5 talking points from the St Stephen's Day Premier League action

Liverpool’s fortuitous win, Man United’s considerably improved home form and more.

Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates at the final whistle.
Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates at the final whistle.
Image: Dave Thompson

1. Will Arsenal ever learn?

ARSENAL ARE NO strangers to dominating large parts of games, only to let their lead slip late on.

For instance, earlier this year in the Champions League, they dropped a three-goal lead against Belgian side Anderlecht.

The hosts may have ultimately prevailed today against QPR, but their capacity to implode when under pressure was still starkly apparent.

The Gunners were cruising before Olivier Giroud stupidly got himself sent off for headbutting Nedum Onuoha, and while Tomas Rosicky added to their lead thereafter, the final few minutes were anything but plain-sailing, as Arsene Wenger’s team decided to resort to kamikaze defending.

The hosts’ nerves became truly conspicuous after a 79th-minute Charlie Austin penalty got Harry Redknapp’s side back in the game, and from there, it felt like a game of Russian Roulette every time the ball went in Arsenal’s box.

They survived ultimately of course, but perhaps Harry Redknapp had a point when he bemoaned the referee’s failure to award a late penalty, when Kieran Gibbs seemed to take down Bobby Zamora in the box during a dangerous QPR attack.

While Arsenal were subsequently able to breathe a sigh of relief amid the final whistle, it remains obvious that for all their attacking talent — and despite the Anderlecht debacle — they still have no idea how to properly close games out.

2. Eriksen and Kane keeping Tottenham afloat

Incredibly, in Tottenham’s last 10 league games including their win over Leicester today, eight have ended 2-1.

All but two of the matches in question have been won by Mauricio Pochettino’s side, indicating their increasing tendency to grind out scrappy wins.

While Pochettino acknowledges that his side are “improving,” few if any of their recent Premier League triumphs could be described as convincing.

Instead, Spurs have been relying largely on two players whose talent is becoming more evident with each passing match – Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen got Tottenham out of jail again today, even though Leicester will feel they should have gotten something from the game.

The young England prospect now has 15 goals for the season, while — excluding penalties — the Dane has managed more Premier League goals than any other midfielder in 2014. Where would Tottenham be without their consistent acts of individual brilliance?

3. Patience a virtue for Rodgers and Sterling

With the loss of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool’s rebuilding process was never going to be easy. And so it continues to prove, as the side picked up a somewhat fortuitous 1-0 win over Premier League strugglers Burnley at Turf Moor this afternoon.

The hosts’ manager Sean Dyche was hardly exaggerating when he described his side’s performance as “dominant” against a Liverpool side who showed further examples of the lacklustre form that has prompted multiple disappointments already this season.

However, there remains signs of hope that have kept the Anfield club’s fans from despairing during their recent four-game winless streak.

Raheem Sterling showed his class in the advanced role with a goal after Brendan Rodgers kept faith in him in that position owing to a lack of viable alternatives, the Reds moved up to ninth place and are still only seven points off the top four and finally, the much-maligned defence picked up their fifth league clean sheet of the season. This Christmas might be a merry one, after all, for Reds fans.

4. Chelsea emphasise the chasm between top two and chasing pack

In years gone by, matches between the first and fourth-placed Premier League teams have often been tight, tense affairs between two fairly evenly matched sides.

Yet from the minute John Terry put Chelsea ahead on the half-hour mark against West Ham today, the outcome in this instance was barely in doubt.

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The Hammers may have improved since their infamous performance of “19th century football” in the same fixture last season, but they were hardly any less pragmatic, as they sought to contain Chelsea from the kick-off.

Consequently, the match emphasised, more than anything else, the huge chasm that is opening up between the top two and the rest of the league.

Even one of the best teams in England — by virtue of their league position at least — must now resort to a backs-to-the-wall performance against Mourinho’s maestros, for whom Diego Costa scored his 13th league goal with a beautifully taken second that all but killed off any hope of a West Ham revival, with a full half an hour of the game to play.

5. United have regained Old Trafford fear factor

Normally, Old Trafford is a notoriously intimidating place for opposition teams to go.

However, under David Moyes, playing there became a burden for United rather than the opposition, as they suffered their worst home record in the league since 1978, whereas their away form was actually relatively respectable by comparison under the Scot.

One of those home defeats came against Newcastle — their first defeat at Old Trafford against the Magpies since 1972 — yet in the corresponding fixture this afternoon, the contrast could not have been more stark, as they casually swept aside Alan Pardew’s side 3-1, with the impressive Wayne Rooney hitting a brace.

Of course, as Van Gaal insisted afterwards, United are still far from the finished article. But eight wins and just one defeat (on the opening day against Swansea) from 10 home matches is a measure of how far they’ve come since the Dutchman took over.

Old Trafford, it seems, is a fortress again.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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