8 Things We Learned from Premier League Week 22
Samuel Eto'o shone, Luis Suarez stumbled and Sam Allardyce suffered.
Week 22 of this season's Premier League once again offered up plenty of talking points, action and debate, as the top three in the table opened up a noticeable gap on the rest for the first time in the campaign.
David Moyes might still be refusing to admit it (BBC), but the champions now look extremely likely to come from one of Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea, who all recorded valuable home wins over the weekend.
At the bottom, there were big wins for both Norwich and Crystal Palace, whilst Sunderland picked up a precious point.
Here's the lowdown on the weekend:
Santi Cazorla Can Take on Arsenal's Goalscoring Burden
Arsenal are, so we've frequently been told, just a serious injury to Olivier Giroud away from complete and utter meltdown, with the knee ligament damage that ended Theo Walcott's season only adding fuel to that particular fire.
Scoring goals has been their primary concern then, but in Santi Cazorla they have a player who would become more prolific if only his finishing prowess could match the other aspects of his game that are so composed and elegant.
Until two weeks ago, the opening strike in November's win over Liverpool stood as the Spaniard's solitary goal of the campaign, but since then he's got the opener in an FA Cup North London derby before finding the net either side of the hour mark to calm mounting Arsenal nerves against Fulham.
It is easy to forget that, in the post-Robin van Persie era, Cazorla is one of only two players to register a Premier League hat-trick for the Gunners, with his treble in a win at Reading in December 2012 showcasing just what he can do in front of goal.
Those three strikes made up a quarter of the 12 goals he scored in his first season in English football, and if he's to match that total again in this campaign, then a few more crucial goal scoring interventions will lie ahead between now and May.
Emmanuel Adebayor Doesn't Need a Strike Partner Alongside Him
Having been so publicly committed to a 4-4-2 formation throughout his brief period in charge at Tottenham, there were more than a few double takes when Tim Sherwood submitted his team-sheet for the clash at Swansea on Sunday afternoon.
It contained the in-form Emmanuel Adebayor but no other recognised forward alongside him, with Roberto Soldado dropped to the bench alongside the soon-to-be-departing Jermain Defoe.
Christian Eriksen, Aaron Lennon and Nacer Chadli formed a vibrant, mobile trio behind the Togolese, and so any suggestion that Adebayor was too lazy or not committed enough to play in a lone forward role was completely washed away in South Wales. He linked with the three players around him, most notably with his header from Eriksen's sublime cross for his first goal of two.
Playing with a platform provided by Moussa Dembele and the exciting youngster Nabil Bentaleb in midfield, this Spurs selection dismissed any lazy claims that Sherwood only knows the one "English" way to play, and as they moved level on points with fourth-placed Liverpool they did so in some style.
Luis Suarez Will Always Be the Fall Guy
Luis Suarez had barely even hit the ground before the debate was raging over the penalty that he "won"―in every sense of the word―for Liverpool against Aston Villa at Anfield on Saturday.
One of the clearest aspects of the whole tale is just how much of a non-story it would have been had any other Liverpool player been racing onto Steven Gerrard's through ball early in the second half, with the evidence of that coming in the form of the soft, "Spanish" penalty won by Raheem Sterling at Stoke a week previously.
There was a brief outcry following that decision at the Britannia Stadium, but scarcely the level of rage provoked whenever Suarez is involved in a such a moment.
Indeed, no one really rushed to the Internet to brand Sterling "a diver" last week, but in comparison to the slight shove he got from the Potters' Marc Wilson, was Suarez attempting to hurdle the hurtling force of Brad Guzan any worse? Or indeed better?
It was just as controversial a decision as Sterling's stumble, yet because this is Suarez we're talking about, then sensationalist headlines need to be written and everyone's loud opinions sought.
Aston Villa Must Want to Play at Anfield Every Week
Regardless of Suarez, the key storyline at Anfield was the fine performance put in by Aston Villa at the venue for the second season in a row.
At a time when Villa are struggling so badly to provide goals and points at home―they've registered just eight of both in the league―they impressed Anfield again with a performance that was arguably better than the one they gave in their 3-1 win there last season due to the confidence with which Liverpool would have approached this game.
The Reds came into the clash having won seven in a row at home since the 1-0 defeat to Southampton at the end of September, scoring 25 goals in the process, and with Suarez in such red hot form plenty had Villa down as easy prey.
But the Villains capitalised on Brendan Rodgers' bizarre decision not to start Lucas Leiva, exploiting the gaps in the Liverpool midfield that did nothing to protect their already suspect defence.
They were excellent, and coupled with a somewhat fortuitous 1-1 draw in April 2012, are now unbeaten at Anfield in three visits, making Roy Hodgson the last Reds manager to experience a home league win over the Midlands outfit.
Samuel Eto'o Has Still Got It
Just when plenty were questioning the wisdom of bringing him to the club in the first place, Samuel Eto'o used two massive matches either side of the turn of the year to showcase his importance to this evolving Chelsea side.
In the Blues' final home match of 2013, the Cameroonian notched the winner against Liverpool, before using the club's first Stamford Bridge game of 2014 to become just the fourth player to score a hat-trick against Manchester United in the Premier League era.*
None of Eto'o's goals will win any awards, with his first owing to a deflection off Michael Carrick and then his next two both achieved with huge helping hands from the United defence, but in a season during which he's struggled to get the most out of his forwards, Jose Mourinho would have been delighted to see such a display of the art of the striker.
Eto'o might not be around for a long time at Stamford Bridge, but his impact over a short period could well be crucial.
*David Bentley, Dirk Kuyt and Romelu Lukaku, if you were wondering!
Norwich Display Their Knack of Delivering a Big Win
Throughout this season, just when he's needed it the most, Chris Hughton has seen his Norwich team manage to produce a big win for him.
In September, an early slide was arrested with a win at Stoke, the 7-0 mauling at Manchester City in November was immediately followed by a victory at home to West Ham, and then the latest bruising dished out to them by Luis Suarez last month then gave way to an encouraging 2-0 win at West Brom.
That remained their most recent victory heading into Saturday's game against Hull, when Ryan Bennett's header three minutes from time secured three points that suddenly saw the Canaries leap to 12th in the table, from where sacking Hughton doesn't look an issue.
The key of course is to ensure that these big wins are less strung out than they have been going forward, perhaps starting with a home clash against Hughton's old club, Newcastle, a week on Tuesday, with trips to Cardiff and West Ham on the horizon too.
Jason Puncheon Shows That a Week Can Be a Long Time in Football
The Internet can be a cruel place for the modern professional footballer.
Every embarrassing error can be highlighted and sent around the world to the delight of millions, and so it was that Crystal Palace's Jason Puncheon saw himself transformed from just your average Premier League player to an online hit with his disastrous penalty kick in last weekend's loss at Tottenham.
This tale does have a happy ending though, with the winger firing the winner as Tony Pulis masterminded a win over his former club. Palace climbed off the bottom of the table and out of the relegation zone altogether with a 1-0 victory over Stoke.
For both the club and their winger it represented a crucial achievement, and if Palace can keep on taking three points from such matches then their hopes of staying up could become real beliefs.
West Ham Are in Need of a Quick Fix in Relegation Scrap
The win at Cardiff and the return of Andy Carroll weren't the springboards that Sam Allardyce had hoped for at West Ham, as the hosts slipped to a miserable home defeat to Newcastle that could have ended up even more damaging than the 3-1 scoreline suggests.
Carroll appeared for just under half an hour and managed to completely skew a glorious chance from a Stewart Downing cross, but whilst his mere presence is a cause for much optimism around Upton Park, he is in need of some goalscoring help.
Allardyce should be raiding the loan market for a proven goalscorer who can come straight into the team and fire the seven or eight goals which could be enough to keep them up.
How he must be ruing the decision of Jermain Defoe to head for Toronto, but there are other options out there.