Written by Contributor: Sean Gallagher
EPL Roundup Matchday 34: Arsenal Claws back into Top 4 with 2 Huge Victories; Liverpool Win Tense Merseyside Derby; Burnley Safe from Relegation (for now)
As the season marches towards the finish, the matches feel bigger than ever in the Premier League! Matchday 34 brought another few twists and turns in the title race, top-4 saga, and relegation prospects. Let’s break it all down!
Chelsea-Arsenal (2-4) & Arsenal-Manchester United (3-1)
What a week it was for Arsenal. Just when you finally wrote them off, they fired off back-to-back decisive victories and promptly sit in 4th. The Gunners had to replay a postponed match against Chelsea on Tuesday and then host Man United on Saturday. It’s Not the easiest couple of games on paper, especially for a club who had just lost 3 in a row against poor competition. They’re getting back on track at just the right time; But with how topsy-turvy they’ve been this year, it could be a completely different story the next time I’m writing this blog. All I know is the All or Nothing documentary about Arsenal for Prime Video that’s filming this season is going to be one hell of an entertaining watch.
Speaking of entertaining watches, the match that unfolded at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday was fantastic. Chelsea are in a bit of an odd spot right now: they’re knocked out of the Champions League still in the midst of an ownership crisis and are solidly locked in 3rd place in the Premier League with no hope of winning the title. If you’re Arsenal it was a great time to have to play Chelsea. Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah capitalized on a wild mistake by Andreas Christensen to open the scoring, but the game had already been buzzing until that moment. Twice did Arsenal take a 1-goal advantage just for Chelsea to equalize all in the span of the first half. But it would be Nketiah again who scored what would ultimately be the winning goal in a bizarre pin-ball style play in the box. Tuesday was not Chelsea’s best defensive night! Bukayo Saka would add a 4th at the very end of the game via a penalty kick that the crowd nor the announcers weren’t too happy about. It was never a penalty, but at the very least it thankfully didn’t affect the outcome of the game. A call like that has got to be cleaned up by VAR next time.
It was an easier time for Mikel Arteta’s men on Saturday playing against a dreary Man United at home. At this point United just look like they want the season to be over and to get on with the era of Erik ten Hag as manager. Arsenal didn’t waste any time piling on the pressure and scored less than 3 minutes after the kickoff, courtesy of a Nuno Taveres tap in at the back post. It was a right-place-right-time sort of goal which seems to be happening against United all too frequently this season. It looks like finally benching Harry Maguire didn’t make too much of a difference.
You will very rarely see a goal scored the way Arsenal got their 2nd in this match again. Nketiah thought he had scored from point blank to double the lead, but VAR ruled it out because he was offside. That’s not all VAR was looking at in the moment though. The referee decided that Bukayo Saka was fouled in the box in the buildup of that goal, and awarded a penalty to Arsenal. So we had a goal scored disallowed by VAR because of offside and a foul resulting in a penalty called by VAR while they disallowed the original goal. Pretty bonkers.
Cristiano Ronaldo would add one back (as he normally does) for United before halftime. It was a beautiful assist by Matic and an overall feel-good moment. Ronaldo’s coming off a personal family tragedy in which his newborn child passed away and seeing him score that quickly after returning from his absence was pretty special. Bruno Fernandes would have the opportunity to tie the game in the second half, after he stepped up to take a crucial penalty kick over Ronaldo. It’s not clear why Ronaldo declined to take the penalty, but Fernandes stepped up and hit the post keeping the score at 2-1. If you’re going to take a penalty over one of the greatest to ever do it, you better be making them. That miss won’t go over too well. Man United were kept at bay the rest of the game; and Granit Xhaka put the game on ice with 20 minutes to go after a phenomenal hit from distance. Arsenal still have some tricky games to get by in the home-stretch of the season including a massive game that could decide 4th place between them and Spurs on May 12. For now, it’s the confidence that they’ll be grateful to have because of these two results.
- It’s never, never easy playing your bitter rival. Even if they’re awful and you’re incredible. That’s exactly how it was for Liverpool on Sunday who held an astonishing EIGHTY-FIVE percent of the possession versus their foes Everton. But for a while the Reds couldn’t find a way to break down the Toffees in what was an extremely intense game. These are the games in a title race as the season winds down that you know you need to win and the longer you aren’t winning, the more frantic it gets. Liverpool would finally get their goal over an hour into the game and Everton had no way back in after that. It’s still just a 1-point gap between the Reds and Man City at the top with 5 games left to play.
- Last week when Burnley sacked Sean Dyche I confidently wrote that they had no chance of escaping relegation now. Guess where the Clarets sit in the table now? Yep, 17th. As we all predicted. It’s amazing how quickly things can change for teams in the Premier League. Burnley rattled off wins against Southampton and Wolves to send Everton into the relegation zone. It’s going to be fascinating to see which of the 2 will end up staying in the league next season
- I think if Liverpool really wanted to they could have beaten Man United 8-0. The 4-0 margin of victory only told half the story of what was a completely dominant and ruthless performance. It’s what most would’ve expected between a team on top of the league and a club in freefall
- A brutal 0-0 draw for Tottenham against Brentford, who now find themselves on the outside looking in for that final Champions League spot. It should have been the Bees who came out victorious; Ivan Toney hit the post twice and Tottenham failed to record a shot on target. Spurs have to perform much much better than that if they want 4th place. Which, at this point, I’m not really sure if they do. Watch out for Antonio Conte to potentially take over for Mauricio Pochettino at PSG, even if Tottenham do end up in the Champions League next season.