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Talking Tactics: Lampard tweak saves Chelsea; TAA changing right-back; Arsenal potential

Liverpool have drawn level with Manchester City's record of 16 straight Premier League wins and are now just four victories away from ending their 30-year wait for the crown.

West Ham almost gave us a late headline result on Monday, but instead the biggest stories were at Stamford Bridge and the Emirates, where Chelsea and Arsenal pulled off impressive tactical victories.

Here are three tactical talking points from the weekend action:

1) Armstrong & Djenepo exploit gaps in Villa's 5-2-3

Southampton's 4-2-2-2 formation under Ralph Hasenhuttl often sees the wingers cut infield, operating in similar spaces to a number ten when in possession, but for Saturday's visit of Aston Villa Stuart Armstrong and Moussa Djenepo made this move considerably more often than usual. It seemed to be a deliberate strategy to target Villa's main weakness.

Dean Smith needs to abandon the 3-4-3, which is far too light in central midfield whenever the wing-backs are forced to drop into a back five. Southampton's high-pressing approach ensured that, for long periods, Villa were in a 5-2-3, meaning enormous gaps opened up on the outside of the midfield pair of Marvelous Nakamba and Douglas Luiz.

This is exactly where Armstrong and Djenepo repeatedly popped up, running the game effortlessly; they completed 12 dribbles and nine key passes between them in a dominant win for the hosts.

2) Chelsea's reversion to 3-4-2-1 gets the best out of Mount & Giroud

Frank Lampard used his Conte-esque 3-4-2-1 to defeat Tottenham on Saturday, and in the process restored his side's creativity through central midfield. The most noteworthy tactical advantage was that it got the best out of Olivier Giroud (finally given a chance to shine) by supporting him with dual playmakers in Ross Barkley and Mason Mount.

When Giroud stayed up for the lay-off, pinning Spurs' centre-backs, the number tens found space between the lines of defence and midfield, and when Giroud dropped off the front Mount and Barkley span in behind. Their partnership deserves another run out next weekend.

Equally important was the shift in midfield. Matteo Kovacic and Jorginho can be guilty of playing too many sideways passes, but with Mount and Barkley ahead of them (plus Reece James dropping infield to support) they had incisive vertical passing options. This meant Chelsea could keep the high defensive line and high tempo that Lampard demands.

3) Arsenal and Everton both show Champions League potential

Although neither defence looked assured, with errors at both ends, Mikel Arteta and Carlo Ancelotti will be delighted with the attacking patterns their respective sides built on Sunday afternoon. It is hugely impressive that Everton and Arsenal have improved so much since these two managers watched a dreadful 0-0 from the stands back in December.

Arsenal's diligent shape in possession covered every blade of grass, with Mesut Ozil and Dani Ceballos dominating in freer roles centrally as Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe held the width. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's diagonal runs from the left were also sharp, although overall it was the sheer consistency of Arsenal's shape- spread evenly, creating triangles all over the pitch – that most impressed.

Everton were largely threatening on the counter-attack as Richarlison found space to break down the left behind Hector Bellerin. His interactions with Dominic Calvert-Lewin – whether feeding him in the box or receiving knock-downs – were testament to the good work undertaken by Ancelotti on the training ground.

Both managers have created fluency in their attacks, suggesting they will be challenging for the Champions League places by the start of next season, if not before.

Best of the Week – Alexander-Arnold's unique interpretation of right-back

Trent Alexander-Arnold grabbed another two assists on Monday, taking his tally up to 12 in the league this season, but more impressively he ran the game like a playmaker – controlling the right channel and right half-space much in the way Kevin de Bruyne does for Man City.

TAA had 100 touches of the ball and only around two thirds of these were in traditional right-back positions. He is completely redefining the role, dropping into midfield to help pull the opposition out of shape as well as overlapping to swing crosses into the box.

Worst of the Week – Will Hughes' over-excitement leads to United win

Watford were arguably out-performing Manchester United at Old Trafford until the hosts scored the opener, mainly because Nigel Pearson's pressing trap worked so well. There is a huge gap between the two United midfielders and the rest of the team in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's system, which explains why Watford sat off their opponents until Fred or Nemanja Matic got on the ball-when Watford would pounce into action.

The pincer press was forcing so many errors that Will Hughes started to get carried away, pressing too high when he should have been getting back into shape. After failing to heed several warning, eventually Man Utd passed around Hughes and built through a now-emptied midfield to score the opener.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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