With the first part of the Premier League season coming to an end this weekend due to the World Cup break, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville gives his verdict on the big talking points in the top flight.
Arsenal are a class act but City will ease to title
I said last week that I thought Manchester City would win the title by 15 points – I’m going to hang in there with that prediction.
But Arsenal are making me doubt that. They’ve been fantastic, they are the class act of this first 14 games. We want a title race, we want there to be competitiveness in the Premier League and not for one team to run away with it every single season.
At this moment in time, Arsenal are putting up a real fight. They’re the best team in the league in the first 14 games of the season by a mile.
I was there for their very first game of the season at Crystal Palace on that Friday night in August and the first 25 minutes were electrifying between those front players and they’ve actually maintained that all the way through. They’ve got a spirit, a togetherness and great football.
I like the fact that [Gabriel] Jesus isn’t going to score 25 goals. We won titles quite a few times at United without having players that scored that many goals. That wasn’t a barometer of winning a title, I don’t think.
Sometimes it happened, don’t get me wrong. We had [Ruud] van Nistelrooy, a [Dwight] Yorke, a [Andy] Cole or a [Wayne] Rooney – that happened. But ordinarily sometimes players didn’t get past 15 goals but the team was better.
What Jesus has done up front there has made the team better. They’re fantastic in all departments really at the moment.
I don’t think they’ll win the title, I think City will. I do think they will get into the top four but I still think it will be interesting come February and March with Arsenal where they end up.
I still think there’s an element of they’ve still got to prove themselves. I will say it time and time again until they show me differently.
But what they’re demonstrating at this moment in time is that they’re the best team in the league, the most consistent team in the league, and from where they were at the end of last season – well done to Mikel Arteta, it’s a brilliant job that he’s done.
Should Arsenal strengthen in January?
The recruitment’s been fantastic and well done to the club for holding their nerve through a difficult moment where they could’ve easily put more pressure on Mikel.
Other managers may have lost their job, he had been there for three years when they didn’t get into the top four last season. They’ve got the right players in and all of a sudden it looks like it’s knitted together.
Will Arsenal strengthen in January? What risks does that bring? Do you strengthen to boost the squad or do you strengthen to boost the first eleven? If you do the latter, do you upset two or three players who are currently in the team?
It’s a conundrum that is going through the Arsenal board’s mind in this moment in time. I’m not sure any other clubs will do business. I don’t think City will do business nor any other clubs at the top. There’s a sense that Arsenal may do something in midfield.
They’re in for a really good season. They have to make sure they don’t come out of the World Cup as an unfortunate story of the World Cup, as all these big Premier League clubs do with six, seven, eight key players going to Qatar.
This could be players going to the final and coming back tired or getting injured and being out for two or three months.
Man Utd nowhere near their rivals but players like Ten Hag
I think Erik ten Hag has done very well in the first part of his Manchester United career.
It is still very early, and he’s had a difficult hand. Picking up from the end of last season and following a difficult transfer window, the situation of Cristiano Ronaldo putting a transfer request in and the situation has developed over the last two or three months.
Harry Maguire has been out of form and as his captain, he’s had to take the armband off him in some ways by leaving him out of the team. He’s had a number of things go against him and the results at the start of the season were terrible.
After the Brentford game, you felt the world was going to end for Manchester United with Liverpool on the Monday Night Football the week after.
But where he went up massively in my estimations was that week building up to facing Liverpool. He fronted up all the press, he stood there and answered all the difficult questions and he came out in the difficult moments when people were asking constantly about Ronaldo and Maguire, and he’s fronted it with real steel. He’s come through it with real strength.
What I would say is, he’ll have also realised what big a task he has. Manchester United have spent over £200m in the transfer window and yet they still don’t look like a team that’s spent £200m – similar to Chelsea.
It’s still a team that plays inconsistently – not just from match to match but within games. Some of the football we saw in pre-season, the flowing football, the rhythm in midfield… they still look like a team with a default setting back to the past.
They’ve now got Christian Eriksen, Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro in midfield so United should be dominating matches with that combination, without a shadow of a doubt they should be dominating the ball. But they still look preferable in counter-attack mode.
I’m not sure why that is because I’m sure Ten Hag’s training programme through his time at Bayern Munich with Pep [Guardiola] and at Ajax is all about possession. They can’t dominate the ball, so I don’t know what it is.
Their win at Fulham didn’t come about because of the performance; it came through a moment. What Erik ten Hag will want to see in the next six to eight months is the performance level rise enormously as United are still nowhere near their rivals in the league when it comes to performance both in and out of possession.
The players are now playing for him on the pitch so he’s won that battle in the dressing room. That was really important to win and he has come out of that as the top dog. The club have backed him and the players have responded to that as he’s taken on some big characters.
He can now reflect on what’s happened, but after the break he will still have to go back to Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. That’s a six or seven-year-old partnership despite Manchester United spending fortunes.”
Potter under pressure at Chelsea but project will take time
I got battered by Chelsea fans at the start of the season but I’m not surprised about what’s happened with them. I think it’s got all the hallmarks of a project that will take time.
When you look at what happened at the start of the season, there’s no doubt that was handled with crassness with how the transfer market was being handled. It might take Chelsea a couple of years to recover from that transfer window if they don’t get it right.
I think Graham Potter is under big pressure at this moment in time but I hope that they see it through as what we’re seeing is the culmination of Abramovich leaving, the new owner [Todd Boehly] coming in and sticking his chest out, going around Europe thinking he can play Football Manager.
I’ve seen it before at Manchester United – it doesn’t tend to work. I’ve always thought Chelsea have been a very smart, efficient, clinical operator when it comes to recruitment.
I think Chelsea are one of the big stories at the start of the season. They will improve, but there will be questions asked. A bit like at United, they may start to ask: where’s the £250m gone? That quarter of a billion quid.
Chelsea fans will be in a position whereby they’ll have to test if their ‘Abramovich-reactive’ nature of the past 20 years is still there as part of this new ownership, while the new owners are going to have to prove if they are more forgiving and rational, looking more at longevity.”