Six things we learnt from this weekend's Premier League: Alexis Sanchez shines but a bigger point is made; Manchester United display a worry

Spurs' inconsistency is costing them, Palace and West Brom lifted by new manager syndrome, Chelsea show a touch of class and England enjoy striker face-off

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The Independent Football

Sanchez stole the show, but Coquelin proved the biggest point

The plaudits rightly went to Alexis Sanchez as the Chilean forward danced and dazzled his way through the robust Stoke defence to lead Arsenal to an impressive 3-0 victory on Sunday. However, a nod should go towards Francis Coquelin, not due to his performance but because of what he showed Arsene Wenger. Coquelin was on loan with Charlton last month, but he has returned to offer the Gunners’ defence some much-needed protection.

The Gunners have conceded three goals in the four games Coquelin has started, whereas the Gunners have conceded over a goal a game without the Frenchman playing in front of the back four. If Wenger moves this month to sign a world class defensive midfielder given that you wouldn’t expect Coquelin to feature in a realistic title challenge, it will show Arsenal really mean business when they say they can still challenge for the top.

 

Don’t be fooled by Manchester United’s results

A run of 10 games unbeaten was brought to a halt on Sunday when Southampton emerged with a 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford, but the club’s performances are a greater cause for concern for manager Louis van Gaal. Having suffered throughout the early stages of the season with injury, there was optimism that the return of key players would propel United up the table.

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Van Gaal remonstrates with Wayne Rooney

But the return of the likes of Angel Di Maria, Luke Shaw, Marcus Rojo and Daley Blind hasn’t produced the goods, with back-to-back draws against Tottenham and Stoke followed by yesterday’s defeat. Van Gaal’s own selection policy is also proving to be a touch on the bizarre side, with the Dutchman leaving out Radamel Falcao in favour of three centre-backs on the substitutes’ bench – despite United failing to register a shot on target against Saints.

Tottenham’s age-old inconsistency is costing them a shot at the big time

Spurs were correctly praised for their fantastic 5-3 victory over Chelsea that saw them threaten to fulfil their potential and solidify a top-four place in the league. But 10 days later and it’s same old, same old for Spurs after they suffered what has to go down as a shock 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace. From the moment Harry Kane put Mauricio Pochettino’s side ahead with his 18th goal of the season, there only looked like one eventual winner, and strangely enough it wasn’t Spurs.

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Jason Puncheon celebrates scoring the winner against Spurs

The impetus went out of their game and they allowed Palace to build confidence and score two goals through Dwight Gayle and Jason Puncheon for a well-earned victory. If Spurs are to justify their billing as a top four contender, they need to back up the big results with the wins they are expected to achieve, but at least they’re not a million miles off where they need to be.

New manager syndrome lifts Palace and West Brom

The wide conception that axing a manager mid-season to refresh and reinvigorate a squad received a double boost this weekend, with wins for both Crystal Palace and West Brom. Alan Pardew returned to Selhurst Park following his dramatic Newcastle exit to lead the Eagles to an emotionally charged win over Spurs, while so-called survival expert Tony Pulis saw West Brom triumph 1-0 over Hull to lift them up the table.

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New Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew watches on from the dug-out

With Palace sitting in 15th and the Baggies a place higher, the Premier League table reads a little better for fans of the respective clubs. But don’t count your chickens before they hatch, as there’s a still a long way to go in until the bottom three is decided and both will have to make the most of their favourable run of fixtures coming up before a tricky end to the season.

A touch of class shows why Chelsea remain favourites

The talk is that Chelsea are showing signs of fragility in the race for the Premier League title, and they certainly are. The defeat to Newcastle last month, the five goals conceded against Spurs and Jose Mourinho’s media blackout show all is not well at Stamford Bridge, but having the X factor in the form of Oscar and Diego Costa certainly helps ease any fears that the side are on the verge of a slump.

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Oscar celebrates his goal against Newcastle

Willian’s quick thinking allowed Branislav Ivanovic to cross for Oscar to slot home with the Newcastle defences’ attentions elsewhere, and the Brazilian’s delightful back-heel flick into the path of Diego Costa for the Blues’ second was simply magical to watch. A 2-0 win over the Magpies may not be the most ground-shaking of results, but Newcastle were impressive on Saturday and clear opportunities to score. Results like these are the making of Premier League champions.

England’s striker remains up in the air, but the candidates’ battle is exciting to watch

Daniel Sturridge hasn’t played since the start of September, Danny Welbeck is absent for Arsenal, Rickie Lambert can’t find a league goal no matter how hard he looks and Wayne Rooney just isn’t a striker these days. So does Roy Hodgson have a striker crisis on his hands? Not in the slightest.

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Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs

A glance at the Premier League goal-scoring chart shows a welcome English name in third place in the form of QPR’s Charlie Austin, who was on target again in the 2-1 defeat to Burnley where Danny Ings was also on target. Harry Kane, as mentioned above, is also on a hot streak that shows no signs of letting up while Saido Berahino was on target for West Brom, but the big statement of the weekend came at the Liberty Stadium where Andy Carroll proved the doubters wrong with a delightful phase of skill that dumbfounded the belief he can only play direct football.

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Andy Carroll strikes the ball home from long range to put West Ham ahead

Plucking the ball out of the air on his chest beating Ashley Williams in the air, headed it away from Tom Carroll before nudging it clear of Federico Fernandez. Still with work to do, the striker spun on the ball, shimmied from right to left, and swung his foot through the ball, putting enough shape on it to beat Lukasz Fabianski.

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