Joe Brewin dissects the weekend's big talking points, including; the future of Arsenal's long-serving boss under serious scrutiny, Pulis and Palace getting their priorities straight, Newcastle's Remy woes and a huge weekend ahead for Norwich...
Arsene Wenger’s future is more uncertain than ever
Outclassed, outscored, and quite possibly out of the top four. That’s the bleak situation facing Arsenal after Sunday’s 3-0 embarrassment at Everton, which could prove the end of their Champions League hopes this season.
It wouldn’t be fair to start with the Gunners here, though. Everton were magnificent at Goodison Park, stifling their lacklustre visitors with a fearless display of attacking football on Merseyside. The 3-0 scoreline didn’t flatter them, and added another feather to the already-colourful cap of Roberto Martinez.
Arsenal’s 6-0 thrashing at Chelsea felt like a wound that would take a while to heal. This seems more serious. The north Londoners failed to build on their excellent start to the campaign, and instead made exactly the same mistakes as before; failing to win the games that really matter, failing to address weak areas of the squad… failing everywhere. Wenger, discussing his side's chances of making the top four this season, was at a loss. "I don't know," he said. "The heavy defeats away from home have taken away a little of our charisma."
He's not wrong. Of Arsenal's 40 goals conceded this season, half have been shipped away in matches against Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton (hat tip to @oilysailor). So they certainly haven’t moved forwards. Clearly, FA Cup triumph or not, Arsenal have gone in the opposite direction. Wenger won’t be sacked – Ivan Gazidis & Co. continue to hold the Frenchman in high regard, enough to keep a two-year contract on the table.
But it remains unsigned. Wenger has previously insisted he will stick to his word and stay, but at the tail end of March contradicted himself by saying “yes… unless I decide otherwise.” The 64-year-old does not want to continue if he believes he’s taken this team as far as he can. Judging by this display, you have to wonder if that gloomy statement has come true. A kind run-in means they may well scrape through for the 17th season in a row, but if they don’t you can’t say the Champions League would be worse for it.
Liverpool's luck keeps them ticking over
So it wasn't a textbook performance from Brendan Rodgers' men against West Ham at Upton Park, but it was enough. Thanks to a muddled performance from referee Anthony Taylor and two Steven Gerrard penalties - his ninth and 10th of the campaign – the Reds are back on pole ahead of next weekend's crucial visit of Manchester City to Anfield. Rodgers would have liked his swashbuckling Merseysiders to have won in more convincing fashion, but he won't be losing any sleep after his side made it nine consecutive wins in the Premier League.
From here on in it doesn't matter how they're obtained; if Liverpool win all of their remaining games, breaking Manchester United's record of 11 from 2008/09 and Chelsea's formidable home streak along the way, they'll be crowned champions. Nobody's putting it past them, even if Sunday's evidence was hardly glowing. Sometimes you just have to win ugly.
Two points clear with five to play. It feels so close, but everyone – even the most ardent of Red – knows the hardest parts are still to come.
Palace’s solidity proves first rule of survival
Defending. It’s doesn't get crowds on their feet, but it sure is useful. Just ask Tony Pulis, whose drop-dodging expertise is serving well in Crystal Palace’s noble bid to avoid relegation. Two weeks ago the Eagles were struggling badly for goals, as they had done all campaign, and in serious danger of lacking the firepower required to keep their heads above water. Indeed, before the weekend they’d notched just 20 in 31 games.
But a fortnight is a long time in the top flight, least of all this season. Saturday’s three-goal humping of Cardiff (in the Welsh side’s own back yard, no less) bolstered the Eagles’ away goal tally by a third, and came off the back of their 1-0 win over Chelsea at Selhurst Park. Two games, two clean sheets, six points.
Simply, Pulis is working wonders in south London. The Premier League table since the Welshman took charge sees Palace in eighth, the Eagles having won nine of 21 games in that time and conceded the third-fewest goals (18, bettered only by Chelsea and Manchester City). They’ve also netted fewer than anyone else (17), failed to score in nine of those games and come out with a negative goal difference – but none of it matters. Palace are difficult to beat and staying up.
Meanwhile, West Ham have kept 13 clean sheets in mid-table. Seven and eight of Hull and Stoke’s 10 wins respectively have come at home, where they’ve shipped under a goal every game. The bottom three tells its own story. Fulham (2.24 goals per game), Cardiff (1.93) and Sunderland (1.60) have gifted net-ripplers more frequently than any other sides this season, with the Cottagers only four shy of shipping double Palace’s tally. If they go down, they’ll know why.
Newcastle are dreadful without Remy
OK, so the Frenchman isn’t the main reason why Alan Pardew’s side are suffering a miserable time of it lately – conceding goals at an alarming rate is accounting for that. But without him, the Magpies are utterly horrendous in front of goal. Even in Saturday’s thrashing at home to Manchester United, the St James' Park side registered 14 shots to the visitors’ eight. They got four on target, as did David Moyes’ side, who walked away with as many goals to show for it.
In the 10 games Remy has missed through injury or suspension this season, Newcastle have lost eight, drawn one and won one (in the last minute, at home to Crystal Palace). That’s the only goal they’ve scored, in response to the 26 they’ve shipped at the other end.
There've been some tough games in that run, granted, but it translates to 1.75 points per game when the former Marseille man has played this season, and just 0.4 without him. It makes sense; with 13 league goals Remy is Newcastle’s top goalscorer this season, seven ahead of Yoan Gouffran and 11 in front of the misfiring Papiss Cisse. Luuk de Jong, and Ameobi brothers Shola and Sammy, haven’t netted in 40 appearances combined. There’s a big summer job ahead – starting with somehow convincing Remy to make his loan move permanent.
Norwich’s fate comes down to one game
It really does, presuming they stay being Norwich for the final four games of the season and don't get anything out of Liverpool (h), Man United (a), Chelsea (a) and Arsenal (h). Before that, though, it's a game of gigantic proportions in the form of Fulham at Craven Cottage next weekend.
Saturday's dreary 1-0 defeat at home to West Brom earned Chris Hughton the sack on Sunday night, and means the Norfolk side are in big trouble – especially after their next opponents took three points from Aston Villa. Felix Magath's west Londoners are now five behind the Canaries in 18th, knowing victory would be a mammoth step towards securing survival at Norwich's expense. Sunderland are less of a worry seven points behind and bottom, but with three games in hand even the Black Cats could yet force an uncomfortable run-in.
Even winning at Fulham, the most forgiving of sides in the Premier League this season, seems unlikely. After all, now-managerless Norwich have lost their last six on the road and haven't recorded victory away from Carrow Road since December 7 at West Brom. Win at Craven Cottage and it'll surely be enough to keep them afloat; a draw allows them to hope for the best; defeat is unthinkable. Sadly for them, the latter seems a distinct possibility.