2019-11-04 by W.M.
Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend as Man Utd and Arsenal struggle again
Joshua King reigns over former club as Solskjaer’s side stumble again
Quietly, Manchester United had assembled a four-match unbeaten run in all competitions ahead of this trip to the not-so-sunny South Coast, but produced another moribund showing in the rain to slip to a 1-0 defeat.
It was a day defined by a former Manchester United striker from Norway. While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stewed on the sideline, Joshua King – who spent five years in the system at Old Trafford – produced a delightful lift over the head of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and volley past David De Gea.
We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.
a day, more exclusives, analysis and extras.
It is fair to question the space left alongside Wan-Bissaka for King to exploit and the lack of action on the right-back’s part, but it was a lovely bit of skill to make the difference in a drab affair at the Vitality Stadium. Bournemouth will be in the mid-table mix again.
West Ham’s fall from grace
West Ham’s fall from grace has been stark. It is not long ago that Manuel Pellegrini’s side were being lauded as genuine top-six contenders. Now, they find themselves in a familiar Premier League mid-table muddle, unsure of how to style themselves, lacking in defensive steel and midfield control.
Sebastien Haller’s fine start has faded, with Pellegrini seemingly unsure how to best utilise the talented Frenchman, and those behind the striker have rather flattered to deceive in recent weeks. Pablo Fornals has really struggled to settle, and Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko’s inconsistency will frustrate Pellegrini. They are weak defensively down the flanks and particularly vulnerable when they attempt to dictate the pace.
Conversely, this was a superb win for Newcastle, who threatened to rip West Ham apart at times, on the counter particularly. Joelinton had his best game for the club.
Liverpool grind out a result again behind vital Sadio Mane
We know not how long Liverpool can continue to get results while playing badly, but such is the character of Jurgen Klopp’s side that you would not bet against them continuing to find a way.
They had no real business scoring twice in the final five minutes to break valiant Aston Villa hearts, with a lack of imagination and some poor finishing looking set to cost them, along with the decision to rule Roberto Firmino offside when the Brazilian looked on.
But then, as they have done in seemingly every game this year, Liverpool figured out a route to victory. Sadio Mane has emerged as their most consistent and important attacking threat this year and twice showed his considerable ability – first peeling back to clip a gorgeous diagonal for Andrew Robertson then flicking a corner curling away from goal perfectly into the side of the net. It was another example of this Liverpool side grinding out a result, and they retain their six-point lead at the top.
Arsenal‘s lack of leaders costs them
There is a growing rumble of discontent at the Emirates, with this week something of a hebdomas horribilis for Unai Emery and his side. First came the Granit Xhaka outburst against Crystal Palace as Arsenal gave away a lead, then a horrible Carabao Cup loss on penalties as Arsenal gave away a lead, and now another home draw against Wolves as Arsenal gave away a lead.
Xhaka has, rightly, been criticised for his actions last weekend, but this is about more than just the Swiss international. Is Unai Emery really the man to reassemble and rebuild and eventually take this side forward? More pertinently, perhaps, does he have the personnel to help him do so?
A gander down the five-pronged leadership group is revealing – in Emery’s opinion, Arsenal’s five best leaders are, in no particular order: a defensive midfielder most agree should not be in the first-choice midfield and just produced a foul-mouthed retort to a jeering set of supporters (Xhaka); two strikers who may well be considering their future at the club and do not truly work in tandem (Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang); a right-back coming back from serious injury (Hector Bellerin); and a mercurial attacking midfielder who has thus far been ostracised by his manager (Mesut Ozil). Does that look a competent, cohesive leadership structure to you?
The Wolves game was one Arsenal probably should have won. They did not, because there was no-one in the side capable of taking hold of the situation and leading his side through the contest. It is a squad desperately lacking leaders, and desperately lacking any semblance of an identity. And it doesn’t look eminently fixable.
Chris Wilder and Sheffield United continue to impress
It has been an odd Premier League season of chaos and crisis, but quietly going about their business rather well are Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United. The Blades have the league’s joint best defence, conceding just eight goals in their first eleven games, and are up to sixth having already played theoretical bigger boys Leicester, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. They are outperforming the forecasting metrics defensively more than any other team; Wilder has prepared his side to give their all defensively and, for the moment, it is working.
At Bramall Lane this weekend they kept Burnley to just six shots, none of which found the target, and produced a good example of how to populate and exploit width, with all three goals coming down the left. Manchester United follow Tottenham in Sheffield United’s next two fixtures – two eminently winnable fixtures at the moment.
Canaries in strife
Another side keeping things ticking over rather nicely are Brighton, with three home wins on the bounce to propel them into the top half. Graham Potter has fully embedded his style on the players, who now look far more comfortable with the passing game he favours, and the smart introduction of Leandro Trossard’s unpredictability came at exactly the right time.
Norwich, however, appear to be in real strife. They have the third worst goal difference in the league at -15, and the only two sides worse off in that regard are Southampton and Watford – they of the 9-0 and 8-0 thumpings respectively. This was a slightly improved defensive showing, but again they contrived to concede twice. After a promising start, the Canaries are looking increasingly likely to drop back down to the second tier, which would be something of a shame, for Norwich are an enjoyable side to watch under Daniel Farke.
Pep Guardiola’s left-back dilemma
Much like title rivals Liverpool, Manchester City really had to battle for three points after Ederson’s error had gifted Southampton the lead. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men were not going to be swept aside and showed real steel at the Etihad, keeping the lead for nearly an hour before Sergio Aguero and Kyle Walker scored to earn City three points.
Walker had a hand in both goals, first drilling a superb cut-back for Aguero to turn home and then stealing in at the far post to convert opposite full-back Angelino’s deep cross. As City prepare for Liverpool next weekend, those full-backs will be key. Walker is playing with confidence and has held off the challenge of Joao Cancelo, it seems, but left-back looks a more contentious area.
Angelino was brought back to the club in the summer and made his first league start against Southampton, making him the man in possession, and has showed promise in limited opportunities so far, but Cancelo, Benjamin Mendy and the injured Oleksandr Zinchenko have all at one time or another seemingly been at the forefront of Pep Guardiola’s thoughts for the starting berth. Against Liverpool, so dynamic and dangerous out wide with Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold supporting Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, Guardiola has a key decision to make about who to start on the left of the back-four.
A rare moment of humanity amid the intensity
A seventh successive away win for Chelsea in all competitions, one that was dug out at Vicarage Road as Chelsea failed to find their fluent best. And it was nearly stolen from them by the most unlikely of sources, as Ben Foster’s late header appeared destined for the bottom corner before Kepa Arrizabalaga’s stunning intervention.
What was lovely to see was Foster’s reaction. As the final whistle blew seconds after Kepa kept his header out, and after the Spaniard was mobbed by beaming teammates, Foster made a point to commend his opposite number on a fine save, even as the pangs of pain that come with a defeat that keeps your side bottom and without a win surely swept through him in. Kepa was grateful for the congratulations, too, engaging Foster in a big hug.
With Premier League fixtures immensely intense and the human side of the game, perhaps, too often overlooked, it was lovely to see a moment of class, unity and heart.
Caglar Soyuncu key to Leicester’s continuing challenge for the top four
Leicester remain in third after a gutsy win at Selhurst Park. While the nine-goal drubbing of Southampton somewhat distorts their goal difference, Brendan Rodgers’ side are absolutely flying, and game-by-game look more and more likely to be genuine contenders at the top of the Premier League come the pointy end of the season.
While plenty has been written about their creativity and forward threat, the Foxes possess the league’s joint-best defence, and have concede just eight goals so far. The departure of Harry Maguire meant the defence was pointed to as a potential weak point in Rodgers’ side, but in Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira Leicester have two complete and consistent full-backs, and the new pairing of Jonny Evans, perennially underrated, and Caglar Soyuncu have gelled tremendously centrally.
Soyuncu is a real find, thriving after a year of bedding in at the King Power Stadium, solid and uncomplicated when he needs to be but with a natural flair that has made him a real favourite at Leicester. Evans and he complement each other brilliantly, and the Turkish international notched his first goal for the club with a smartly-taken stooping header to set Leicester on their way.
Drab affair symptomatic of Tottenham’s malaise
This fixture last year saw one of the performances of the Premier League season, as a confident Tottenham pulsated and pounced on a loose Everton side keen to play after being jolted into life by Theo Walcott’s opener. It passed at pace in a pre-Christmas party of footballing joy from Spurs, with a pantomime performance from Jordan Pickford adding to the fun.
Sunday’s drab affair was almost the antithesis, and served as a marker of how this Tottenham team has fallen in the eleven months since that game. Last year the attacking quartet intertwined wonderfully as Son Heung-min and Harry Kane both scored twice – this weekend Tottenham’s chosen four in the absence of Kane looked glum and out-of-step amid the malaise.
Against fellow crisis club Everton, they had an opportunity to come out and impart themselves on the game on a side unlikely to reply in fashion. They allowed the game to drift even after Dele Alli’s well-taken opener, and after Andre Gomes’ horrible injury, Cenk Tosun scored a dramatic leveller deep into the extended period of stoppage time to ensure Tottenham failed to win yet again.