It was obvious that this Sunday was going to be a crucial one, particularly in shaping the top of the table. All three of the games featured at least one of the top six, one being a real showdown in the fight for 4th place. Although there were clear favourites in two of the three fixtures, things didn’t turn out entirely the way we’d expected.
The day started with second placed Liverpool hosting Burnley. Of course, Liverpool would have been fancied by most going into this game, despite not being in the greatest form domestically. Klopp’s men were 10 points clear at the summit in December leaving their nearest competitiors, Manchester City, in their dust. The Liverpool boss would give anything for that to still be the case, his side 4 points behind City prior to today’s match. It was a game that the Reds knew they simply had to win but also one that wouldn’t be easy coming up against a tenacious Burnley side. Liverpool almost found themselves battling more with the conditions than they were their opponents. The strength of the wind was clear for all to see when Westwood whipped in a corner which freakishly looped over Alisson and straight into the net to give the visitors an unexpected early lead. Even this soon into the game, home fans would’ve been fearing the worst, a loss in a game like this surely giving City a huge incentive in the title race. Thankfully for them, they didn’t have to feel this way for long. Burnley created their own downfall, a couple of defensive mistakes and goalkeeping plunders handing Liverpool the opportunity to get in front even before the half hour mark. Dyche must’ve told his players to make the most of the conditions at half time, his side becoming much more direct after the break. Nonetheless, it was Liverpool who got the fourth and decisive goal in the game. Gudmundsson made a brief appearance from the bench and scored but any hopes of a late equaliser for the underdogs were quickly buried when Mane rounded the keeper and gave his side their final goal in a 4-2 victory. Things now remain the same as they did before this weekend of games when it comes to the very top of the table. City sit a single point clear at the top, both them and Liverpool looking to take advantage of each other’s possible slip ups over the remainder of the season.
We then turned our attention to the fight for Champions League places in the day’s other two games. The first saw Chelsea entertain Wolves, arguably the most impressive newly promoted side we’ve seen in years. Ordinarily, a clash between 6th and 7th would be quite an important occasion for both teams, but not today. Chelsea were really the only team who had anything to play for in terms of league position as they aimed to pile the pressure on Arsenal and United’s upcoming encounter. Whilst they look to have already done enough to have a relaxed end to the season, Wolves certainly weren’t taking it easy. A very determined and hard-working performance saw them allow Chelsea very little in terms of chances. It always looked likely that Espirito-Santo’s side could hit Chelsea on the counter, and they did exactly that. Wolves’ top-scorer Jimenez was somewhat fortunate to see his deflected shot trickle past Kepa and into the back of the net, but gave his side the leade nonetheless. Despite falling behind, Chelsea still didn’t seem to have much going forward. They dominated possession and much of the game was played on the edge of the Wolves box, but chances were still hard to come by for the Blues. As has so often been the case during his time at the club, it was a piece of Hazard magic that put Chelsea on the scoreboard, the Belgian firing a driven shot into the bottom corner. It was too little too late, however, for Sarri’s men to earn anything more. They had to settle for a point in the sort of game they must win if they want to beat their competitors to 4th place.
Having not managed to claim all three points in their game, Chelsea would have been hoping for the same result as 4th and 5th, Arsenal and Manchester United, came head to head at the Emirates. This one really did seem impossible to call. Both sides were playing well picking up a number of impressive results and putting in plenty of strong performances. Their most recent European ties may have suggested that United were perhaps slight favourites, but it’s not as if Arsenal simply played poorly against Rennes. The Sokratis red card was a decisive factor in a game Arsenal were dominating prior to his dismissal; he was to feature in today’s game so there was no reason why, in terms of personnel, the Gunners might struggle against Manchester United. Solskjaer’s rejuvenated side had an extra day to prepare for this crucial tie, but they were certainly still the one’s who looked to be nursing a European hangover following their heroics against PSG. They started slowly and never truly kicked into rhythm. Players who have been so consistent under Solskjaer such as Rashford, Lindelof and De Gea were all making unusual mistakes, the Spanish shot-stopper greatly at fault for Xhaka’s long distance opener. United were far from their best but they still looked likely to snatch a goal or two. Lukaku, who was probably United’s best player, couldn’t keep up his goalscoring form failing to take a few key chances. This proved costly when Fred clumsily nudged Lacazette to ground in the box, Aubameyang tucking home the resultant penalty. Arsenal claimed a well-deserved 2-0 victory to give themselves a huge boost in the fight for a Champions League spot.
Overall, it was virtually the perfect day for Arsenal, one which could only have been improved had Chelsea not managed to snatch a late goal to earn themselves a point. Emery’s men got one over all three of the teams they are competing with to claim top 4, obviously beating United, but also capitalising not only on Chelsea’s draw, but also Tottenham’s loss to southampton yesterday. It wasn’t a bad day for Liverpool either as they closed the gap behind City back to 1 point. Today’s results mean that the title and top 4 races remain just as tight as ever.