Week 24 of the Premier League has, as always, produced a number of shocks, thrills and spills.
We have a new team at the top—which is the 18th time this season that the leader has changed—and also a different side at the very bottom.
A new signing was utterly wasted in his current side’s latest defeat, whilst another new signing was his team’s star man.
Here are eight things we learned from the weekend’s action in the Premier League.
It’s been a good few years since we’ve heard the chants of “boring, boring Arsenal” as the Gunners ground out a nauseating 1-0 win. And it’ll probably be a few more years until we hear it again, if we do at all. Arsene Wenger’s side play some of the most aesthetically pleasing football in the world, never mind just in England’s top flight, so there’d be no cause for the chant to be heard in football stadiums up and down the country.
But watching Arsenal’s first-half performance in their clash with Crystal Palace made me want to sporadically burst into song, chanting at the tedious pass-a-thon that was unfolding. Wenger’s men weren’t leading one-nil, but their indifferent performance was as monotonous as the single-goal shutouts of yesteryear.
Thankfully, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain put in an impressive second-half show and popped up with two goals to settle the tie.
Gus Poyet is quietly working miracles at the Stadium of Light. Many questioned his appointment following the dismissal of the erratic Paolo Di Canio—believing that the Uruguayan was, in some manners, too similar to the fiery Italian. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
OK, the two may have started their reigns in similar style—guiding the Black Cats to a win over fierce rivals Newcastle and celebrating wildly in front of their fans. But, other than that, they are like chalk and cheese.
Poyet has Sunderland playing a very measured, no-risks type of football, but, with the likes of Adam Johnson and Fabio Borini, the team can be devastating when going forward—the latest win over Newcastle being proof of this.
The comfortable 3-0 win at St James’ Park sees Sunderland win three derbies in a row for the first time in 91 years and move to 14th in the Premier League.
Aston Villa have, on the rare occasion this season, been hugely impressive. After all, they claimed an astonishing 3-1 win over Arsenal on the opening day of the season, as well as stunning 3-2 wins over Manchester City and Southampton. They have been able to achieve such results because of the way boss Paul Lambert has set his team up to play—and they’ve had a little bit of luck along the way, too.
Villa’s tactic this season has been to soak up pressure and attack on the counter, using the pace of wingers Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann to feed the inconsistent Christian Benteke. And it has worked, for the most part. But the loss against Everton magnifies Villa’s lack of a plan B.
The Claret and Blues took a 1-0 lead into the break but returned for the second half applying the same tactic, which allowed for the Toffees to relentlessly attack. Naturally, it paid off for Roberto Martinez’s men, who enjoyed 73 percent possession during the match.
And yes, I appreciate that Villa were away from home. But their 27 percent possession during the clash at home to Swansea on December 28 just emphasises the point that a change in approach may benefit Lambert’s side.
Fulham succumbed to another defeat on Saturday—their 17th of the season—losing at home to Southampton. The Cottagers sit in dead last in the Premier League, are looking like relegation fodder and are odds-on favourites for the drop.
The London club were failing under former boss Martin Jol, and it was evident for all to see what was about to pan out when new owner Shahid Khan appointed Rene Meulensteen to work “beneath” his fellow Dutchman.
It transpired that Jol lost his job to the former Manchester United coach. But Khan may now be regretting his decision. Sure, Meulensteen is a fine coach, but the Dutchman simply does not possess the know-how and expertise to get his side out of a relegation battle. Jol, on the other hand, has never been relegated as a manager and, although it may have been ugly, would have probably kept Fulham in the league.
In what was the biggest shock of the weekend, Stoke piled more misery on under-fire Manchester United manager David Moyes by claiming a famous 2-1 victory at the Britannia Stadium. But, aside from the result, what was quite shocking was Moyes’ insistence on sticking with a 4-4-2 formation, despite acquiring the signature of Juan Mata during the January transfer window.
The £37.1 million signing can be one of the most exciting players to watch in England’s top flight, but only when utilised properly. Pushing the Spaniard out wide and attempting to transform him into a winger is not the way to get the best out of his immense talent.
Instead, Moyes should opt for a formation that will see Mata effectively used in his more familiar attacking midfield role—perhaps in a 4-2-3-1, alongside Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj behind Robin van Persie.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer earned the name “baby-faced assassin” during his time at Manchester United. The former Norwegian international was renowned for coming off the bench to score late goals—an injury-time winner in the 1999 Champions League final quite possibly the best example of this. But now, the Cardiff manager is slowly earning the tag of “baby-faced tactician.”
The 40-year-old masterminded another Bluebirds victory, as his side came from behind to beat Norwich 2-1. The former Molde boss introduced on-loan Manchester United winger Wilfried Zaha, who set up the first goal and played a pivotal role in the Welsh side’s win.
West Ham claimed three well-earned points with a comfortable 2-0 win over Swansea at Upton Park, but it was two former Newcastle United teammates and best friends, Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan, who ensured the win.
Nolan once “saved” bad boy Carroll, according to the Daily Mail, allowing him to lodge with him at his home to get him on the right path, and the two combined once more—this time Carroll returning the favour to set up both of Nolan’s goals.
Liverpool were held to a draw by West Brom for the first ever time in Premier League history and for the first time in the top flight since 1984.
The Reds took the lead midway through the first half as (excuse the phrase) “SAS”—Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge—combined. And it all looked to be going well for Brendan Rodgers’ men, aiming to tighten their grip on fourth place, as the game wore on.
However, an incredible blunder from centre-half Kolo Toure gifted former Everton striker Victor Anichebe the simplest of goals.