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Premier League: 10 Talking Points from the Weekend’s Action | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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From the plight of David Moyes and Aitor Karanka to the unstoppable force of Fernando Llorente, there was plenty to chew over this weekend. Composite: BPI, Rex/Shutterstock, EPA, Getty Images

1) Pochettino’s side finally look set to end Arsenal streak

In a cartoon history of Arsenal’s ongoing run of springtime top-four escapology acts – the battle, above all, to stay ahead of Spurs – Arsène Wenger would probably be depicted right now wriggling furiously inside a sealed lead trunk, still rattling his padlocks but descending towards the seabed. Tottenham are six points ahead of Arsenal with 11 games to play, to Arsenal’s 12. Tighter spots have been negotiated. But as Spurs beat Everton to take their half of the weekend’s London-Merseyside derby exchange it was hard to avoid the feeling that 22 years down the line the quest to finish ahead of Wenger-era Arsenal has its best chance yet of success. Tottenham have a better goalkeeper, better defense, better midfield, better gameplan, a greater sense of cohesion generally. All that is missing is that final wrench of the neck muscles. Arsenal go to White Hart Lane in April. Barring a genuine reverse of the prevailing tide, it could be a fairly traumatic experience. Barney Ronay

2) Strange times for Wenger and Arsenal

Here was Arsène Wenger’s rebuff to the importance of Arsenal regaining a top-four berth following their 3-1 defeat at Liverpool: “I’ve been asked this question many times in March. So we just have to focus on the next games and turn up with performances.” Wenger’s response implicitly concedes his side are in a perennial struggle for a Champions League berth rather than in a fight for the title. Of his reasoning behind the decision to drop Alexis Sánchez, Wenger said: “[To play] direct – I mean to win the balls in the air, winning the second ball.” Wenger, the pass-and-move chief advocate, playing the punt upfield stuff? When it was put to him that he hardly ever (if ever) uses long ball, Wenger said: “We sometimes play that way. For example, in this game.” Still, we now know rather more. Nonetheless, these are odd times for Wenger, and the club he adores. Jamie Jackson

3) Maguire dreaming of England

There were few positives for Hull City to take from this defeat at the King Power Stadium. After dropping two points against Burnley last week, they let go of another lead against Leicester and are four points from a safe position with 11 games remaining. Despite Marco Silva’s positive early impact, the sense is growing that Hull’s squad is not strong enough to stay up. Much will depend on whether Harry Maguire can maintain his impressive form. While Andrea Ranocchia struggled badly alongside him in central defense, failing to cope with Jamie Vardy’s pace, Maguire produced two stunning blocks to deny Leicester certain goals. “To be thought of for an England call-up is very special to me,” the 24-year-old said. “It’s something that I’ve dreamed of as a kid. The gaffer said some nice things about me that can only give me confidence but for me to play for England I’ve got to play well for Hull City week in and week out.” Jacob Steinber

4) Shaw still cannot convince Mourinho

It seemed to sum up Luke Shaw’s season that, even as he made his first Premier League appearance since October, he was substituted so Jesse Lingard could take over as an auxiliary, attacking left-back. With José Mourinho concentrating on other issues, the only mentions of Shaw afterwards came from the Bournemouth assistant manager, Jason Tindall, who thought Andrew Surman’s challenge on the 21-year-old did not merit the first of his two cautions. Shaw hobbled away, as he did from an earlier crunching challenge, but initial fears that his injury problems would recur were unfounded. He went untested defensively, with Bournemouth pegged back, but there were signs of the attacking verve that prompted his swift rise. He delivered a penetrative pass to release Paul Pogba, who should have scored, and, after Marcos Rojo’s traumatic afternoon at left-back in the EFL Cup final, suggested he has more to offer than the Argentinian on the flank. Richard Jolly

5) Karanka’s numbers not adding up

Steve Gibson has a big decision to make. Should Middlesbrough’s owner sack Aitor Karanka or keep faith with the stubborn Basque? Under Karanka’s management a lot of good things have happened at Boro (promotion and the dramatic improvement in Adama Traoré’s wing play), but now something is very wrong: 10 Premier League games without a win, 433 minutes without a league goal, just four league victories this season and unwanted status as the division’s lowest scorers highlight problems exacerbated by dissent between manager and some players. If the club hierarchy has been disconcerted by Karanka’s willingness to blame fans and the club’s medical staff for setbacks while persisting with a cautious tactical mindset, obvious replacements seem thin on the ground. A largely Spanish backroom team would almost certainly depart with Karanka and require swift replacement. Louise Taylor

6) Moyes’s men must make most of March games

Sunderland battled gamely for much of the first half but Manchester City were patient and the result was never in doubt after Sergio Agüero’s goal. By the time Martin Atkinson blew the final whistle, gloom had fallen over the Stadium of Light. With 11 matches left, Sunderland are bottom of the table, six points off Crystal Palace in 17th place and in desperate need of yet another miraculous survival bid. The task looks beyond this bedraggled group. As Aston Villa found out last season, years of stagnation catch up with a club in the end and there has always been a sense that Sunderland’s feats of escapology were merely delaying the inevitable. But they should not give up yet. There was no lack of effort against City, who were simply too classy in attack. Sunderland have two winnable fixtures before the international break and they could put points on the board against Burnley and Watford if they keep fighting. JS

7) Purchase of Llorente paying off

When Athletic Bilbao reached the 2012 Europa League final, embarrassing Manchester United along the way, Fernando Llorente led the line with poise and class for Marcelo Bielsa’s vibrant side. He was one of the most respected forwards in Europe and part of the Spain squad who won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. But his best days appeared to be behind him when he joined Swansea City from Sevilla last summer. His early performances in England were less than encouraging. Yet the 32-year-old has thrived under Paul Clement and made some vital contributions in Swansea’s battle for survival, the latest coming when he scored two towering headers in the 3-2 win against Burnley. He had already scored twice in wins against Crystal Palace, Liverpool and Sunderland and his late intervention against Sean Dyche’s side brought his tally to 11 goals this season. Still got it. JS

8) Redmond goal a reminder of his ability

The complaint from Southampton fans after the 3-1 home defeat against West Ham last month was that their team’s attacking spark had fizzled out under Claude Puel. They have responded well since then, though. They played some outstanding football despite losing the League Cup final last weekend and the 4-3 win at Watford on Saturday means they have scored eight in their past two league outings. With Charlie Austin still out with a shoulder injury, the arrival of Manolo Gabbiadini from Napoli in January has restored Southampton’s menace. The Italian scored for the fourth consecutive game against Watford. But this time it was not all about Gabbiadini’s goalscoring exploits. Nathan Redmond had not scored a league goal since October, but the young forward underlined his potential with two smart finishes. His talent should not be underestimated. JS

9) Pulis can afford to give youth a chance

Poor Jonathan Leko. The West Brom teenager was given a rare opportunity from the bench against Crystal Palace. With the home side 1-0 down to a superb Wilfried Zaha goal, the prodgiously talented Leko was asked to use his skills to open up a determined Palace rearguard. Instead he was the player robbed by Andros Townsend on the edge of the Palace box at the beginning of another superb solo goal. Leko can look at both goals and observe the efficiency required to make the difference at Premier League level. But he will never get the chance to practise it unless he plays. With West Brom on 40 points there were some supporter grumbles after the match that the players might have taken their collective foot off the pedal. Tony Pulis is not a manager renowned for throwing caution to the wind but giving Leko and other promising Baggies youngsters such as Sam Field their head might keep the first team on their toes for the rest of the season. Paul MacInnes

10) Arnautovic needs to maintain hunger for goals

Marko Arnautovic’s two goals against Middlesbrough on Saturday were only his fourth and fifth of the season, but it’s still easy to see why some have compared him to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. There are obvious differences, but the Austrian’s touch for his first goal was one his Swedish counterpart would have been delighted with, plucking a long pass from the air with a Zlatanesque certainty. Not that the comparison entirely holds up, according to his manager. “He needs to enjoy scoring more than he does to be compared to Zlatan,” said Mark Hughes after the game. “I think he’d be just as happy with an assist, which as a striker I get a bit confused about.” Despite the relative lack of goals, Arnautovic is still Stoke’s most dangerous attacking threat, something he displayed with a buzzing pest of a performance against Boro. “At times we probably lean a little bit too heavily on him,” said Hughes. “When he’s in the vein of form he’s shown today, he’s very difficult to stop.” A few more goals from him, and perhaps Stoke will be, too. Nick Miller

(The Guardian)