Saturday Analysis: Chelsea lead goal chase but Liverpool and Man City respond in kind
Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal
Well now. Having built it up as Wenger's 1000th fixture in charge of Arsenal, history will remember this as the game in which the referee sent off the wrong Arsenal player, Andre Marriner expelling Kieran Gibbs after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain saved a shot which may have been going wide anyway. But the manner of Chelsea's victory over title rivals shouldn't be lost in the fuss and tutting.
True, Jose Mourinho's side faced 10 men for the majority of the game. But by the time Gibbs got the first go with the soap Chelsea were already 3-0 up: Eden Hazard's penalty merely augmenting a two-goal seven-minute opening in which Andre Schurrle, deputising for the suspended Willian, set up the opener for Samuel Eto'o before doubling Chelsea's lead.
Having been accused of either wasting or failing to create clear chances, Chelsea corrected both errors this week. They scored with three of their first four shots – the exception being the Ox's save – then rained in a further 17 on a depleted, demoralised defence. Of the 34 league goals Arsenal have conceded, half have come in visits to the current top three.
David Luiz replaced suspended stalwart Ramires but it was the other central midfielder Nemanja Matic who controlled the game. He topped the lists for chances created (4, including 2 assists) and ball recoveries (10), while only Mikel Arteta attempted or completed more passes than his 60 successes out of 70.
Mourinho's teams may have settled on a two-goal cushion in the past, but here they set about reducing the goal-difference deficit on their two other title rivals: having started this match eight goals' difference behind Liverpool and 11 behind Man City, they almost closed one gap and halved the other, thanks to Oscar's double (his first goal return since New Year's Day) and sub Mohamed Salah.
Both the northern contenders responded with their own goal-gluts in the 3pm kick-offs but after scoring 14 in four league games it seems Chelsea's rotating squad may no longer be content with comfort, instead seeking to crush teams they are beating: potentially bad news for forthcoming opponents Palace, Stoke, Swansea, Sunderland, Norwich and Cardiff.
Cardiff 3-6 Liverpool
A couple of months ago, many wondered if Liverpool could be challengers while conceding so frequently on their travels. They're still in the hunt because although they're still porous away – only Fulham, Norwich, Stoke, Cardiff and now Arsenal have conceded more goals on the road – they simply outscore the hosts: they have now bagged 40 (13 more than the next-highest total) in 16 games, averaging 2.5 goals per trip, nearly 33% more than anyone else.
Just like last week at Goodison, Cardiff gave a good account of themselves against Scouse opposition – but whereas Everton left it very late, Liverpool were in control by the hour mark. Indeed, although they totalled twice as much possession as their hosts, the visitors lowered the pass rate in the second half, particularly once Philippe Coutinho – who set up both of Martin Skrtel's goals – was replaced behind the front two by the more pacily direct but less penetratively devilish Raheem Sterling.
Three more from Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge means they have now scored 47 league goals between them, the fourth-highest combo in Premier-era history. They're eight behind record-holders Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley (55 for Newcastle in 1993/94) with eight games left, and you'd be mad to back against them – whether or not their defence continues to leak goals.
Everton 3-2 Swansea
Something of a managerial lesson for Garry Monk from the man who started The Swansea Way (with respect to Kenny Jackett). Not many visitors control possession at Goodison – Swansea had 59% of the ball, topping 500 completed passes to their hosts' 316 of 403 – but the points stayed on Merseyside thanks to Everton's efficiency.
Of their 9 shots, Roberto Martinez's side got six on target and scored three: Swansea had 21 attempts but only 7 were accurate and Tim Howard made 5 saves, a couple at 3-1 being particularly noteworthy. And while Everton held firm – blocking 7 shots, winning 21 of 22 attempted tackles and making 39 clearances – Swansea were wasteful, firing across an eyebrow-raising 40 crosses, of which 80% were uncompleted, and failing in a frightening 12 of 13 attempted take-ons.
Hull 2-0 West Brom
The one that got away for West Brom, as Shane Long's interventions won the game for his new side. He won the penalty from which Liam Rosenior scored the rebound, before scoring against the club that sold him in January.
As usual, Long and fellow window signing Nikica Jelavic were busy boys up top with three shots each – and like Everton against Swansea, Hull were much more efficient than their visitors. The Baggies had majority possession (56.7%) and fired in 17 shots to Hull's 12, but the Tigers got 5 on target to their 4 as Steve Bruce's men blocked an impressive 10 efforts.
Although an optimist would say this was only West Brom's second goalless return in nine attempts, a pessimist would counter that it was also their second in three… and that they've still only won three times since September.
Man City 5-0 Fulham
This result will decide neither team's season, but somehow sums both up: City punishing their opponents with a relentless pursuit for goals, Fulham being only too happy to oblige. The Cottagers looked like country bumpkins as they allowed the Citizens 12 shots on target without reply.
Fulham could say that they were in this until the 54th minute, when Fernando Amorebieta was sent off for hacking down David Silva and allowed Yaya Toure to score his second penalty. To an extent, they might have a point: in the first half they had 5 shots to City's 6. But none of theirs were on target, whereas 4 of City's were; by the turnaround City had racked up 310 completed passes to Fulham's 120. It's not just in retrospect that this game was merely a matter of time; Fulham's worry is that the same phrase may start to apply to their relegation.
Newcastle 1-0 Crystal Palace
Had this ended 0-0, the visiting fans up in the clouds above St James' Park would doubtless have cheered wildly and Tony Pulis would have hailed a job well done. But it didn't, and the stats tell a damning story.
Against a side with nothing to play for and no manager to guide them, Palace managed a single shot on target (to Newcastle's 8), their paltry 26.8% possession yielding just 171 completed passes to Newcastle's eye-watering 625.
It's not the first time Palace have ceded the initiative – Pulis has made a big reputation from maximising not just his players but their minority use of the ball – but it's stopped producing the necessary results: in the last five games Palace have gained two points and just one goal.
For their part, Newcastle now have three wins in four heading into three successive fixtures against teams in their second-tier mini-league: Everton away on Tuesday, Southampton away on Saturday, Manchester United at home the following Saturday.
Norwich 2-0 Sunderland
Although the top three teams scored 17 goals, the day's big winners were Norwich. For the first time this season they enjoyed a two-goal cushion for much of the match (their only two previous wins by more than one goal, against West Ham and at West Brom, were boosted by late confirmers from Leroy Fer) with an enjoyably competent performance against potential relegation rivals in apparent disarray – it's never a good sign when the manager makes a double substitution before half-time.
With Jonny Howson and spectacular goalscorer Alexander Tettey dominating the centre of midfield, no Sunderland player reached double figures for completed passes in the final third. But what really made the Canaries sing was that they were the only side in the bottom seven to win; leapfrogging above Swansea and West Ham into 13th, Norwich have started to get the necessary points on the board before those frightful final four fixtures against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.
West Ham 0-2 Manchester United
They call it the week that defines David Moyes's season, and so far it's going well: two wins, five goals without reply, through to the Champions League quarter-finals and a Goal of the Season contender from Wayne Rooney.
With only one fit centre-back Moyes opted for Michael Carrick alongside Phil Jones, and the thirtysomething didn't do too badly against his fellow Geordie Andy Carroll: Carrick won 2 of his 3 aerial duels and made 6 headed clearances. As expected, West Ham fired in crosses – 48 in total – but the outgoing champions stood firm, making 53 clearances.