Arsenal fans are divided
Wenger in or Wenger out, that is the question. If you needed any more evidence of how split Arsenal have become as a club it was at the Hawthorns. First, a plane flew over the ground at kick-off with a banner emblazoned with the words “No new contract #WengerOut” on it. Then came a second plane, halfway through the first-half, with an “In Arsene We Trust #Respect” message. If Gunners fans can’t decide what they want, how are the board supposed to? Arsenal are a club divided off the pitch and it isn’t what they need on the pitch either.
Theo Walcott's bad week
It’s not been the best few days for Theo Walcott. First he was snubbed by Gareth Southgate for a place in the England squad (on his birthday no less). Then on Saturday he completed 65 almost completely ineffectual minutes before being hooked in favour of Olivier Giroud as Arsenal vainly chased an equaliser. Walcott has enjoyed one of his best seasons in recent memory but is in danger of seeing it peter out, much like his team, with more performances like this one.
The plot at the bottom thickens
A few weeks ago the relegation battle looked relatively straightforward. Swansea and Hull were resurgent under new management, Leicester were dropping like a stone while Crystal Palace couldn’t buy a win. But fast forward to now and the chase for 40 points looks harder to call than ever. Swansea, Hull and Middlesbrough all suffered damaging defeats this weekend while Sunderland are in even more bother after failing to do what literally nearly everyone else does and beat Burnley at home. The plot at the bottom has thickened with any three from six in serious trouble.
Romelu Lukaku arrives late to the party
Cometh the bottom half team, cometh Romelu Lukaku. Following some very outspoken comments in midweek Everton’s big Belgian needed a performance to placate the home crowd but for 78 minutes on Saturday he didn’t remotely deliver as the Toffees failed to put Hull away. And then, as he so often does against lesser opposition, Lukaku came to the party assisting one and scoring twice in the final 10 minutes after Tom Huddlestone was harshly dismissed. He’s now Premier League top scorer and Everton’s first 20-goal forward for 30 years but, remarkably given those statistics, remains frustratingly inconsistent. Is he actually worth the £60m+ Everton want? Time will tell.
Manchester United’s sixth sense ends
For the first time since November, United aren’t sixth. Victory against Middlesbrough ensured Jose Mourinho’s men moved a place higher as they chase down the top four. Clearly it’s not where they want to be but performances in recent months have hinted they’re moving in the right direction. Now, finally, the league table reflects that.
John Stones is getting better
Stones has had to deal with more than his fair share of criticism this season. So how encouraging it was on Sunday evening to see the 22-year-old back to something approaching his best form, despite defeat to Liverpool. Playing in between an out of position Fernandinho and a typically erratic Nicolás Otamendi, Stones was superb and denied Liverpool a certain goal in the first-half when he bravely threw himself in the way of Joël Matip’s shot. He twice made significant interceptions, too, in a display that will go a small way to reassure City supporters that he was worth such a large investment, after all. When City reinvest in their defence this summer, expect Stones to get even better.
Philippe Coutinho has to be dropped
Once again, Philippe Coutinho was virtually anonymous for Liverpool. With the club battling so hard to cement a place in the top four, they cannot afford to be carrying any passengers at this pivotal stage of the season. Klopp has to drop his playmaker. On £200k a week, the Brazilian may be the club's highest-paid player, but he has struggled desperately since returning from injury and has had remarkably little impact on Liverpool's games in recent weeks. Klopp should gamble. Drop Coutinho for the crucial Merseyside derby after the international break and possibly even for the two or three games that follow it. That gives Coutinho time to rest and get himself up to full fitness before the blood and thunder of the league run-in.