With each and every match having a sizable impact on the EPL table, the Matchday 31 slate figures to have a lasting impact throughout the remainder of the season.
The beautiful thing about the Premier League is that every team is fighting to accomplish something different. Some are trying to win the title, some are trying to qualify for the Champions League and some are simply trying to avoid relegation. Whatever the case, there is something on the line for everyone.
Even though every team should have been motivated to perform well, that didn't necessarily translate to the pitch on Saturday. Here is a closer look at the matches that impacted the EPL table most on Matchday 31, for better or worse.
Chelsea vs. Arsenal
Which squad made the biggest statement in Week 32?
In what could be categorized as the biggest match of the season thus far, first-place Chelsea hosted Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. The Blues held a four-point advantage over the Gunners entering the day, and an Arsenal win would have closed the gap considerably. In fact, it would have put the Gunners in the driver's seat due to the fact that they have a game in hand over Chelsea. Unfortunately for Arsenal fans, however, their team didn't come prepared to play.
Chelsea were all over Arsenal from the opening whistle and they showed no mercy. Samuel Eto'o and Andre Schurrle beat Wojciech Szczesny in the opening seven minutes, and the Blues added four additional goals over the next 83 minutes. Oscar netted two, Eden Hazard converted on a penalty kick and Mohamed Salah even got in on the action.
For Arsenal, it was the continuation of an ugly trend that has persisted all season long. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Gunners have struggled mightily on the road against the EPL's elite squads:
Arsenal Poor Away Form v other current Top 4 this season…. Today @ Chelsea L, 0-6 Feb. 8 @ Liverpool L, 1-5 Dec. 14 @ Man City L, 3-6— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 22, 2014
To add insult to injury, the blowout loss came during Arsene Wenger's 1,000th game as Arsenal's manager. Although there were plenty of factors that contributed to the defeat, Wenger placed the blame on himself, per Matt McGeehan of The Independent via BBC.
This defeat is my fault, I take full responsibility for it. I don't think there's too much need to talk about the mistakes we made. We got a good hiding today. It's one of the worst days (in my career). It's over after 20 minutes and it's a long game after that. You don't prepare all week to experience that kind of experience.
The loss was a major setback for the Gunners, who are now in fourth place and seven points behind Chelsea. This will be an extremely difficult loss to bounce back from for Arsenal, while it should give Chelsea a ton of momentum as the season nears its conclusion.
Manchester City vs. Fulham
Manchester City have been vying for the EPL's top spot all season long, and they inched a little closer on Saturday by virtue of a 5-0 demolition of last-place Fulham. The Cottagers were outclassed by the Citizens and there was never any doubt that the match would end with Manchester City on top. As has been the case often this season, the biggest difference-maker was midfielder Yaya Toure.
Toure netted three of Manchester City's markers, two of which came via penalty kicks. Toure has been spectacular in many ways this year, but he has been particularly deadly on penalty kicks and set pieces, according to 8 Fact Football on Twitter:
Yaya Toure has scored with 9 of his 10 attempts from dead ball situations (4 free-kicks & 5 penalties) this season in the PL.— 8 Fact Football (@8Fact_Footballl) March 22, 2014
The 30-year-old Ivory Coast native was never viewed as an elite goalscorer prior to the 2013-14 campaign, but that perception is changing. After Saturday's virtuoso performance, Toure now has more goals than many of the EPL's best offensive players, per John Bennett of BBC:
Yaya Toure now has 14 Premier Lge goals this season - more than the likes of Giroud, Eto'o, Lukaku, Rooney, Van Persie & Dzeko. #goalmachine— John Bennett (@JohnBennettBBC) March 22, 2014
It was obvious that this was a mismatch before the match even started, but it is an important victory for City nonetheless. The victory allowed them to vault past Arsenal in the standings, and they now trail Chelsea by six points with three matches in hand. If the Citizens continue to play like this, then an EPL title is likely.
Everton vs. Swansea City
Although Everton have dropped off since a hot start to the season, the Toffees picked up a huge win over Swansea City on Saturday. Everton will be hard-pressed to ascend to the top four and secure a Champions league berth, but they are now within eight points of shell-shocked Arsenal with a game in hand to boot.
Everton came out on top by a 3-2 score, and it can be argued that the Toffees stole the win. They were thoroughly outplayed by Swansea for stretches, but they made the most of their opportunities. The ultimate game-winner was scored by midfielder Ross Barkley, who made good on a cross from Kevin Mirallas, according to the Premier League:
GOAL Everton 3-1 Swansea (58 mins). Ross Barkley stoops to nod in for the hosts after Kevin Mirallas swung in a left-wing corner #EVESWA— Premier League (@premierleague) March 22, 2014
Everton surged past Tottenham with that win and now sits all alone in fifth place. Although many view fifth as the loneliest position in the EPL, qualifying for the Europa League would be a nice consolation for the Toffees if they are unable to overtake Arsenal.
Also, the loss was significant for the Swans in that it moved them closer to the relegation line. They are just four points up on 18th-place Sunderland, which means that the race to avoid relegation is heating up in the season's closing weeks as well.
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