In defence of Arteta

It says a lot about the reign of Unai Emery that, until Sunday, it had been almost 11 months since Arsenal kept successive clean sheets in the league. Burnley and Newcastle are not the sternest tests of a side’s defence – and Arsenal rode their luck in both instances – but there is no doubt David Luiz and co have begun to look notably more assured. Fourteen years after the departure of the club’s last top-class centre-back in Sol Campbell, could this be the beginnings of a new, level-headed Arsenal backline? Mikel Arteta’s first 11 games in charge have seen his side concede eight goals; the equivalent figure from Emery’s final 11 games was 23. Goals at the other end have declined, too, by about a third, but that’s a small price to pay if it lessens the embarrassing clownishness at the back. Arteta was recruited because of his affiliation with thrilling possession football. His best work so far has been to revive the old spirit of “boring, boring Arsenal”. Alex Hess

Match report: Arsenal 4-0 Newcastle

Villa get it right at one end

On a day when Son Heung-min scored his 50th Premier League goal, Aston Villa recorded an unwanted half-century of their own. “It is a lot,” said Dean Smith, whose side have the worst defensive record in the division after conceding 50. They are actually on course to score 50, the sort of total that should inoculate a side against relegation but their fate may rest on whether enterprising attacking or porous defending proves the greater factor. There are times, though, when Villa feel luckless. Bjorn Engels, who played an unfortunate role in two goals, was only playing because Tyrone Mings was struck down with tonsillitis. Arguably their best win of the campaign, at Burnley, was marred by season‑ending injuries to Tom Heaton and Wesley. John McGinn, brilliant against Tottenham in August, has not played since Christmas. It is just as well Jack Grealish looks to be indestructible. Richard Jolly

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Match report: Aston Villa 2-3 Tottenham

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Norwich can come back stronger

Norwich are getting better. They remain bottom, seven points from safety with four points from their last five games. The “little miracle” Daniel Farke likes to talk about does not seem likely and after defeat against Liverpool even he seemed to frame it as a bonus. Expectation management is at work but relegation will not bring an end to the Norwich project and Farke, should he stay on next term, will know his young team are stronger than they were when last in the Championship. Norwich have become more competitive the longer the season has gone on. They still play their football but the gaps in defence are narrower and there are fewer careless actions. Against the leaders they gave one of their most mature displays this season. Norwich may be going down but the project is continuing. Paul MacInnes

Match report: Norwich 0-1 Liverpool

Getting even with the programme

Traditional programmes may not carry quite the same appeal as they once did but Sean Dyche still pays attention to them. Dyche said his Burnley players thrived on “disparaging remarks” in the Southampton programme, which pinpointed left-back Charlie Taylor as a weakness and highlighted that only Sheffield United have played more long balls per game. “And they are definitely not long ball,” Dyche said. “I told the lads: ‘There you go, that’s what they think of you.’ They read it, disparaging remarks about Charlie Taylor of all people. I think his form’s probably worth mentioning with the national side – not just yet – but I think he’s one they’ll be keeping a background check on. It’s always lovely when they give you that little edge; I love that. ‘They only do this, they only do that.’ It’s like fuel – you beauty!” Ben Fisher

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Match report: Southampton 1-2 Burnley

Matej Vydra scores the winning goal for Burnley at Southampton.



Matej Vydra scores the winning goal for Burnley at Southampton. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Rash Choudhury leaves a hole

Hamza Choudhury’s suspension for the home game against Manchester City on Saturday leaves Brendan Rodgers with a tactical dilemma. If Wilfred Ndidi is still not fully recovered from knee surgery and Nampalys Mendy remains injured, Leicester could revert to the three at the back with the combative Choudhury unavailable after his red card in the goalless draw at Wolves on Friday. Dennis Praet and Youri Tielemans did not look a natural midfield pairing in the Carabao Cup semi-final against Aston Villa, so Ryan Bennett or Wes Morgan could join Caglar Soyuncu and Jonny Evans as Leicester seek to rub salt into City’s wounds. Choudhury has been an energetic force for Leicester behind James Maddison and Tielemans but his rashness remains a trait he needs to eradicate, even if his first yellow card at Molineux for a foul on Raúl Jiménez was harsh. Peter Lansley

Match report: Wolves 0-0 Leicester

QPR bring excitement to Championship

If it’s drama you want, then there’s no shortage at either end of the Championship, with both the title race and the relegation scrap providing plenty of seat-of-the-pants excitement. But if it’s fun you want, look no further than the team in 16th, QPR, who are surely English football’s most gloriously maddening team to support right now. Only two teams in the division have scored more and only one team has conceded more than the west Londoners, who were in typically rollercoaster form at home to Stoke, going 2-0 down within half an hour before roaring back to win 4-2. As has become customary this season, a defence resembling Swiss cheese was bailed out of trouble by the twinkle-toed magic of the men on their flanks: Eberechi Eze and Bright Osayi-Samuel, natural born entertainers who make playing football look like an effortless pleasure. Both were on the scoresheet, the latter seeming to defy the rules of physics to lash the ball home from an absurd angle, and both players’ agents can expect to field plenty of calls this summer. QPR are unlikely to go up, so the temptation for the players to listen to offers will be strong. Then again, why go somewhere new when you’re having this much fun? AH

Eberechi Eze (left) is key to excitement at QPR.



Eberechi Eze (left) is key to excitement at QPR. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Griezmann can become key man for Barcelona

Ernesto Valverde coveted Antoine Griezmann for a long time only to spend a lot of money signing him with no apparent plan to extract the maximum from his talent. What Barcelona needed was a centre-forward to succeed Luis Suárez, except Valverde refused to let Griezmann to become that, instead forcing him into a left-wing role for which he was entirely unsuited. Now, though – with Valverde gone and Suárez injured – Griezmann can ensconce, and against Getafe he showed his potential, applying a lovely finish to Lionel Messi’s through-ball before contributing to Sergi Roberto’s winner. Perhaps – in time – Saturday’s win will mark a turning point in his career at Camp Nou. Daniel Harris



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