelsea had already won the midfield battle and had set themselves up in a prime position to win the match, which they would go on to do 2-1 in the end.
3. Newcastle Are in Serious Trouble
Another week, another loss for Alan Pardew's Newcastle United, who now find themselves in serious relegation trouble for the remainder of the year.
Their fifth-place finish of last year must seem like a distant memory now for the men from up north, with the Magpies' latest loss condemning them to 16th on the league ladder.
Playing at home (a typically strong ground for Newcastle) against relegation fodder Reading (who hadn't won away all season), Newcastle United were simply terrible.
They let their early lead slip and looked bereft of creative options throughout most of the second half—something that the sale of Demba Ba to Chelsea probably didn't help with.
The Magpies are now just two points above the drop zone, having lost 10 of their last 13 matches in the English Premier League this season.
Having not won away from home all year, their next three matches against Aston Villa (away), Chelsea (home) and Tottenham Hotspur (away) could all prove difficult for Pardew's men, who will need some serious help if they are to avoid relegation.
4. QPR Continue Quest for Survival
Yet whilst Newcastle United continue to slip further and further down the table, Harry Redknapp's Queens Park Rangers continue to climb up in the opposite direction.
Rangers made it three matches in a row without defeat now with a 1-1 draw away to West Ham, with new signing Loic Remy impressing for the visitors on debut.
QPR seemed destined for relegation when they went winless through their opening 16 matches this year, but have turned their year around under former Spurs boss Redknapp.
The fact that Reading and Southampton keep on winning has meant that the London club still find themselves inside the relegation zone and in last position on the ladder.
But they are playing far better football than they were earlier in the year—particularly in midfield—and that should hold them in good stead in their quest for survival.
5. Arsenal Desperately Need a Facelift
Arsenal played half an hour of good football against Chelsea, one hour of terrible football against Chelsea and got the result they deserved against Chelsea this weekend.
The Gunners' first half in particular was simply horrendous, and their attack once again sputtered when they needed it to shine and sparkle.
At the very least, they needed their attack to take the chances presented to them, and on the few times they did manage chances, they squandered them with relative ease.
Manager Arsene Wenger admitted after the match that the North London club's top-four hopes were in serious trouble (per Goal).
The club have dropped all the way down to sixth position now and find themselves on the same number of points as eighth-placed West Bromwich Albion—a less than ideal position for a team that is chasing a top-four finish in 2013.
The Gunners are in desperate need some help at the moment, and need some sort of spark or change to reignite their season—a facelift for their current operations.
That might be in the transfer window or it might simply positional or formation wise. Either way, Wenger has to make some changes because this isn't a club traveling in a good direction, and it certainly isn't a team that doesn't need any changes.
6. Robin Van Persie Cannot Be Stopped
Perhaps it was cruel to comment on Robin van Persie just after an Arsenal slide, but the truth is that the Dutch international is simply in devastating form this season.
After netting 30 goals for Arsenal in the 2011-12 Premier League season, few expected that Van Persie would be able to repeat his feats at Manchester United this season.
After all, their attack was too crowded and their style of play didn't suit the dynamic finishing accustomed to the 29-year-old throughout the previous year.
Oh how wrong they were.
Van Persie found the back of the net again for United against Tottenham Hotspur on the weekend—giving him a total of 18 goals from 20 league appearances this year.
The statistics on Van Persie's performance thus speak for themselves.
10 - Robin van Persie has now scored 10 goals in his last 10 Premier League games. Leader.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 20, 2013
10 - Robin van Persie is the first player in Premier League history to score 10+ away goals in three successive seasons. Peerless.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 20, 2013
7. Stoke City Are Falling Apart
An interesting decline to watch at the moment is that of Stoke City, whose tough defense has simply fallen apart right in front of them over the past few weeks.
Through the opening 19 weeks of the year, the Potters were virtually unbreakable at the back—particularly when playing at the Britannia, but also away from home.
Their 19 fixtures had yielded just 14 goals against them, giving them the lowest goals against record in the league by a clear margin.
However, that number became even more incredible when you took into account a 4-2 loss to Manchester United and a 2-2 draw to Wigan Athletic—leaving them with just eight goals against in 17 fixtures throughout the opening half of the season.
Yet once the second half of the season started, Stoke's tough defense fell away, with the Potters conceding 13 goals in their last four matches alone. Swansea City ran in three of those this weekend, with Tony Pulis' side not even looking like threatening to stop the Swans' attack at times.
19 weeks, 14 goals against. Last four weeks, 13 goals against.
Stoke City are falling apart at the back.
8. Tottenham Continue to Push for Top Four
With new manager Andre Villas-Boas and a host of new players arriving at White Hart Lane over the summer, many wondered just how well Tottenham Hotspur would do this season.
They were so close to earning a Champions League berth at the end of the 2011-12 season, but with all the changes, would they be able to repeat their top-four finish in 2013?
The answer, so far, is a resounding yes.
Spurs held league leaders Manchester United to a 1-1 draw this weekend in heavy snow without their best midfield player and key striker to consolidate on fourth spot in the Premier League.
It was truly a remarkable performance from the London club, who clearly deserved Clint Dempsey's late equalizing goal to give them a share of the points on the night.
A scoreless draw between Everton and Southampton further ensured Tottenham's top-four status, with Spurs now three points clear in fourth spot.
They are playing good, attacking football through midfield, and are definitely a side worth watching throughout the remainder of the 2013 season.
9. 2013 Just Isn't the Year for Aston Villa
As good as the year might have been for Tottenham Hotspur, 2013 simply hasn't been the year for Paul Lambert and Aston Villa.
The Villans saw a two-goal lead slip straight by them this weekend against West Bromwich Albion, making it six times this year that they've scored the opening goal and not gone on to win the game.
Villa haven't won since December, and have managed just two points from their last six Premier League matches.
Their last clean sheet came back on the 8th of December against Stoke City—a match that finished in a draw; conceding 20 goals in just their last six matches.
They've done remarkably well to make the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup as well, but even then, they look like bowing out in embarrassment to lowly Bradford City.
Darren Bent will surely leave over the summer transfer window.
That is, if they even survive the relegation battle.
Aston Villa face Everton away, Arsenal away and Manchester City at home throughout their next five Premier League fixtures—proving that the outlook isn't great for Villa.
10. The Title Race Is Well and Truly Alive
But the biggest news to come out of the Premier League weekend was that the title race between Manchester United and Manchester City is well and truly alive.
The Premier League, it seems, will once again be decided between the two Manchester clubs, who were separated by just goal difference after 38 games last season in the league.
The Red Devils entered Week 23 with a seven-point lead in the the title race, but after City beat Fulham 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium, they saw that lead drop to just five points following their late 1-1 draw against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
With just 15 weeks remaining left in the title race, the Manchester derby on April 6 is shaping as one of the must-watch matches of the Premier League season.
United's next two league matches see them take on Southampton and Fulham whilst City do battle against Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool.
Could we be set for some more drama in the title race?
What did you learn from Week 23 of the English Premier League?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre