Matchweek 12 is in the books, and there’s no rest for the Premier League as we are set to roll straight into Matchweek 13 starting Tuesday night.
Over this past week we saw some good football, some bad football, some expected results and some surprising results. We witness players making good decisions and turning in good displays, we witnessed players making bad decisions and turning in stinkers, and then we witnessed Granit Xhaka. The less said about him the better, though he may well pop up later.
Spurs and Liverpool remain tied at the top of the table but they do have new friends joining them in the top four. There’s some change at the bottom too, and the middle of the table is incredibly bunched. Games are about to come thick and fast with midweek games becoming something of the norm over the next couple of months.
Let’s not waste any more time, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of Matchweek 12.
Big win for Burnley.
Sean Dyche and his men dragged themselves out of the bottom three with a massive three points at the Emirates against hapless Arsenal in a game that could kindly be described as largely unwatchable. Having taken just one point from their first six games, Burnley were keeping Sheffield United company at the bottom of the table before a decent run of form that has seen them win two and draw two of their last five games.
Dyche has been in relegation battles before and knows what it takes to overcome the drop and wins over teams in and around you are vitally important. Arsenal may not like it but their performances this season have left them in and around the relegation battle so Burnley won’t have looked at this as a likely defeat. They will have been confident in taking at least a point, and thanks to the stupidity of Granit Xhaka and the kindness of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang they took all three.
Dyche will be looking at Brighton, Arsenal and Leeds and have ambitions of overhauling each of them to put some daylight between the bottom three and his team and who would bet against him? Nobody gets more out of their team than Dyche.
The Saints go marching on.
Ralph Hasenhuttl is, undoubtedly, the manager of the season so far. What an amazing job he’s done at Southampton over the past 13 months. Since that night where he watched his side concede nine at home against Leicester, his team have been on an upward trajectory. In the months after that game, up until the point where football stopped, Saints won 8 of their 19 games, with two draws. They’d climbed into a respectable 14th place, having spent a substantial chunk of the season in the bottom three. Then, they got even better.
Since lockdown lifted in June, Southampton have played 21 Premier League matches. Their record in those 21 games is Won 12, Drawn 5, Lost 4. They’ve taken 41 points. For context, Liverpool have taken 42 over the same period of time and games. That goes to show how well Saints have done, and that their fast start to the season is no fluke. Though they are unlikely to finish 4th, they do have a real shot at a Europa League spot for next season.
Maybe clubs currently considering firing their manager should take a look at Southampton and the faith shown in Hasenhuttl. If you believe you have the right manager, maybe it’s worth giving them more time.
The Unpredictability of the 20/21 season
Each and every week, the Premier League is throwing up surprising results and surprising performances. This weekend we had Liverpool and Spurs dropping points in games they’d have expected to win against Fulham and Crystal Palace, but the biggest surprise has to be Burnley beating Arsenal.
While the standard of football has been below what we expect, more on that later, the level of unpredictability has gone through the roof. If you listen to the Two Footed Podcast on EPL Index, and if you don’t you really should, you’ll hear me struggling desperately with predictions each and every Friday. It’s near impossible to predict a lot of games each week as inconsistency is rife among the top sides, and underdogs are taking advantage of off days from those top teams.
Over the last three seasons the team who won the title only dropped points in six games. This season the table toppers, Spurs and Liverpool, have already dropped points five times. Leicester and Aston Villa have only dropped points four times – though Villa have only played 10 games, and each have four defeats. Every other team in the league has dropped points at least six times.
This season has the potential to turn out as something of a repeat of the 15/16 season that saw Leicester crowned Champions. That season every team dropped points in at least 15 games, we’re on target for that sort of figure again. Could that open the door for Leicester or Southampton to shock everybody and win the title?
Penalty shenanigans against Sheffield United. Penalty shenanigans against West Ham. Penalty shenanigans against Everton. Fulham had already had plenty of bad luck this season, though it could be argued that those were instances of their own making. On Sunday, Fulham should have beaten Liverpool. They caught the Champions off guard early on and really should have been 2-0 up before finally scoring. With Zambo running things in midfield, teaming with Mario Lemina to make Liverpool’s midfielders look exceptionally ordinary, and Ademola Lookman and Ruben Loftus-Cheek operating in massive amounts of space, Fulham had no problem cutting Liverpool open.
Scott Parker’s decision to become more defensive minded in the second half was likely because he expected something of an onslaught from the Reds, and because he was taking into account the physical effort required to produce their excellent first half display, but it proved costly. Though Liverpool created little, a chance fluffed by Henderson and one brilliant run from Curtis Jones that ended in a disappointing shot, Fulham continued to get deeper and deeper and what little pressure Liverpool did apply paid off when they were awarded a penalty.
Fulham may feel hard done by with regards to the penalty but under the new rules regarding handball, it was a clear penalty. It’s unfortunate for Fulham because if it hadn’t been for the penalty, Liverpool didn’t look like they would score afterwards. They were running on fumes and playing brainless football.
To double down on Fulham’s bad luck, on the day they were desperately unfortunate not to take three points against Liverpool their bottom four rival Burnley beat Arsenal 1-0 to overtake them in the table. Despite a really good day at the office, Fulham ended the weekend in 18th place. One lower than they’d started it.
Quite a lot of the actual football
There was a lot of bad football this weekend, wasn’t there? Wolves vs Villa was not a pleasant experience. How Wolves can continue to serve up such slop with all that talent at their disposal is beyond me. The Manchester Derby was just awful. Too teams seemingly more interested in not losing than anything else. Understandable from Solksjaer. It’s a common approach for him in big games, but from Pep? Ridiculous. All that money spent, all that talent at your disposal and that’s what you serve up?
Liverpool stank the place out against Fulham, though the hosts did play some decent football. Arsenal served up a display that Tony Pulis and Neil Warnock would have been proud of, and Burnley were happy to let them.
It’s understandable that there will be some bad football in this condensed season. Be prepared for a lot more of it as the season progresses and players begin to feel the strain more and more.
Arsenal. All of it.
There just isn’t anything to be cheerful about for Gooners right now. Their team are poor, they’re awful to watch and there’s constant rumours of strife behind the scenes. Not to mention a bad ownership situation and question marks over the credentials of those tasked with running the day to day football operations of one of England’s biggest clubs.
From Mesut Ozil mocking the club on Twitter asking if they need help, to William Saliba referring to himself as being “locked up”, to reports that Mikel Arteta and David Luiz no longer speak to each other you really have to question whether Arteta’s position at the club is tenable without a massive overhaul of the squad. Arteta is a young, inexperienced manager who seems to have failed to gain the respect of the players. He’s quoted as having told players, in a private meeting, that he would “destroy” whoever it was that leaking information from within the club. That meeting and the things said at it was, of course, subsequently leaked.
On the field Arsenal look directionless, far too passive with no defined patterns of play and no creativity. The Gunners, for so long the great entertainers of the English game under Arsene Wenger, are now borderline unwatchable. And to compound the issue, they seem to have lost their discipline. That Granit Xhaka is still an Arsenal player after his histrionics early last season, not to mention the fact that he just hasn’t been very good since Arsene Wenger sent an enormous bag of cash to Gladbach to bring him to London, is strange enough. If a player at any other top club, especially the captain at that time, had behaved in such a manner you feel as if they’d likely never play for the club again.
Sacking Arteta won’t solve Arsenal’s problems. It won’t even come close. Arteta isn’t the problem at Arsenal, though he may be a result of the problem. Without major changes at the club, from top to bottom, it will be a long time before we see Arsenal compete for the title again.
1 point from 36
It really is hard to put into words how bad a team has to be to take one point from a possibly 36. To play 12 games and only manage one draw along with 11 defeats. For that one draw to have been gifted to you by the stupidity of a Serbian hothead. It really is a level of incompetence that has rarely been seen in Premier League history.
Sunderland, there’s always a Sunderland entry when looking at the worst runs of form in Premier League history isn’t there? Once took one point from 19 games. The Blades have a ways to go before they equal that but closer on the horizon is the longest winless start to a Premier League season. QPR went 16 without a win, though they did draw seven of those games. United’s next four games are Manchester United at home, Brighton away, Everton at home and Burnley away. There isn’t an obvious win amongst those game and with Crystal Palace away in Matchweek 17, we may well see QPR lose this unwanted record.