Tottenham, meanwhile, are three points off the Champions League places. Drink that in for a moment because it takes some swallowing after a week in which their miserable European exit to Dinamo Zagreb was labelled as a disgrace by their own captain Hugo Lloris.
But a workmanlike performance in beating a dangerous Aston Villa side 2-0 at Villa Park ensures that Spurs go into the international break with a little dignity restored and a reminder that there is plenty for them still to play for if they can just refocus their energy.
Jose Mourinho rang the changes, presumably turning to the players he trusts, and was rewarded with some standout displays. No surprise that Harry Kane was among them but Carlos Vinicius and, in particular, Lucas Moura impressed too.
The trio combined for Vinicius’ first Premier League goal of the season, while the second was all about Kane as he won and converted the penalty that ended Villa’s hopes of a point.
Mourinho used his post-match interview to make one of his own. “My next challenge as coach is for them to have this attitude every match, not just as a reaction to a bad result.”
The conversation with Geoff Shreeves was a long and winding one that took in the selfishness of players, the influence of agents and the media, and even “society and the psychological profile of younger people” as Mourinho lamented the hand he’s been dealt.
The impression was given of a coach still fighting against the tide at Tottenham, but the key message is surely that it is a battle they can still win – if they stick together.
“I want to be proud of my players,” said Mourinho. “I was not proud last Thursday. But tonight I am really, really happy with what they did. Again, the challenge is that this soul, we must have it every match.” It is Newcastle away then Manchester United at home next.
Even when Arsenal are this unpredictable, they leave you with the feeling that it is typical Arsenal.
After delivering one of the most abject 32 minutes of the Premier League season to find themselves 3-0 down to West Ham at the London Stadium, they contrived to fashion an unlikely comeback that will have stirred even pessimistic supporters. Expect the unexpected.
Alexandre Lacazette earned his late equaliser with a fine performance leading the line. Martin Odegaard, creator-in-chief yet again, would not have deserved to find himself on the losing side. Neither would Calum Chambers, hugely impressive on his return to the team at right-back.
But for all the endeavour shown in the second half, this was still one point when three were needed. Arsenal are ninth and the bitter taste of those first-half failings linger on the palate, not least for Mikel Arteta, a man now accustomed to his high standards not being met. “I am very disappointed because I cannot accept my team to play how they did for certain periods in the first half.”
It was the second goal that summed up everything that infuriates Arsenal supporters about their own side. This is a team that has the talent but lacks the concentration, the organisation and the discipline required to compete with the best. It was not one player caught out by Jesse Lingard’s quick free-kick, it was six of them, including some of the more senior men in the squad.
Half a dozen players had their backs turned as the West Ham man played the simple pass that set Jarrod Bowen away behind the back line. Bernd Leno should have done better but that was hardly the point. It spoke to something deeper. An Arsenal team still struggling to master the basics.
Even Lacazette acknowledged afterwards when speaking to Sky Sports that the team “did not respect the game plan of the coach”. Is there still a cultural issue holding the Gunners back, a lack of seriousness in their work that could scupper their hopes of ever restoring former glories?
Arteta thinks not. “I am not worried about the culture because we have come so far on that,” he said afterwards. “I have seen so many positive things to be content with what I am saying. The energy, the belief and the togetherness. I am worried with the levels we can show within a game.”
The comeback suggests he is right, the desire is there. But this is still a team wrestling with itself, capable of extraordinary highs and lows on the same afternoon let alone in the same week. Arteta is looking for answers but it seems the quest for consistency at Arsenal is a search that must go on.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s thrilling 3-3 draw between West Ham and Arsenal, Paul Merson was full of praise for how Jesse Lingard has resurrected his career at the London Stadium.
“I’m a big fan of him and I think he was the best signing on deadline day,” he told Sky Sports. “There were good vibes coming out of Man United that he was training well but just couldn’t get into the team. That he’s back in the England squad after just seven or eight games for West Ham tells you everything about the lad.
“He’s got a good footballing brain and the one thing you can’t mark is running off the ball. No one likes chasing anybody when they’ve not got the ball and he’s like that. He’s willing to make runs to take players away.
“He’s got to carry that on now. He’s got to do it over the next 10 games. He’s played in international tournaments before and Gareth (Southgate) likes him. He’s a team player. He plays for the team and is not selfish. Sometimes, this wrecks his assists and his goals, so he reminds me of a midfield Emile Heskey who plays for the team.”
Moments into the encounter, Martin Tyler introduced the ‘effervescent’ Lingard upon his first touch, and it was an entirely apt description. Spring is here, and the midfielder on loan from Manchester United is a man reborn under David Moyes.
Lingard scored his fifth goal against Arsenal in all competitions – the most he has netted against any opponent in his professional career.
And now he is recording the numbers to go with the selfless displays, scoring and assisting in a Premier League game for the first time since December 2018.
Moyes said this week: “Since he came in, everybody has been a bit surprised with how good his fitness is, how good his all-round game is. I can see by the way he is working he is even getting better, his physical data has got better and overall he has been very good for us.
“He has given us another string to our bow and given us more attacking options, so we are really pleased with him.”
West Ham’s Champions League charge would ultimately be dented as Arsenal showed a fighting spirit that has been nurtured by Mikel Arteta these past 15 months but in Lingard, Moyes has arguably the league’s most in-form player.
An England recall is richly deserved, and West Ham supporters will certainly hope the player comes back unscathed to play a central role in keeping the club’s European aspirations on track.
“We feel or hope a trophy can be a catalyst of more to come,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of Manchester United’s FA Cup quarter-final with Leicester.
Having failed to win any trophy since the Europa League under Jose Mourinho in 2017, the honours board at Old Trafford is in desperate need of a new addition. The longer the wait goes, the more the pressure builds on Solskjaer. He didn’t help himself with his team selection in that regard at the King Power.
Solskjaer had decided to rest a handful of his United regulars in Sunday’s 3-1 defeat, starting both Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek, but sent on Bruno Fernandes, Luke Shaw, Edinson Cavani and Scott McTominay with 25 minutes left. It was to no avail as United looked like a team running on empty.
Fred and Nemanja Matic were completely overrun and outplayed by Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans, who showed all the attributes of what a traditional Manchester United midfield should look like. Their tenacity, quality and tactical awareness laid the platform for Leicester to book their spot in the final four. An achievement conjured up without James Maddison, James Justin, Harvey Barnes and Ricardo Pereira. With that in mind, Solskjaer’s excuses in the aftermath regarding the fitness issues within his squad fell on unsympathetic ears.
Under Solskjaer’s watch, United have made the semi-final stages of the FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Europa League. And now, they only have Europe as a potential avenue to silverware. Solskjaer’s first trophy would be a huge breakthrough moment but the wait goes on.
Glimpses of promise will need to be turned into victories in big matches soon.
Quietly but surely, it’s been another good week for Chelsea.
Even without playing, their top-four position in the Premier League improved on Sunday as West Ham crumbled, progress to the last eight of the Champions League was secured against the team top of La Liga in midweek, and a 2-0 victory over Sheffield United made sure of their place in the last four of the FA Cup.
Things are certainly looking up at Stamford Bridge.
That said, the win over Sheffield United owed a significant debt to good fortune and, with Chelsea clearly flagging, the visitors would have been favourites to prevail had David McGoldrick headed forward rather than wide from the game’s best opportunity. On such fine margins can seasons hinge.
Thomas Tuchel quite reasonably attributed his side’s second-half wobble to fatigue, but if that was the cause then the Chelsea boss must be looking at his side’s fixture list next month with some trepidation:
April 3: West Brom (home)
April 6 or 7: Porto (away)
April 10: Crystal Palace (away)
April 13 or 14: Porto (home)
April 17 or 18: Man City (FA Cup semi-final)
April 24: West Ham (away)
April 27 or 28: CL semi-final (if they progress)
May 1: Fulham (home)
May 4 or 5: CL semi-final (if they progress)
May 8: Man City (away)
In manager speak, Chelsea’s fixture list is a nice problem to have. And packed fixture lists tend to be commonplace for big clubs. But this is a season like no other and Chelsea’s date (and defeat) in last year’s FA Cup final means April is their 11th successive month of football. No matter the size of their squad, it’s a big ask.
Friday’s Champions League draw, in which they were pitted with Porto, was kind. But Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final draw, fixing up an encounter with Man City, was rather less so. Between April 10 and the end of the month, Chelsea will have to play three London derbies in the Premier League, host Porto in the Champions League, take on City in that afore-referenced semi-final, and then, subject to progression, take on either Liverpool or Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
And the start of May doesn’t look much easier either – another London derby, potentially another game against Liverpool or Madrid, and another encounter with City.
On a weekend when Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United all struggled after midweek exertions, it’s a nailed-on prediction that fixture fatigue will become a relevant but tired-out line between now and the season’s end.