Arsenal spirit seems broken after title disintegration, with Man City the ultimate weekend winners
Spurs and Leeds should be admired for their refusal to learn lessons, while Manchester City have broken Arsenal and Brentford and Brighton are brilliant.
Erling Haaland can stat-pad all he wants but the Manchester City forward has only scored in a single 1-0 win this season; Taiwo Awoniyi has managed it four times for Nottingham Forest to help pull them to safety.
But the orchestrator of this glorious pastiche composition deserves the most praise of anyone at The City Ground outside of the coaching staff and dressing-room locker manufacturers. The total £42.5m sum Forest committed to sign Gibbs-White was mocked and derided at the time, yet he has been the difference between survival and relegation.
For an initial £25m, Gibbs-White has been a steal. Even with the extra £5m Wolves are due after Forest confirmed their top-flight status for another season, it has been money outrageously well spent.
The 23-year-old is entirely unique: no other player in the Premier League has played the most minutes, contributed the most combined goals and assists, and completed the most dribbles for their team this season. Gibbs-White has had an entire side’s attacking responsibility placed on his shoulders and thrived.
On the one hand, it was a fairly anti-climactic way to clinch it. On the other, the celebrating players didn’t seem to mind all that much, and it gave Manchester City an opportunity to make Chelsea give Stefan Ortega, Kalvin Phillips, Rico Lewis, Sergio Gomez and Cole Palmer a guard of honour.
It wasn’t quite the same as Dong Fangzhou, Chris Eagles, Kieran Richardson, Tomasz Kuszczak and Kieran Lee being applauded onto the Stamford Bridge pitch by John Terry but still.
Oh, and fair play on the title. And introducing the phrase ‘115 charges’ to an out-of-context football lexicon. Then resting your best players and still beating a squad bought for £613.8m. Can’t argue with that.
The set is almost complete: Brentford have beaten all but three of their Premier League opponents in two seasons, with Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Leicester the only teams missing.
It took time to add Spurs to that collection of scalps but it was entirely worth the wait as Brentford secured a fourth win in five to reignite European hopes which had long since faded.
And to do it all without Ivan Toney only makes it more astonishing. Their top scorer has missed four Premier League games this season; Yoane Wissa and Bryan Mbeumo have both scored in each of them. The latter in particular has had a phenomenal campaign and could benefit from a greater share of the spotlight.
Aston Villa’s rotating full-backs
Lucas Digne and Matty Cash were entrusted with their first Premier League starts since February 25 and March 18 respectively, and fared admirably against Liverpool’s considerable wide threats.
It was a monstrous Villa defensive performance – five Cash tackles; five interceptions and 10 clearances from Tyrone Mings; seven tackles and six fouls from Boubacar Kamara – but Unai Emery will be most pleased with his enviable depth at full-back.
Fair play to Sean Dyche for realising that the key to Everton’s survival hopes was to unlock the attacking brilliance of Michael Keane. His header to set up Abdoulaye Doucoure against Nottingham Forest in March, his long-range stunner against Spurs in April and a calm, composed centre for Yerry Mina against Wolves in May all helped earn battling draws for the Toffees, who would be 19th without those three points.
Keane’s rate of goals or assists per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season is 0.27 – equal with Mason Mount and better than Jarrod Bowen, Emi Buendia and Anthony Gordon. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was never the real attacking force Everton have missed this season.
David de Gea
While the majority scoffingly credited Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw with the Golden Glove, David de Gea can console himself with a performance worthy of the capture of his second such award. Man Utd needed him to repel Dominic Solanke, David Brooks and Kieffer Moore and almost confirm Champions League qualification.
It would be an entirely unserious move to retain him as their first-choice keeper next season but credit where it’s due: De Gea remains an excellent shot-stopper, if an ultimately limited all-rounder in the position. Anyone capable of outlasting Phil Jones deserves respect.
Seven Brighton players have scored six or more league goals this season – a figure only Borussia Dortmund (eight players) can beat in Europe’s top five leagues. It really doesn’t feel as though the continent is ready for Evan Ferguson and friends.
The aggression and determination with which Roy Hodgson has tried to completely erase those four months at Watford from the collective memory is admirable. The 75-year-old came out of retirement to rescue Crystal Palace, electrify Eberechi Eze and soak up the adulation from both the home and away supporters after a pulsating draw at Craven Cottage, all because he answered the phone to the Hornets in January 2022.
Declan Rice scored and was the game’s best player; Roberto Firmino equalised as a second-half substitute; Ruben Neves was a few levels above everyone else on the pitch; Harry Kane scored a brilliant goal and was summarily let down by his teammates and those running the club. Those are some fond and phenomenally fitting farewells.
While a series of atrocious decisions ultimately led to this likely conclusion, Leeds can trace their recent collapse back to first-half stoppage-time of their home game against Crystal Palace in April.
“After we conceded before half-time, everything changed,” said Javi Gracia, one of many individuals capable of identifying the problem, yet entirely unable to conjure an explanation or solution.
Since conceding that equaliser against Marc Guehi, Leeds have crumbled mentally. They have scored eight goals but conceded 24 in response, taking the lead in three games but contriving to draw two of them and lose one.
That has been a theme of the season. Leeds have dropped 25 points from winning positions – more than any other club over the past few campaigns bar Southampton’s 29 in 2021/22 and 2018/19, and West Brom’s 26 in 2017/18. One of those teams was immediately relegated and the other eventually succumbed to the constant balancing act. It is neither a good habit to develop, nor an easy one to override.
Gracia, Jesse Marsch and Sam Allardyce have found it impossible to solidify that soft core and strengthen the collective psyche of the squad. Each manager had their faults but this comes down to corner-cutting during squad-building and a belief that returning to The Promised Land was the difficult part when staying there is far tougher.
That is the reality of challenging Manchester City to a sprint over these marathon seasons: a stumble becomes a slip and then a rank disintegration. A temporary loss of footing feels permanent. An advantageous points gap is whittled away and reversed with ruthless efficiency with every look at the league table. An anxious glance over the shoulder becomes a panicked, sweating stare into the abyss.
Mikel Arteta said the right things in public when he implored his players to end a remarkable season as strongly as possible, to keep pushing Manchester City in the belief, however forlorn, that something – anything – could happen. It was their right, their duty, to go to the end.
But Arsenal have nothing left, whether that is down to the physical exertions on a relatively small and under-rotated squad, or the crushing reality of trying to stand up to a juggernaut. The silver lining is that the Gunners used a late-season collapse last campaign to invigorate and toughen themselves for this charge, but going from fifth to second is a small, linear step compared to the leap up to first.
While in no way should it be expected that the squad or staff actually took notice of the discourse, it was funny to see some parts of the Tottenham fanbase pontificate over whether they should qualify for the Europa Conference League or swerve it next season.
How delightful it was to see Brentford rather undermine that discussion by threatening to remove the element of choice. The Bees are a point back from Tottenham with each team having one fixture remaining. Spurs face relegation-battling Leeds, while Brentford host champions Manchester City. The Spursiest outcome from those games is obvious enough not to make explicit.
But this was yet another defeat to underline precisely how and where Spurs are going wrong. They would never have appointed Thomas Frank in the first place, and still seem unlikely to approach him now. They would never have lowered themselves to the ignominy of signing someone from Ligue 2, yet Bryan Mbeumo dismantled them. And if Tottenham’s best player was unavailable they would collapse in on themselves even more dramatically than they are doing now, yet Brentford came from behind, away from home, to beat them without Ivan Toney.
The odds are they will have to get used to that predicament, because Harry Kane surely sees no justification whatsoever to stick around. Supporters can argue between themselves all they like but when you give your bona fide star reason to be jealous of trophy-chasing West Ham, you’ve completely and utterly f**ked it.
“The importance of what we’re trying to achieve means the players and myself should be flat out at all times between now and the end of the season,” said Gary O’Neil on April 30. Bournemouth beat Leeds later that day to essentially confirm their survival, establishing a 10-point gap.
That has only been chipped down to eight in the three weeks since, despite the Cherries subsequently losing three consecutive games for the first time since January. As brilliant as O’Neil has been, and as earnest as his “flat out” message was, it is impossible to keep relegation-surviving footballers off The Beach in May.
Southampton’s goalkeeping department
Gavin Bazunu has the lowest save percentage (54.2%) of any goalkeeper to have played at least 1,000 minutes in the Premier League this season. Alex McCarthy has the lowest save percentage (45.5%) of any goalkeeper to have played at all in the Premier League this season. Would love to see one of their training sessions.
He was very good indeed but it does feel a bit harsh and developmentally counter-productive to make an 18-year-old play four of his nine games in a breakthrough season against Manchester City.
So close to one of the all-time least memorable not-missed-a-minute seasons, then carelessly goes and gets benched for the last home game of the campaign.
Liverpool referee conspiracy theorists
Please grow up.
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