Winners Arsenal do not ‘lack the bollocks’ like Everton…

Arsenal top the winners list but there was plenty to celebrate too for Jesse Marsch and Patrick Vieira. Everton’s players were the biggest Premier League losers of the weekend…

 

Winners

Arsenal
There is still a defining four days in April to navigate, a double-header of Chelsea and Manchester United. There is still a May trip to West Ham, too. And yet it feels ever likelier that next season’s calendar will take them substantially further south than the April 16 game at Southampton, and not into the Europa League or the Conference League.

Victory at Aston Villa felt proof of substance: with a quick turnaround after a midweek defeat to Liverpool and disquiet at the fixture list, without the talismanic Aaron Ramsdale and the increasingly brilliant Gabriel Martinelli. Arsenal showed both sides of their game, attacking with intelligence in the first half, defending with determination in the second. It felt entirely unsurprising that Bukayo Saka was brilliant. It helped that Thomas Partey produced a third superb display in a week. It was a tribute to the defence that Bernd Leno had a solitary save to make, deep into added time.

This had long looked one of the most significant games in their run-in, with the chance one defeat would become two. Instead, it was the sort of result and performance that may send Arsenal back into the Champions League.

And actually, fourth the target but third is achievable for Arteta’s gritty Gunners.

 

Jesse Marsch
Marcelo Bielsa was supposed to be the manager who brought a beautiful kind of madness to Leeds. His successor has shown the same qualities. Marsch’s last two games have brought injury-time winners, each improbable in different ways – just after conceding to Norwich, after being 2-0 down and losing four injured players at Wolves – and producing an extra four points which may well be the factor that keeps Leeds up.

An undistinguished first-half display and the disorganised defending for Wolves’ second goal suggests there are underlying problems but the spirit United showed was remarkable. Lacking Raphinha, soon shorn of Patrick Bamford, they nevertheless scored three goals. Perhaps it was another throwback to Bielsa’s reign that Luke Ayling produced the talismanic display, hitting the post before Jack Harrison’s goal, delivering the winner himself, celebrating it terribly: few symbolised Bielsa’s capacity to improve players quite like Ayling, formerly of Yeovil, mentioned in dispatches by Gareth Southgate last season.

Now he has given Marsch a platform. And if the American might not have been the most obvious choice to parachute into a relegation struggle, he was picked instead because, if Bielsa is unique, he at least shares some principles with the Argentinian. A propensity for the unlikely may be among them. Four games into his reign, he is on course to secure survival.

 

Kane and Son
They found a new way to combine with a distinctly retro third goal against West Ham: the Englishman with the target man’s flick-on, the South Korean scurrying in behind the defence. His first of the day felt more conventional, with a defence-splitting pass from Kane. The advantage Tottenham possess in the quest for the fourth Champions League place is the deadliest double act. After Kane’s slow start to the season, they are dangerous again.

Oh and Tottenham might actually have managed to do some good transfer business.

 

Patrick Vieira
Two decades ago, we were accustomed to Vieira reshaping the Premier League title race and powering into the latter stages of the FA Cup. It is a greater surprise he has done so as a manager but, after Crystal Palace held Manchester City on Monday, they overwhelmed Everton on Sunday. That it came with attacking football showed part of the difference Vieira has made: the roundheads have acquired a cavalier streak in his tenure and it is hard not to warm to a team who can have Wilfried Zaha, Michael Olise, Eberechi Eze and Conor Gallagher on the pitch at the same time. A faith in youth has been another theme of Vieira’s reign and Marc Guehi, a Vieira signing who had already been given a first England call-up this week, added a goal while wearing the captain’s armband. The biggest FA Cup quarter-final win in Palace’s history means Vieira has already won more ties in the competition as their manager than Roy Hodgson did.

Could this be Crystal Palace’s greatest ever season?

 

Manchester City’s super-subs
It isn’t exactly a revelation to say Pep Guardiola has enviable options. City don’t actually have the biggest squad – they only named seven substitutes at Southampton – and he doesn’t always use his permitted changes, but they have sufficient quality they invariably seem to have at least three potential match-winners in reserve. At St Mary’s, they were Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez and while the Portuguese was given a day off, the other pair came on and scored. Foden’s strike was wonderful, Mahrez’s clinical and they made the scoreline cruel to Southampton. In the process, they upstaged the starters they replaced. Gabriel Jesus won a crucial penalty but neither he nor Jack Grealish has shown the potency of Foden and Mahrez in front of goal. They have 33 goals between them this season, Jesus and Grealish just 10.

Read more: Manchester City show mortality – but still win by three away.

Pep Guardiola gives the thumbs up

 

Thiago Silva
When Thiago Silva was born, the last goal scored in an FA Cup final came when Andy Gray headed the ball out of goalkeeper Steve Sherwood’s hands. And if that sounds a long time ago, it is because it is. Silva turns 38 later this year. It can be hard to believe that: he has an enviable capacity to make the game look easy and he was majestic at Middlesbrough. He would not have reached the heights he has or lasted as long as he does without an ability to read the game. Perhaps more surprising, however, has been his durability. He played the full 90 minutes in Lille on Wednesday as well. He played in the Copa America last summer. He has since played 41 games for club and country this season. He could finish this season with more appearances at club level in any campaign since he left Fluminese. It is remarkable.

 

Diogo Jota, king of the first goal
The man with the uncanny habit of breaking the deadlock did it again. Like Arsenal four days earlier, Nottingham Forest were frustrating Liverpool. Then Jota intervened.

 

Joe Worrall
There can’t have been too many better performances by a centre-back against Liverpool this season. If Virgil van Dijk was not the outstanding defender on show at the City Ground, it is because of the standards Worrall set. Nottingham Forest’s promotion push may yet take them to the Premier League. If not, Worrall’s excellence could mean he finds his own way to the top flight.

 

Francisco Trincao
Wolves may have realised it would be a day with a difference when Trincao came on and made an impact. The Barcelona loanee had spent his time at Molineux looking a technical talent who didn’t do a forward’s essential requirements: in 21 league games, he had neither a goal nor an assist. He set up a goal a minute after his introduction on Friday, hit the post from long range, then opened his Premier League account and finally threatened an injury-time equaliser. It was a brilliant performance that counted for nothing. Perhaps Wolves preferred it when neither Trincao nor their opponents scored.

 

Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough
The Football League representation in the FA Cup is ended but Forest and Boro can bow out in the knowledge they have illuminated the competition. Between them they have knocked out four of the top eight from last season’s Premier League; the whole of the Premier League have eliminated one. Arsenal, Leicester, Manchester United and Tottenham can testify that Steve Cooper and Chris Wilder’s teams have had brilliant FA Cup runs.

 

Losers

Everton’s players
Frank Lampard accused his charges of “lacking the bollocks” and if most of us are in no position to know if his criticisms were anatomically accurate, it isn’t the first time such sentiments could be voiced. It isn’t even the first in an away game in London in March, given that a 4-0 loss at Crystal Palace came soon after a 5-0 thrashing at Tottenham. There are those who will say that Lampard is trying to deflect blame by pushing it on to his players (including of this parish). There are others, some of them at Goodison Park, who feel that too many in the squad have got off lightly this season. Rafa Benitez was a human shield for them and problems pre-date Lampard. Everton can cite a quick turnaround in mitigation but, when they should have been buoyed by Thursday’s win over Newcastle, instead they seemed to lack spirit. Their away record in the league is hideous. A capitulation in the FA Cup hardly boded well for crucial trips to Watford and Burnley.

 

Raul Jimenez
If there is some kind of award for the nicest man to get two Premier League red cards in a season, Jimenez must be a contender. There has been an odd element to both, with his needless dismissal at Manchester City for two cautions in a minute, the second for delaying a free kick, followed by a contentious exit on Friday. And yet many of the explanations of it excused the Mexican. Jimenez did not ‘have to go for the ball’. He was not obliged to. He chose to make a challenge, colliding at pace and with force with Illan Meslier and not getting the ball. It was a bad decision that led to his side losing the game and their cool.

 

Wolves, falling apart in strange style
Frugality had taken Wolves forward. Few seemed less likely to lose a 2-0 lead than a team who had only conceded 23 goals in 29 games and the first hour of the 30th. They had not let in three in a match all season: then they did in half an hour. If a game that always appeared a question as to whether Wolves’ control or Leeds’ chaos would prevail, the latter did. The goals Wolves conceded – featuring panic, a lack of marking, a sliced clearance and no semblance of defensive shape – were completely out of character.

 

Philippe Coutinho
Coutinho has been magical and magnificent at times since his return to the Premier League, especially at Villa Park. He has been muted and mediocre in his last two outings, however. If that could be attributed to the presence of high-class defensive midfielders, whether Declan Rice of West Ham or Arsenal’s Thomas Partey, and if he may have been hindered by Steven Gerrard’s misguided decision to recall Emi Buendia on Saturday, Coutinho was recruited in part to enable Villa to compete against the elite sides. They have lost in successive matches when he has had a negligible impact and if neither defeat was solely due to him, Villa may remember his catalytic impact against Manchester United in January and hope he can replicate that display.

 

Someone at Chelsea
Whoever it was at Stamford Bridge – not Thomas Tuchel or the players – who said their FA Cup quarter-final should be played behind closed doors in the name of “sporting integrity” displayed none, as many another has pointed out. But the rousing atmosphere at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday both made Chelsea’s win more meaningful and illustrated the appeal of the competition to clubs who can’t take quarter-final appearances for granted. Perhaps, given Middlesbrough’s hugely impressive progress under Chris Wilder, they will have another next season. Perhaps they will soon be welcoming Chelsea in the Premier League. But perhaps they will be waiting years for either. And whoever tried to ruin the occasion for Boro really ought to grasp the realities of life for the vast majority of clubs.

 

Mohammed Salisu
A very fine centre-back but also one prone to rashness. It can be part of a proactive approach to defending, but his nudge on Gabriel Jesus in the penalty area was needless and costly, the turning point in a tie where his side played well. Unlike Southampton’s other centre-backs, Salisu has the potential to play for a top-six clubs, as his colossal display on Manchester City’s previous visit to St Mary’s showed, but there are times he needs to ally talent with more judgment.

 

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
He wasn’t especially bad at Nottingham Forest, but his evident frustration at being substituted showed he realised an opportunity was missed. Oxlade-Chamberlain may not get another opportunity in the starting XI this season. After that, he enters the last year of his contract. His Liverpool career may be slipping away.

 

West Ham, no longer top-four challengers
It has still been a seminal week for West Ham. There is no shame in losing less than 72 hours after completing a physically and emotionally draining 120-minute epic, especially as they were away from home, against two potent scorers and without some of their own finest players. But defeat to Tottenham probably ends their bid for Champions League football: in one respect, anyway. West Ham’s inspired display against Sevilla suggests they could still qualify by winning the Europa League. Considering how memorable Thursday night was, it is a trade-off they would take.

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Source: football365.com

Winners Arsenal do not ‘lack the bollocks’ like Everton…