Harry Kane magnificent in Spurs win, holders Arsenal crash out of FA Cup
Iain Macintosh runs the rule over another weekend in the latest edition of Heroes and Villains.
There were nerves. There were frights. There was even a moment when Aston Villa put a shot on target. But Tottenham claimed their three points and, once again, they had Harry Kane to thank. There are some footballers who are confidence players, their form ebbing and flowing with success and failure. Kane is not one of those footballers. He gets his head down, he works hard and he goes again and again and again until he scores. And then he goes again. Aston Villa could use that sort of resolve in their team.
There is something about a ludicrously well-hit shot that feels ancient and righteous, as if mankind's sole purpose in this brief flicker of existence in an infinite and timeless cosmos is just to kick stuff really hard. Few have ever kicked anything as hard as Watford's Adlene Guedioura, who nearly tore David Ospina's hands out of their sockets on Sunday with his ferocious, match-sealing effort. If that had been in a park, Ospina would have been walking for three days to retrieve the ball.
There are so many questions that need to be asked about this extraordinary season, but chief among them is just how did West Ham get Dimitri Payet? It wasn't as if he was playing in the backwaters of the Mongolian league. He was at Marseille in one of the more visible and heavily scouted European leagues. Where were Manchester United? Where were Arsenal? Where were Chelsea? Where were Manchester City? What were they thinking? Payet is a fantastic player and his outstanding free kick was further proof that the big boys missed a trick.
They've done it now, surely. With 38 points on the board, relegation favourites Bournemouth look to have secured survival with two months still to go. It was quite fitting that Steve Cook scored the winning goal in their exciting clash with Swansea. He arrived at the club when they were in the third flight and has retained his place in the defence throughout their ascent. When Bournemouth were struggling, observers implored Eddie Howe to change the way the team played, exchanging those clever passes from the back with something less dangerous. But Howe has been rewarded for his perseverance. Bournemouth are safe.
Southampton fans don't know whether they're coming or going this season. A run of one win in eight games over the winter saw them plunge towards the relegation zone. Five wins in six in the New Year lifted them to the brink of Europe. Three winless games in the past fortnight appeared to have ended that dream, but all of a sudden, the tide has turned again. Two goals for Graziano Pelle, his first since November, brought victory away at Stoke and suddenly Saints are seventh again. Never bet on this team.
What it is to become of Arsenal? Their players are failing on the pitch and their supporters are fighting off of it. We have been here many times before, of course, drafting Arsene Wenger's career obituary only to sigh and tear it up when an FA Cup presents itself. Is this any different? It feels different. Arsenal are only eight points off the pace with nine games to go in a preposterously unpredictable season, but there's no unity at the Emirates. The lack of belief too often prevalent in the players is now abundant in the fans. Can they turn this around?
It wasn't that long ago that a home win against West Ham would have been a foregone conclusion for Manchester United. But how times have changed. Now a draw, courtesy of a late goal from Anthony Martial, is seized upon as some sort of positive because of an improved second-half performance. Louis van Gaal may accuse journalists of living in the past, but it's hardly the distant past. Just under three seasons have passed since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, and look at what has become of this football club. Things have to change this summer.
Someone really needs to save Diego Costa from himself. He's just too easy to wind up now. When pint-size Aaron Lennon of purists' favourite Everton is squaring up to you and swearing in your face with impunity, you have to suspect that you're being targeted. And why not? Everyone knows that if you rile the Chelsea striker, he'll lash out. And every referee is now fully aware of the tricks of his trade. He is a fine and ferocious striker and a pleasure to watch, but he really needs to engage his brain now because he's no use to Chelsea on the sidelines.
People felt sorry for Manuel Pellegrini when news of Pep Guardiola's impending arrival was confirmed, but it's turned into quite the blessing for the Chilean manager. This way, he gets a dignified exit. In normal circumstances, he'd surely have been sacked by now. Manchester City's inability to beat Norwich on Saturday was a stunning failure, but perhaps not entirely surprising given that they seem to have no interest whatsoever in winning the league. It's just one win in five league games (against Aston Villa) for one of the most expensively assembled teams in sporting history. That's an appalling return.
Aston Villa's supporters have had to put up with a lot this season. They've watched the miserable disintegration of their team, something they've been predicting for some time, and they've paid through the nose for the privilege. So if they want to bring a homemade banner that says "Lerner Out" to the stadium, you may as well let them. You certainly wouldn't want to order your stewards to confiscate them on sight because that would look petty and small-minded ... oh. Oh, I see.
Iain Macintosh is a writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.