Premier League, FA Cup hits and misses: Man Utd lose shape and flow, Arsenal find stability, questions for Man City

Did Man Utd lose the semi on the teamsheet? Signs of defensive encouragement for Mikel Arteta, but Pep Guardiola has difficult questions to answer...

Ole's selection and system error

David de Gea's errors will make the headlines but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team selection for Manchester United's FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea was raising eyebrows before kick-off and limited his in-form team throughout the match.

United came into this semi-final 19 games unbeaten and on a run of exciting wins shaped by the attacking trio of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood capitalising on open, expansive football. So it was a shock to see the latter pair begin on the bench to allow a switch to a cautious back three in defence.

With Chelsea playing a similar defensive formation, it made for a cagey first-half, with chances at a premium. United looked for the odd pass over the top to set Dan James or Rashford free but Chelsea nullified the threat and shut down any sign of the attacking play Solskjaer's side have shown since the restart.

Martial did come on at the end of the first half after Eric Bailly's injury, with Solskjaer taking the opportunity to re-jig his set-up, but with Olivier Giroud scoring soon after and De Gea's howler coming immediately after the restart, United had a mountain to climb.

"We picked a team to give us a best possible opportunity to go through in the cup and be ready for Wednesday. It didn't work today," said Solskjaer afterwards, suggesting he had half an eye on the midweek match with West Ham.

Three points in that Premier League fixture will boost United's top-four hopes - especially with their final-day opponents Leicester losing again earlier on Sunday - but it's hard to shake the feeling a full-strength United could have instead been on course for silverware as well as Champions League qualification.
Peter Smith

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Arsenal laying stable foundations?

Building a stable and reliable foundation is key to making sure any structure is to be trusted. Arsenal's defence - for too long now - has always wobbled when put under pressure. However, the signs are there that this might be changing.

It's been well documented that Arsenal's defensive stats have been improving under Mikel Arteta with Arsenal conceding 18 goals in 18 Premier League games since his appointment, with seven clean sheets, compared to 27 goals in 18 games under Unai Emery and Freddie Ljungberg.

But the visuals have yet to back up those numbers with defensive howlers still a common occurrence. That changed at Wembley where Arsenal quelled arguably the most potent attacking force in European football with a dogged, gritty and brave defensive display. He's taken his fair share of criticism so it's only right to highlight and bang the drum when appropriate for David Luiz. He was a colossus. Not only did he win 100 per cent of his aerial duels, he made 11 clearances as City peppered his box but were repelled.

His influence was infectious with Kieran Tierney alongside him stepping up to match his defensive brilliance and even the inconsistent Shkodran Mustafi was solid. If Arsenal can remain playing with this sort of stable structure the back, then the future could be exciting under Arteta.
Lewis Jones

Giroud underlines his importance again

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That's now five goals in eight games since the restart, and while Olivier Giroud's opener in Chelsea's 3-1 FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester United was helped by some poor goalkeeping from David de Gea, the Frenchman is surely making a strong case for a prominent role in Frank Lampard's project going forwards.

Giroud, who had been close to leaving the club in January, made just two Premier League starts up to late February when in-form Tammy Abraham was the favourite to lead the line. But Giroud repeatedly makes an impact when he's called upon and, after signing a one-year deal in May, World Cup winner continues to show why he can be a key figure for Lampard.

Sunday's strike against Manchester United came on the back of the match-winner against Norwich on Tuesday and Giroud, who gives Chelsea's play a focal point and different dimension, now looks likely to start the final in this competition against his old club Arsenal.

There is much excitement about the young, rising stars in this Chelsea squad, but 33-year-old Giroud is proving experience and know-how is a key ingredient too.
Peter Smith

Where have the real Man City gone?

"We are struggling to find our normal level," said a deflated Pep Guardiola in the post-match Zoom press conference.
City have been made the game look very easy at times under Guardiola.

Such success can breed arrogance and confidence but not always in a good way. That was the clear takeout from Wembley; City had underestimated the tough task that Arsenal provided in a performance, especially in the first half, that stunk of arrogance.

This 'turn up and win' mentality is becoming quite a common theme this season. The semi-final humbling was their 11th defeat of the season and once again it was a lack of cohesion at the back that allowed Arsenal to spring past them on the counter-attack. Kyle Walker was caught out for the first goal and Benjamin Mendy for the second while up the other end City had just one shot on target - their lowest amount in a game since April 2018.

It's not often you say this, but City have questions to answer with a Champions League tilt on the horizon.
Lewis Jones

Rodgers' pressure relief can't distract from sinking feeling

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Tottenham's win over Leicester

Brendan Rodgers boldly insisted after Leicester's humbling defeat at Tottenham that it's already job done at the King Power Stadium even if they miss out on the Champions League when the campaign draws to a conclusion next week.

"We've achieved the goals we initially set out to achieve by having European football, and we have a game to have a shot at the Champions League. For some that will be a disappointment," he admitted to Sky Sports after full-time.

But any hopes of relieving his players' anxiety ahead of their final-day showdown with Manchester United in seven days' time cannot mask the pressure on the Foxes to finish the job they have come so close to completing.

They held a 14-point lead over fifth place on New Years' Day, with 21 games played. Now 16 later, only goals scored separates them from that position, and its occupants, Manchester United, have a game in hand with which to leapfrog them this week.

A Champions League spot would have been a wonderful achievement for Rodgers and Leicester at the start of the season. It still would be. But anything less than that, having even been in with an outside shot of the title at Christmas, would be nothing short of bitterly disappointing all round.
Ron Walker

Jose fast dispelling worries over Kane future

Jose Mourinho doesn't always respond to press comments, but he made an exception last month when Sky Sports' own Paul Merson suggested Harry Kane would consider his Tottenham future this summer over the manager's style of play.

Mourinho may have got some of the statistics relating to his own history with strikers wrong when making his rebuttal, but so far he looks justified in believing he can certainly work well with the club's star striker.

Perhaps Sunday's win over Leicester was a perfect case in point. Tottenham barely saw any of the ball, their lowest possession tally on home soil in nearly 20 years in fact, and played with the low block Mourinho often favours in big games. Kane still scored twice and walked away with the man of the match award.

After nearly six months out, he's now up to six goals in eight games since the restart under Mourinho. No wonder the manager said he is "second to none" in strikers he's worked with. After all, there'd be no shame in being second best to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Mourinho's style may be divisive and, as Jamie Redknapp pointed out after full-time, harder to swallow for fans once they are back packing the stands at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. But in terms of remaining patient and making the most of your chances when they come, Kane and his manager certainly seem on the same page so far.
Ron Walker

Cherries lack of bite leaves them on the brink

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Southampton's win at Bournemouth.
There was a time where Bournemouth's front line was among the most-feared outside the top four.

But Callum Wilson and Joshua King, as well as those who have replaced them as Plan B, have struggled to recreate the form of previous seasons, and Bournemouth's lack of firepower was evident in a crushing 2-0 defeat by Southampton.

Bournemouth got into the final third with ease, and loaded the box from corners and free-kicks routinely, but their absence of bite in front of goal will ultimately be their downfall as their five-year stay in the Premier League nears an end.

Callum Wilson comparison

Shots Touches in opp box
2018/19 2.31 5.72
2019/20 1.66 4.19

Josh King comparison

Shots Touches in opp box
2018/19 2.18 5.21
2019/20 1.12 4.01

Wilson and King are a case in point, and have both seen their shots, touches in the opposition box and chances drop significantly this term compared with last. Yes, they can blame a lack of service, and their replacements have been weak, but Eddie Howe will have wanted more from his front men.

If Bournemouth do go down, it will be interesting to see where the likes of King and Wilson head next. Both have done enough to suggest this season has just been a blip, and the exodus from the Vitality Stadium may begin soon.

Winning is beginning to suit Burnley

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Burnley's win against Norwich.

Okay, so Burnley didn't have much of a task against a nine-man, already-relegated Norwich side at Carrow Road yesterday. And had Ben Godfrey's early header from a corner gone in, it could have been a different game.

But that's the point. Burnley got the job done, left with three points, and extended their unbeaten run to seven games in the process. Simple. Winning is beginning to become a real habit for Sean Dyche's men, and that flash-in-the-pan seventh-placed finish in 2018 might not remain a one-off for long.

If this were Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City showing up, showing grit in both boxes - James Tarkowski throwing himself in front of Alex Tettey's goalbound shot in one, Chris Wood showing a touch of class to beat Tim Krul with an improvies overhead kick in the other - and leaving unscathed without getting out of second gear, we would say this is the sign of a winning team. Knowing how to get three points without being at their best.

So why not Burnley? The scale of Dyche's achievements to instil this level of consistency cannot be re-iterated enough. Again, six of the Clarets' nine substitutes were players from the club's youth teams yesterday. And yet the only team to beat them since January 11 is Manchester City. It is remarkable.
Ron Walker

Swans to Glide into play-off spot?

Swans to Glide into play-off spot?

Do not miss your chance to land the £250,000 for a sixth time this season on Saturday. Play for free, entries by 3pm.

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