Premier League hits and misses: Liverpool pass another test and are Arsenal back to their best?
Liverpool pass a tough Norwich test, Tottenham are coping without Harry Kane and are Arsenal back to their best?
By Sky Sports Football
Last Updated: 17/02/20 3:48pm
Liverpool were not at their best against Norwich. In the first half, they were getting their timings all wrong, particularly with long balls, and were unable to trick their way past a well-drilled Norwich defence, who seemed to have someone there to clear at every turn.
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The second half was better but they were still pushed all the way by a team 58 points behind them in the Premier League table, although that was more to Norwich's credit that Liverpool's weakness. It took a moment of sheer quality from arguably their player of the season, Sadio Mane, to fire Liverpool to a 17th successive win and ensure their unbeaten run remains intact.
Liverpool also have their goalkeeper to thank, with Alisson keeping his 10th clean sheet of the season - the most in the Premier League so far. A strong hand kept Teemu Pukki from scoring into an empty net and Alisson also showed superb concentration to collect a strong shot from the Norwich striker when he had been mostly a bystander in the second half. The Brazilian also stood tall at the near post as Alex Tettey thrashed an intended cross onto the post.
Overall, these are the kinds of games that win you titles - the cold, windy, wet February nights in Norfolk when you come up against a battling team who cause you problems, but you find the solutions. It's another step closer to the Premier League title, another big test passed and Liverpool keep coming up with the goods with just five wins to go until glory.
What a difference 45 minutes make. In the first half against Newcastle, Arsenal's performance was littered with errors, looked laborious and were arguably lucky to go in at the break on level terms.
But Mikel Arteta must have one cracker of a half-time speech in his locker as Arsenal kicked into high gear. They put four goals past their visitors - the most they have scored past any opponent in the Premier League since a 5-1 win against Bournemouth in February 2019 - and won their first game in 2020, arresting a run of four successive league draws.
It also reminded us that Arsenal's squad is packed full of talent. Mesut Ozil scored his first goal since April and pulled the attacking strings in the second half, while Alexandre Lacazette netted for the first time in over two months and there were wonderful scenes during his celebration as his team-mates bundled onto the top of him as if they had just won the FA Cup. They were ecstatic that he had finally found the net.
We now know that Arsenal can produce that kind of performance and perhaps time in Dubai during the winter break has worked wonders for Arteta's side. The next step will be producing the same on a consistent basis and against better teams.
One of the big successes Jose Mourinho has accomplished in recent months is that the question of how much Tottenham are missing Harry Kane has rarely been mentioned. Kane is not expected to return to training until April after surgery on a torn hamstring but Spurs are more than coping in forward areas with Mourinho's tactic of playing four quick attack-minded players causing problems for the opposition.
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Heung-Min Son is revelling in his role under Mourinho as he continues to perform at a level which must make him the most underrated player in the Premier League.
The South Korea forward has now scored in Spurs' last five matches in all competitions and he has stepped up in the absence of Kane. He also became the first Asian player in Premier League history to reach 50 goals in the competition - 51 in total after his match-winning brace.
Bjorn Engels had an eventful afternoon at Villa Park. The Belgian defender was making his first Premier League start since December owing to Tyrone Mings' absence through illness, but Dean Smith's side continue to be undone by their defending.
Engels was the man directly involved in Tottenham's second goal as it was he who brought down Steven Bergwijn inside the box, but the 25-year-old atoned for that foul by rising to head Villa level in the second half. It appeared the hosts had done enough to secure a point, but it was Engels' mistake which allowed Heung-Min Son in to score a dramatic stoppage-time winner.
Villa boss Smith said following the defeat: "Bjorn scored a good header but then unfortunately makes a big mistake right at the death. He's tried to bring it down rather than put it back over their centre-half's head. It happens all over the pitch so there's no blame apportioned."
Villa have committed nine errors leading to goals in the Premier League so far this season, more than any other side, while they have only kept four clean sheets - the fewest in the division.
Jack Grealish was once more full of invention, creating five or more chances in a match for the fourth time this season while Pepe Reina made seven saves, but Villa will need to create a far more solid defensive foundation if they are to have any chance of survival.
It was a strange day for Newcastle at the Emirates. They were arguably the better side in the first half with Allan Saint-Maximin the driving force behind every attack in an overall impressive performance.
But there were some uncharacteristic defensive errors from the Magpies that ultimately decided the game, with manager Steve Bruce telling Sky Sports: "The disappointing thing is the manner of the goals we gave away. It was so not like us - they were too easy, and for an hour, we've been where we've been all season.
"We didn't start the second half like we should have done, and we've gone sloppy, giving away awful goals, which has not been us. We've got to take it on the chin, and move forward."
It is Newcastle's second biggest losing margin in the Premier League this season, coming in behind a 5-0 defeat to Leicester in September. But it's not all doom and gloom Newcastle fans, the next game after the Foxes loss was a 1-0 win against Manchester United and five of the next six fixtures this time around are against sides in the bottom half of the table.
As Bruce said, it's time for Newcastle to move forward and show that they can bounce back from this defeat.
Watching Norwich against Liverpool, it's hard to believe they're the rock bottom side in the Premier League. They remain seven points from safety with 12 games to play but they pushed Liverpool - who are now 58 points above them in the table - all the way.
Let's go from back to front, starting with the defence. Norwich seemed to have a body in the way at every turn, putting in block after block, interception after interception and taking advantage of Liverpool's frustration. Grant Hanley in particular should be commended for his efforts and put in the ultimate captain's performance - he led the way with five interceptions and two blocks.
Going forward, it was all about the counter-attack against a possession-dominant Liverpool and they most certainly had their chances. Alisson made a vital save to stop Teemu Pukki from scoring in an open net and the striker, plus Todd Cantwell and Alex Tettey also went close.
Ultimately, it took a 78th-minute moment of magic from Sadio Mane to break down Norwich's defences, but for a long while the Canaries looked to be the second side of the season to hold Liverpool to a draw and claim another huge scalp after their win against Manchester City earlier in the season.
Reflecting on the performance, former Norwich defender Russell Martin told Sky Sports: "For them to do that at the bottom of the league and to play the way they do, create the chances they have and take a team like Liverpool so close, I think they can take a huge amount of belief and credit going forward.
"They're going to have to take that and do it against the teams around them because their season will not be decided on games against Liverpool. If they take that into the games against teams around them then there's still a chance."
Burnley's storming performance at St Mary's on Saturday means Southampton still have the worst home record in the Premier League this season, taking just 11 points from their 13 matches at St Mary's.
After powering their way out of the relegation zone into mid-table, Southampton have slipped back into their old ways and have now lost three of their last four Premier League games. A key problem remains for Ralph Hasenhuttl - his counter-pressing style of football only generates points and positive performances when his team aren't tasked with dominating possession in a match. When an opposition team sits deep and invites pressure, Southampton lack imagination.
In their last 19 home matches where they've enjoyed 41 per cent or more possession, Southampton have won just once. That includes failures to win against relegated Huddersfield and Cardiff last season and out-of-form West Ham, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace this season.
Just to enhance the argument of their counter-attack nature, in their last 13 games at home where they've had less than 41 per cent of the ball, they've won seven matches, including two wins over Tottenham. It's yin and yang. Hasenhuttl needs to find a solution.