Another week in the books, a whole bunch to talk about. Let’s not waste words, let’s just jump right into The Good, The Bad and The Ugly from Matchweek Seven.
Mikel Arteta, a man with a plan.
Often when a young, unproven manager takes their first big job they will speak of their philosophy. Of their intentions to play possession based, attacking football. Of wanting to build from the back. And then as soon as they have a few bad results, all of that goes out the window and it’s a “whatever works approach” from then on.
That hasn’t been the case with Arteta, who has continually practiced what he has preached since becoming Arsenal manager. His team have a very clear game plan, a very clear set of instructions, and a lot of freedom in how to go about their tasks. Arteta has instilled confidence in his players, he’s made them believe in him, and more importantly he’s made them believe in themselves. Since taking over, he’s insisting on playing out from the back, on being patient and not forcing things, and about developing openings to create chances rather than trying to force things.
It doesn’t always work, but on Sunday at Old Trafford it did. Arsenal were comfortably the better side as they defeated Manchester United 1-0 thanks to an Aubameyang penalty. They controlled the game, build out from the back, played through their midfield with Thomas Partey playing a starring role, and created some good chances.
Arsenal are a long way from the finished article, they’ll still have bad days like the defeat to Leicester alongside their good days. But you do feel that in time, the good days will vastly outnumber the bad. Arsenal are in a rebuild, they’re a work in progress. Arteta is building a team, and he’s already found some foundational building blocks in Gabriel at the back and Thomas in midfield. Along with the likes of Tierney and Saka who are already making a big impact for him, Arteta has Saliba, Martinelli, Nelson and Nketiah to be enthused by. His team still need to be more aggressive, and he needs to add more creativity but these things take time to develop
Arsenal fans should be excited. Their team is on the way back. There’s a plan now. A real identity is being formed. Top 4 is unlikely this season, but top 6 and another cup is well within the capabilities of this team.
The evergreen Jamie Vardy and Leicester City.
I’m gonna need to see Jamie Vardy’s long form birth certificate. There’s just no way this guy is closing in on his 34th birthday.
On Monday night, Vardy ran Leeds United’s backline ragged with an outstanding all-round display that saw him score one and have a hand in two others, all while bullying Robin Koch to the point that it felt like someone should call Koch’s parents to take him home. Brilliantly supported by Harvey Barnes, Vardy was able to continually put Leeds on the back foot and help cover for the fact that Leicester were without all of their first choice defensive line and Wilf Ndidi.
Leicester do possess a deep squad though, so they and new signing Wesley Fofana, who turned in his third excellent performance in a row since joining late in the transfer window, was an absolute colossus at the back, dominating the aerial side of things whilst also showing his quality in 1v1 situations and with his covering of James Justin and Christian Fuchs when they got pulled into wide areas.
It was Leicester’s best performance of the season, even outstripping their sensational win away to Manchester City. With five key players out through injury, it showed the quality of the team to put in such a performance. There was also an added bonus with substitute James Maddison showing the first signs of rediscovering his best form after a difficult start to the season due to injury.
If Leicester can get, and keep, everyone fit, then top four is a real possibility. There’s no doubting they have the squad to do it.
A Big Win for Fulham.
Going into this game, all the pressure was on Fulham. Without a win in their first six games, Fulham had thus far looked like a team doomed to return to the Championship at the end of the season. Defeat here, and all of a sudden they’d have been five points behind West Brom and four points behind Brighton. While it’s still very early, you don’t want to fall too far behind even at this point because it will be really hard to catch those points up later on.
Fulham put out a really strong team, especially from a defensive point of view. Joachim Andersen came into the team next to Tosin Adarabioyo in central defense, with Ola Aina and Antonee Robinson flanking them, Alphonse Areola in goal behind them and Zambo Anguissa and Mario Lemina patrolling in front of them. None of those players played for Fulham last season, all bar Anguissa arrived in the summer, and collectively they made Fulham look a much better side than we’ve seen in previous games.
Fulham struggled to get their business done for a long stretch of the transfer window but really nailed things in a frantic last two weeks. They’ve added quality players with the potential for big development, on cheap deals and loans. They’ve made it so that they have a real fighting chance at staying up, and left themselves in a situation where they won’t be lumbered with overpriced players and big contracts should they go down.
Against West Brom, things seemed to click for the first time this season and they were comfortably the better team. They controlled the midfield and looked very dangerous in attack at times, all while keeping things solid at the back. That sort of balance is key to Premier League survival. They have a tough run of games coming up, but this win will give them confidence. They have plenty of talent, they just need to find a consistent level of performance.
Sheffield United and Burnley – Where is the urgency?
These teams have played 13 games between them in the Premier League, and have taken a combined two points. TWO. One draw each. Sheffield United’s draw was against Fulham, who went into the weekend without a win. Burnley’s draw was with West Brom, who are also without a win.
These two teams, who finished 9th and 10th respectively last season, have fallen off a cliff this season and don’t look like they know how to fix their problems. They are turning in flat performances. There’s no urgency. There’s no fire in the teams. Sure, they’ve had some bad luck and done ok in games against Liverpool, for the Blades, and Spurs, for Burnley. But it’s not like you can look at their results and argue that they should have drastically more points.
This weekend both sides had home games against teams who finished top 4 last season, and should have been using these games to really go all out. Defeat against Manchester City or Chelsea isn’t the end of the world in week seven, you’re not really expecting to win those games when you’re sat in the bottom three. These games are free hits. They’re an opportunity to go all out, to try something new. It’s a chance for players to stand up and be counted.
Nothing like that happened in either game. United had one shot on target, and one decent game late on. They had only 35% possession, at home. They were flat. They lack desire. There was no fire, no fight. Yes, City are a very good team but they’ve not been in good form and had dropped points in their last two away games. Surely Sheffield United see themselves on the same level as Leeds and West Ham? Two teams that took the game to City and got a result.
Burnley had zero shots on target, from 36% possession. Against a Chelsea team with little to no defensive structure. Burnley, a team who should be using their physicality and the aerial prominence of their front two to really target Thiago Silva, instead gave the Brazilian the easiest afternoon he’ll have all season.
Chris Wilder and Sean Dyche are both excellent managers, but their failures to truly motivate their teams thus far have been very concerning. These teams need to find a win, and they need to find it soon.
Premier League defending.
Arsenal have the best defensive record in the league, they’ve conceded seven goals in seven goals. A goal a game, which averages to 38 over the course of a full season. That’s good. It’s not great, but it’s good. But it’s not great.
There is no great defensive team in the league right now, but there’s a lot of bad ones. Starting at the top of the table with Liverpool, the reigning Champions are one of six teams currently conceding two or more goals per game. Leeds United are just a fraction below that awful marker and another five teams have conceded 10 or more already. For context, last season no team conceded two goals per game over the season, with only Norwich threatening to do so.
Those figures won’t last, Liverpool and the rest will figure things out, but the early weeks of the season have given us an incredible amount of outright awful defending. Other than Arsenal, no team in the league can be happy with their defensive performance this season. And even Arsenal will be looking at their own record and thinking they can improve on it.
The improvement can’t come soon enough across the board.
Mo Salah was fouled, and went down a bit theatrically. He was awarded a penalty.
Harry Kane committed a foul by backing into a player who was in the air attempting to head the ball. He was awarded a penalty.
That is what happened.
Salah was fouled. There was contact. It was a penalty. It’s indisputable.
Kane fouled Lallana. Backing into a player who is jumping to head the ball is a foul. Kane made no attempt to play the ball. He had no intention of playing the ball. He went down as if he had been hit with a bat. Adam Lallana was lucky to escape injury. Kane has done this before. Find the clip of him doing the same thing to Aaron Cresswell. It should have been a freekick to Brighton, instead a penalty was awarded to Spurs. Later in the game, Harry Kane threw himself to the ground without any contact with the intention of winning a penalty.
The media narrative that has followed is that Mo Salah is a cheat, and that Harry Kane was being “clever” in the Lallana incident. No mention has been made of the dive in mainstream media. Match of the Day and Talksport, those two doyens of football analysis powered by people who are no doubt members of Mensa, were quick to brand Salah a disgrace, while protecting Kane.
Noted boffin Tony Cascarino decided to go even lower, claiming that Salah had somehow disgraced the memory of the recently deceased Nobby Stiles. How he felt that was ok, I have no idea. How he felt it was appropriate to compare the Salah incident to Sergio Aguero putting his hands on Sian Massey, I have no idea. Why anyone thinks Tony Cascarino should have a column in a major national newspaper, I also have no idea.
The difference in the approaches towards Salah, deemed a cheat for going down under legitimate contact, and Kane, who purposely committed a foul and risked injuring an opponent before going down and conning a penalty, but praised for being clever, is jarring. Why are they being treated so differently? Why are the actual events that took place being ignored. Alan Shearer claimed that “it didn’t matter” that Salah was fouled, it was a matter of whether he was fouled “enough” to warrant going down.
I can only assume it’s a dislike of Salah’s hair. It couldn’t be anything else, could it?
Danny Ings’ Injury
Football is terribly cruel sport, and few players have felt that more in recent years than Danny Ings. After grafting his way to a dream move to Liverpool, Ings had started to have an impact under Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool appointed Jurgen Klopp after deciding to part ways with Rodgers and Ings was openly excited to work under the German. In Klopp’s first training session, Ings tore the ACL in his left knee.
He worked like a demon in his recovery, putting in as many extra hours as the training staff would allow, and in his first game back for the first team suffered another serious knee injury. This time it was the right knee. Once again he attacked his rehabilitation and came back after almost a year out. Unfortunately for Ings, Liverpool had moved on in his absence and he was the odd man out.
A year after his return, a year that was a massive disappointment for him as he played only eight league games, he moved on to Southampton. A step down, but a step forward for him. Saints wanted him, and were prepared to make him their main man.
It took him a full season to fully settle and find his best level, but in his second season on the south coast he exploded into form. He played in all 38 games, scoring 22 goals. He bagged 25 in all competitions. It was, by far, the best season of his career. He was legitimately one of the best strikers in the league. At the age of 27, Danny Ings had finally arrived at the highest level.
He started this season in the same form, banging in goals, creating chances for others, being an absolute pain in the arse for all defenders trying to mark him. He scored a world class goal against Aston Villa on Sunday and was turning in another great performance and then all of a sudden the mood changed. Ings was on the ground, in a heap, clutching his leg and could clearly be heard shouting about his knee.
The immediate thought watching, and surely for Ings himself, was that it was another serious injury that could steal yet another season of his career. In his peak, when he was in the form of his life and operating at a level that should see him go to the Euros next summer as part of England’s front line.
The mood on the pitch changed, you could tell it completely altered the mindset of his team-mates. Saints were 4-1 up when he went off, and managed to give up two late goals and come away with a 4-3 win that completely flattered Villa.
The first scan of the knee was apparently “favourable” according to Southampton but it’s also known that he is to have a second scan later in the week. We’ll all just have to keep our fingers crossed that it’s not an ACL tear or anything of that nature. Danny Ings deserves a bit of luck, here’s hoping he’s got it.