As the Premier League enters the final straight stories are unfolding, and we begin with two London clubs. Tottenham and West Ham found out (and not for the first time this season) that they are both pretenders to their objectives this season. Both are hoping for a top 4 place but both were found wanting at the weekend in what felt like crucial games to stake their place in the final four.
For West Ham, finishing in the top 4 would be a stunning achievement for a club who for most of their Premier League era have either been finishing in mid table or getting relegated. Nobody would have believed that come March the club would be in a with a chance of a Champions League place and be above Liverpool in the standings. But here we are and after a solid run, which has seen manager David Moyes shore up the defence and install a good atmosphere at the club, the Hammers have surprised many, including themselves.
However in their latest game there was a feeling that West Ham were defeated before a ball was kicked given they were playing 2nd placed Manchester United away from home. History reared its not always ugly head but a predictable one, and here we had Moyes whose record against the traditional top six clubs away from home is poor. We knew that Moyes would not go for the game and rather have his team defend, possibly for a point, possibly to snatch a surprise winner but for the majority of the game West Ham were negative. One could argue that most teams are coming to Old Trafford but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Edinson Cavani out injured. Had West Ham won they would have only been 3 points behind United with a game in hand. Instead they lost miserably to a Craig Dawson own goal, had zero shots on target and are trailing United by 9 points. Sure a top 4 place is still up for grabs as the Hammers are only 3 points behind Chelsea but this weekend probably revealed that Moyes' side can't move that extra level up to claim their prize.
As for Tottenham with manager Jose Mourinho now in his first full season in the dug out and on a reported ridiculous salary of £18m a year one would expect at least a top 4 showing this season. But Tottenham may not even finish in the top 6 let alone any other place higher. In the biggest game for the club that still means everything- the north London derby, Tottenham failed to make an impact losing 2-1 at Arsenal. This, let's remind ourselves, is an Arsenal side who are 10th in the league and have lost 11 games so far. However Arsenal came out the starting blocks with something to prove and richly deserved their victory in the end. Tottenham as they have done frequently this season did not show up until it was too late. Indeed Mourinho's team took a surprise lead through a super 'rabona' goal by Erik Lamela but the way Arsenal were playing it was inevitable that the Gunners were going to come back and they did through goals by Martin Odegaard (his first league goal for the club) and Alexandre Lacazette. Tottenham are 8th and six points adrift of the top 4 now.
Talking of the London derby Arsenal star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was dropped to the bench by manager Mikel Arteta for breaking protocol and being late for the team set-up before the game. This is an interesting situation when managers drop players for disobedience. True players should be punished, but is the best form of punishment handing an advantage to the opposition by dropping your best player on the eve of a game? It worked out for Arsenal this time but on a larger scale one has to question if your most influential first team players should be punished by being dropped and not instead receiving, for example, a months fine?
As predicted from the feedinco tipsters community, Liverpool won on Monday night beating Wolves 1-0 in what was a welcome victory for them. But there has been a growing trend over the past month of the media making excuses for the club's dreadful form. Here is a team that are supposed to be burnt out after being brilliant for the past 2 seasons, so according to the media that is fine and acceptable. Please do not tell Sir Alex Ferguson that story with his Manchester United team dominating English football for 20 years. Even Arsenal under Arsene Wenger would win the league and then the season after still be league contenders. It's what separates the truly great teams from the good ones. Of course Liverpool have been, at times, spectacular over the past 24 months and yes it is hard to keep up that level but the drop off this season should be rightly criticised because of how big it has been rather than being brushed under the carpet with, in some cases, cheap excuses.
Premier League team of the weekend: Mendy, Stones, Dias, Cancelo, Maguire, Ndidi, Albrighton, Milivojevic, Odegaard, Aguero, Iheanacho