London, United Kingdom | AFP |
Tottenham Hotspur closed to within seven points of leaders Chelsea and Manchester City stayed in touch after defeating basement club Sunderland but Arsenal lost ground in the race for a top-four finish with a defeat by Champions League place rivals Liverpool.
Here are five things we learned in the Premier League this weekend:
Wenger’s football faith tested
Arsene Wenger compared being a manager to being a priest and on Saturday many Gunners fans felt he had committed the sin of omission. The decision to leave his two leading scorers, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott, on the bench against Liverpool backfired spectacularly in the first-half as a limp display saw the visitors 2-0 down at the break. Sanchez’s introduction at half-time sparked a revival but that was not enough to salvage even a point in an eventual 3-1 loss and merely led to further questions as to why he had not been in the team from the kick-off at Anfield. Wenger rebutted any criticism but to some observers it was merely further evidence the 67-year-old French manager has lost his way and is unlikely to help persuade Sanchez, one of the few world-class players at Arsenal, to sign a new contract.
Kane no flash in pan
As Tottenham’s fans celebrated Harry Kane’s second goal in their team’s 3-2 win over Everton on Sunday, it was easy to hear the defiant edge to their songs. Their chorus of “he’s just a one-season wonder” was a sarcastic reminder to all those who wrote off Kane before he embarked on a prolific run of three successive seasons with at least 20 goals. With 24 goals in 28 games this season, Kane is well established as one of Europe’s most deadly strikers.
Shakespeare’s tale of intrigue
Just 10 days after Claudio Ranieri’s shock sacking, Leicester have been transformed from an abject rabble in severe danger of relegation into a cohesive, focused group that closely resembles the side who won the Premier League last season. A come from behind 3-1 win against Hull on Saturday lifted the Foxes clear of the relegation zone and increased caretaker manager Craig Shakespeare’s chances of landing the job on a permanent basis. Despite their very public denials, it is surely no coincidence Leicester have won their first two matches since former manager Ranieri departed amid strong reports of player unrest over the Italian’s tactical tinkering and confusing team selections. Shakespeare, who served as Ranieri’s assistant, has gone back to basics with a 4-4-2 formation and direct approach that served Leicester so well last season. Crucially, Shakespeare’s presence in the dug out — or Ranieri’s absence from it — has revitalised Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.
— Leicester City (@LCFC) March 4, 2017
England sees other side of Zlatan
He has charmed English football since his move from Paris Saint-Germain, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic now finds himself in the dock following a volatile display in Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth. The 35-year-old Swedish striker appeared to deliberately elbow Tyrone Mings late in the first half and although he was acting in retaliation after the Bournemouth defender seemed to stamp on his head, a violent conduct charge from the Football Association seems inevitable. Ibrahimovic also saw a second-half penalty saved by Artur Boruc, preventing him from registering a 27th goal of the season. United’s next-highest scorer is Juan Mata, with nine. With a three-match suspension likely to be heading Ibrahimovic’s way, Jose Mourinho’s other forwards will need to step up to the plate in the weeks ahead if their top-four challenge is to remain alive.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 4, 2017
Sane shows need for speed
Amid all the tactical sophistication of the modern game with its various formations and talk of ‘gegenpressing’, it is sometimes re-assuring to be reminded that certain things are a constant. One of these is that a player running with the ball at pace — still one of the best sights on a football field — remains a defender’s worst nightmare as was shown when the extremely rapid Leroy Sane beat the otherwise assured Billy Jones on his way to scoring Manchester City’s second goal in a 2-0 win away to bottom-of-the-table Sunderland.