Chasm-like, that’s the word. There probably isn’t any other term suitable for the gap between the Premier League’s top six and the rest, in terms of points, but mostly quality.

Consider the fact that for all of Arsenal’s league blunders this season, as well as Manchester United’s last term, neither were/are in danger of slipping down to seventh spot, the position from where the scrap seems to begin. Everton seemed to give that seventh place some grip last term, as it also looked down on the rest, while being looked down on the by best, but it’s little gain saying how much the Toffees have floundered this season, in spite of the large transfer outlay, both in the summer and last month.

Yet, it’s testament to how crowded, or rather how inconsistent (if not low in quality) that regions outside the top six is that the Toffees are only two points off seventh. A side who, until the final day of January, hadn’t won in 2018, a side that didn’t manage a shot on target in four out of five games this term, a side recently thrashed out of sight by Arsenal, are only a win away from taking a seemingly certain European spot. Suddenly they are primed to finish in the same place they did last season, despite this one being an obvious disappointment to last term’s improvement. Just look at the fact that Everton are closer to the relegation zone than they are the top six, despite lying in ninth place, and therein lies evidence of how the rest of the league are left to scrap among themselves and the big guns do the same, almost like leagues within a league.

There’ll always be Leicester’s unprecedented league triumph in 2015/16, but however memorable that will be, it’s starting to seem long in the memory, just as the hope that the Foxes’ success had given the ‘smaller teams’ is fading fast. There’s nothing weirder than saying ‘the bottom 14’, but in the Premier League, there’s probably nothing more accurate.

Derby victory for Spurs leaves Arsenal in desperate trouble

You could almost call it the biggest shock of the weekend; that Spurs were so dominant, yet managed to win by just one goal. After an admittedly moderate first half from both sides, the Lilywhites took charge in the second, and Harry Kane’s seventh league North London derby goal put them in front. Kane probably should have had four, as some uncharacteristically wayward finishing prevented him adding to his tally, as well as an outstanding performance from Petr Cech. The Gunners goalkeeper was on hand to deny Kane, as well as Erik Lamela and Kieran Trippier, as his side had their backs to the wall. Arsenal had won their last nine at Wembley prior to this game, but they were a shambles here, Henrikh Mkhitaryan embodying how below par they were. Still, they had two good chances to snatch an undeserved point late on, two chances Alexandre Lacazette won’t look back on with much fondness, and neither will his manager, Arsene Wenger’s agony as the second opportunity went begging told its own story. The Gunners are now seven points off the top four.

Elsewhere

  • It was a memorable day for Newcastle, as the Toon fought their way towards a much-needed at home to Manchester United, their first home victory since October. Rafa Benitez brought in three temporary additions last month, Islam Slimani and Kenedy the headline acts as Newcastle’s problems up front have been well documented, but it was the least fancied arrival, goalkeeper Martin Dubravka who caught the eye at home to the Red Devils. On loan from Sparta Prague, the Czech goalie was required to make a handful of saves, including that wonderful last-minute stop from Michael Carrick, as Matt Ritchie’s goal takes Newcastle up to 13th place. Opposition manager Jose Mourinho is still without a league win at St. James’ Park in what’s now seven attempts.
  • Following that United defeat, the gap at the top is now 16 points, after Manchester City duly dispatched Leicester at the Etihad. Riyad Mahrez, subject of a failed from City last month, and recently returned from his personalised leave, and the Algerian came on as a substitute for the Foxes, but he’ll no doubt be thinking of what might have been, as he watched City’s Sergio Aguero fire four goals past his team. It’s the third time in the Premier League that Aguero has scored at least four goals in a game. As it stands, should City when their next six league games, they can wrap up the title in the Mancunian derby. Motivation for Pep’s men, with complacency bound to set in.
  • The Carlos Carvalhal revival programme continues for Swansea, as they left it late against Burnley on Saturday, Ki Sung Yeung’s late strike taking the Swans to 16th. It doesn’t seem like much, as they are only a point off the drop zone, but they were well-bottom when Carvalhal arrived in December.
  • And Mohammed Salah scored again. Well, what else is new.

Results

Everton 3-1 Crystal Palace

West Ham 2-0 Watford

Swansea 1-0 Burnley

Southampton 0-2 Liverpool

Manchester City 5-1 Leicester

Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal

Stoke 1-1 Brighton

Huddersfield 4-1 Bournemouth

Newcastle 1-0 Manchester United

Monday Night Football: Chelsea v Watford 

Published in International Watch

There were scarves, banners, as well as commemorative t-shirts from West Bromwich Albion, as the club sought to honour Cyrille Regis in the first league game at the Hawthorns since the former Baggies striker’s passing, the likes of Ian Wright, Bryan Robson and Ron Atkinson also appearing at the ground to pay tribute. It was a memorable and emotional occasion, and even the visiting Southampton fans held their scarves up before kick-off.

By kick-off, however, it was going to be back to business, as both sides had relegation demons to battle, and it took the hosts only three minutes to hit the front, Ahmed Hegazi getting his head to Chris Brunt’s brilliant corner for his first goal since the opening day of the season. The early goal drove the atmosphere of the crowd to a state of near-cacophony, and as Hegazi was off celebrating what was only the fifth home goal since Alan Pardew arrived last November, all from set-pieces.

Southampton, though, have been growing well in games as the weeks have gone by, no wins in 11 prior to this game, but they hadn’t lost in three as well, and they weren’t going to let their heads drop here, as six minutes after Hegazi scored, Sofiane Boufal fired a shot narrowly wide of Ben Foster’s goal. ‘It was difficult because we conceded quickly but the team showed the personality to keep going and playing in our way’ said Mauricio Pellegrino.

The Argentine, who’s been under pressure of late, and watched a Saints fans chuck a season ticket at him against Brighton in midweek, watched on here as Southampton kept searching for an equaliser, Foster getting down well to the visitors debutant Guido Carrillo five minutes before halftime. But from the resulting corner an equaliser would surface, a short take between James Ward-Prowse and Boufal resulted in Mario Lemina thumping home a fierce strike, for his first goal since joining the Saints in August. And there was still time for Southampton to take the lead before the break, another corner, this time Ward-Prowse opted to put in the box, and Jack Stephens, guilty of losing Hegazi for the West Brom goal, headed one into the top corner. ‘I was disappointed with the West Brom’s opening goal- he was my man- so it’s nice to make up for it’, said the Saints who scored his third goal in three games, having not scored in any since his senior career began.

Then came a big talking point, 10 minutes after the second half began. Wesley Hoedt made a fine solo towards West Brom area before getting caught by Gareth Barry, and the resulting free-kick was subject to debate by Boufal and Ward-Prowse over its execution. ‘There’s a bit of competition for the free-kicks, but it shows how passionate we all are’, said Ward-Prowse, who took the kick, and fired it firmly into the bottom corner, to give the Saints a cushion. ‘There’s a good feeling around the team and all the lads want to do well to help the team’ Ward-Prowse added, and his point was just about by the fact that Boufal was the first man to slide towards him in celebration.

They would be pegged back with 18 minutes left, however, another wonderful delivery from Brunt was headed home, this time, by Salomon Rondon, but held and left with the win, which takes them up to 15th. It doesn’t quite (or do anything to) relieve Pellegrino of pressure, but it’s a cause for relief, if not optimism. ‘We need to keep going now’ said Stephens. ‘There’s no point coming here and getting a big three points then losing or drawing. We need to use this to push on now and get out of the situation here’.

‘Hopefully these three points can help us to increase our confidence on the pitch’, said the Saints boss. With Liverpool the next opponents in a week’s time, they’ll need as much confidence as they can get.

Chaotic Thriller at Anfield

Hugo Lloris beat the turf in agony, Harry Kane watched on with grimness, as Mohammed wheeled away celebrating a certain Liverpool winner, six minutes after the Spurs talisman had missed from 12 yards, while Reds boss Jurgen Klopp was bombing away in celebration as Anfield roared, Liverpool were five points clear of fifth place as things stood. But it wasn’t quite done, from a long throw by Kieran Trippier, Virgil van Dijk was adjudged to have kicked Erik Lamela in the box, another penalty was awarded, this time Kane made no mistake, as his 100th Premier League nicked a point for Spurs. It’s still very much in the balance, the top four tussle.

Elsewhere

  • That Anfield stalemate- however entertaining- then meant that Arsenal’s dismantling of Everton less than 24 fours earlier would count for even more, the Gunners racing into a four-goal lead inside the first for the second home league game in a row. But as 4-0 first half leads mostly go, only one would be added to it, although that one completed Aaron Ramsey’s first ever senior hatrick. For Henrikh Mkhitaryan, making his home debut, it was a hatrick of assists, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged one on his maiden appearance. There are now six points behind third place, for now at least.
  • For the first time since April last year, Manchester City took the lead in a Premier League game, but failed to win it, as they were guilty of missing a fair amount of chances (yes, you, Raheem Sterling) at Burnley, before conceding a late Johann Berg Gudmundsson equaliser. The draw sees their cut to 13 points, which still seems a fair bit to be caught…but hang on, what do you mean Pep Guardiola named only six subs for the game!
  •  It was always going to be a straightforward win for Manchester United against Huddersfield, particularly if they scored first, and after some tough work, they got the breakthrough in the second period, which was added to by a home debut goal from Alexis Sanchez. The Terriers were as threatening at Old Trafford as they were at the Emirates and Anfield, and they moved down to 19th place.
  • Here at Spotkick, we believe in philanthropy, caring for and helping out others (or is that altruism?), not least by means of information. So we informatively recommend you check out the goals of this Premier League weekend, in case you missed them, you might as well derive a fair bit of satisfaction from Victor Wanyama’s blockbuster at Anfield for Spurs, Lemina’s thunderbolt for Southampton at West Brom, Danilo’s curler for Man City at Burnley, Jose Izquierdo and Pascal Gross for Brighton against West Ham, who themselves produced a fine finish in Javier Hernandez, to mention but a few. You’re welcome.

Results 

Manchester United 2-0 Huddersfield 

West Brom 2-3 Southampton 

Brighton 3-1 West Ham 

Leicester 1-1 Swansea 

Arsenal 5-1 Everton 

Burnley 1-1 Manchester City 

Liverpool 2-2 Tottenham 

Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke 

Crystal Palace 1-1 Newcastle 

Monday Night Football: Watford v Chelsea 

Published in International Watch

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