PL hits and misses: Arsenal rewarded for faith in Arteta | Special Salah steals show

Arsenal’s faith in Arteta is paying off

A lot of people would never have thought Mikel Arteta would reach 150 games as Arsenal manager.

Go back one season and many did not expect to see Arteta at the club when they were bottom of the table with zero wins from their opening three games. Two seasons ago, they were just above the relegation zone at Christmas and failed to qualify for European football that term.

But Arsenal stuck with their young Spanish manager and perhaps it is apt that Arteta picked up one of his biggest wins as Gunners boss at a club which has a long history of hiring and firing managers at will.

Chelsea manager Graham Potter recognised that after his side were beaten by Arteta’s Arsenal. “If you look at the Arsenal story of where they are now compared to one year, two years ago it’s slightly different,” he said. “I’m sure at times Mikel is getting pelters and that’s how it is. That’s the job and that’s life.”

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Chelsea against Arsenal

Arsenal have supported Arteta through some challenging moments, off the pitch as well as on it. The club hierarchy standing by their manager during the Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang saga has paid off – the now-Chelsea striker looked way off the pace against Arsenal’s defenders, while the fans chanted Arteta’s name every time he touched the ball.

Arsenal now sit top of the Premier League table with Arteta being a standalone young manager who has yet to face the chop. The likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – all deemed project, long-term managers – have lost their job in recent seasons, while Arteta perches alone at the top.

His Arsenal side looked solid at the back but creative going forwards – as they have done all season. Perhaps Premier League owners – including a certain Mr Todd Boehly of Chelsea – should be taking notes as to what is happening in north London.
Sam Blitz

Special Salah can’t be taken for granted

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool’s win against Tottenham in the Premier League

“When you look back on his career, everyone will remember one of the best strikers you ever saw because his numbers will be insane,” said Jurgen Klopp, after Mohamed Salah scored twice to help Liverpool to an important and hard-fought 2-1 win at Tottenham.

Those two goals took Salah’s tally for the season to 19 in 20 matches. Erling Haaland has distorted goalscoring stats this season but that is some going from the Egyptian – especially when it was felt he started the season slowly.

He is certainly back up to speed now, scoring a wonderful opener with a sharp touch and finish into the bottom corner before pouncing on Eric Dier’s error to add the second. There was no doubt he would finish past Hugo Lloris when he raced into the area.

Klopp also talked up Salah’s contribution to the team performance at Tottenham. That is a interesting angle, given the perceived impact the departure of hard-running, high-pressing Sadio Mane has had on this Liverpool team. But, ultimately, if Liverpool can find consistency in their defence and midfield, Salah will score the goals to take them where they want to be.

He will have a full mid-season break with Egypt not in the World Cup – and come back fresh and firing for a Liverpool side aiming to overcome their struggles in the first part of this campaign to put together a run of results to move up the league and challenge for cups after Christmas.
Peter Smith

Spirited Spurs change mood even in defeat

The boos rang out as the half-time whistle sounded at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Injury-ravaged they might have been, but Spurs fans were not entertaining excuses after a disjointed attacking performance was compounded by Eric Dier handing Mohamed Salah his and Liverpool’s second goal.

Ivan Perisic partnered Harry Kane in the makeshift Tottenham attack Antonio Conte fielded as he searched for solutions to the injury crisis engulfing the club. The pair had their moments in the first half, but Liverpool were far superior, establishing a match-winning lead.

In fairness, few thought Spurs could salvage something from the game when they emerged several minutes before Liverpool for the second half, and that was how it proved, but what they did succeed in doing was transforming the mood of every Tottenham fan before they went home.

Spurs battled right up until the final whistle, very nearly securing an unlikely point with a display packed full of spirit, resilience and fight. Antonio Conte continues to face scrutiny for his style of football, and while elements of this performance will have fuelled those criticisms, it also had the hallmarks of how the Italian continues to transform the north London club.
Jack Wilkinson

Aubameyang endures miserable outing | Potter has questions to answer

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Chelsea manager Graham Potter says there was a difference in confidence between his side and Arsenal

Aubameyang’s first reunion with Arsenal and Arteta – the coach who was determined to remove him from the Gunners’ first-team squad – dominated the build-up to Chelsea’s clash with their London rivals, but it ended up being much ado about nothing.

The forward started on the left of Chelsea’s narrow front three but was given license to venture in field and try to link with Kai Havertz and Raheem Sterling. However, he was not on the same wavelength as the German in the first half, with Aubameyang left waiting for a cross that never came on two promising occasions.

The frustration continued in the second half for the Gabon international and he was hauled off in the wake of Arsenal’s winner in the 63rd minute, ending the game with a measly total of two touches in the Gunners’ area, one shot and an expected-goals total of 0.03.

The blame for Chelsea’s toothless display in front of goal cannot all be pinned on Aubameyang, though. The Blues’ expected-goals total of 0.26 was dwarfed by Arsenal’s figure of 2.11 and perfectly illustrated how little threat they posed their rivals on a chastening afternoon at Stamford Bridge.

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The Soccer Saturday panel discussed when the pressure will start to build on Chelsea boss Graham Potter ahead of their defeat to Arsenal

Potter began his Chelsea reign with five wins and a draw from his first six matches but that record papered over the cracks. The Blues recorded a non-penalty expected goals tally of just 1.06 per 90 minutes from the head coach’s first six Premier League games – suggesting their struggles in the Arsenal area were no surprise – and have now taken just two points from their last four top-flight matches.

Potter’s penchant for tinkering with personnel and formations is well established but it means that, 12 matches into his time in west London, it is still hard to determine how he wants his side to play, while a number of players look to be struggling to show their quality after being asked to fulfil differing roles on a game-by-game basis.

The head coach has spoken about his desire for Chelsea to be “flexible” on the pitch and the loss of Reece James and Ben Chilwell to injury – again – seriously blunts their attacking threat.

But Arsenal’s highly-professional performance at the home of their rivals came as a result of every player understanding their role within a settled side. They showed the value of playing under the same head coach for nearly three years, while Chelsea looked every inch the team that are still getting to grips with the demands of a manager who has been in situ for just two months.
Joe Shread

Man Utd under-resourced despite summer spree

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Aston Villa against Manchester United

Erik ten Hag’s unbeaten run of five Premier League matches came to an abrupt halt against Unai Emery’s Aston Villa – whose overdue upset cast doubt on Manchester United’s ability to play without key figures.

United were blown away, torn to shreds by a menacing Villa press and a lesson in clinical finishing. Luke Shaw managed to squeeze a deflected shot home in reply, but all three Villa goals were devastatingly ruthless.

It begs the question – are United competitive when Ten Hag is forced to tinker with his starting selection?

Donny van de Beek was altogether non-existent. Victor Lindelof was dragged all over the shop by the energy of Ollie Watkins – caught out of position for Leon Bailey’s opener and Jacob Ramsey’s second-half strike. While Cristiano Ronaldo’s only chance of note was squandered when the scoreline was 2-0.

Despite a summer spending spree, there is a considerable lack of strength in depth. Both Raphael Varane and Bruno Fernandes were significant misses. Antony’s absence was equally harmful. They were weakened and unbalanced, and it proved costly.

United have lost nine away games in 2022 – the most defeats the have suffered in a calendar year since 1989. Their most recent outing, though, was particularly exposing. The Reds travel to Craven Cottage in their final league fixture before the World Cup break – Fulham may well be licking their lips at the prospect should Ten Hag be forced to field another depleted XI.
Laura Hunter

Emery has Villa Park bouncing immediately

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Aston Villa manager Unai Emery hailed his side’s ‘first step’ as he marked his return to the Premier League with a win against Manchester United

The 4-0 win over Brentford had been cathartic following the departure of Steven Gerrard but this was something else entirely. A first Premier League win over Manchester United at Villa Park since the days of Savo Milosevic and the rest. Aston Villa have waited for this.

On this evidence, they have been waiting for a coach of the calibre of Unai Emery too. The Spaniard had spoken of the energy in the side but this was more than a matter of endeavour. His Villa team were intelligent in possession and organised out of it.

Emiliano Martinez cleverly encouraged the United press and when Cristiano Ronaldo sauntered his way forward or Marcus Rashford was drawn in because of his team-mate’s reluctance, the goalkeeper would pop the ball off to the full-back. Villa were away.

The ease with which they played through the opposition hinted at the sort of coherent tactics that have been absent for too long. Already up to 13th in the Premier League table, it offers hope that Villa can begin looking above them rather than behind them again.

There will be many more tests to come – starting at Old Trafford on Thursday – and consistency is the target now, but this was an important step. Villa fans had stopped believing they could beat United here. Emery has them believing in more than that now.
Adam Bate

Take on me: Zaha putting himself in shop window

Star man: Zaha
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Star man: Wilfred Zaha celebrates with Michael Olise

Ahead of Crystal Palace’s trip to West Ham, Wilfried Zaha said to Sky Sports: “I’m very devoted to Palace and that’s all I’m thinking about.”

His performance at the London Stadium backed up those words. Zaha is out of contract at the end of the season, hence the questioning about where perhaps his future rests. Barcelona have been reported as a potential suitor – as have Juventus.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of West Ham against Crystal Palace

Palace’s top scorer turns 30 on Thursday and the opportunity to take his talents into the Champions League would surely be hard to turn down, especially as he is yet to win a major trophy. His talent – as shown against West Ham – deserves to be showcased on such a stage. In the absence of Odsonne Edouard, Zaha played the role as the central striker, playing ‘on the shoulder’ against central defenders Craig Dawson and Kurt Zouma.

It was the threat of him running in behind – something he did within two minutes which won his side a free-kick – that made West Ham defend so deep and look so scared of their own shadows despite playing at home.

His hold-up play was good, his movement clever and what makes Zaha a potential option for the European elite on a free transfer is his killer instinct in front of goal. His strike against West Ham was his 15th goal of this calendar year – only Harry Kane (23), Heung-Min Son (18), Erling Haaland (18) and Ivan Toney (16) have scored more.

To get a player of such ilk on a free transfer is going to make Zaha a wanted man this summer. It will be a true test of his devotion.

Lewis Jones

Newcastle’s long-term plan grows shorter

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Southampton against Newcastle.

It is worth remembering, the Newcastle takeover and Eddie Howe’s appointment was completed merely one year ago – but the speed of success has defied all expectations with the club now sat third in the Premier League with 14 games played.

Howe cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines at St. Mary’s, as his team mustered only 0.83 expected goals, with the manager claiming his side were uncharacteristic “with and without the ball” in his post-match comments.

Indeed, the Saints recorded the lion’s share of possession, more than twice as many shots, achieved more passes and touches in the opposition box, and should have netted twice, according to xG.

Yet, it was Howe’s side who achieved a three-goal winning margin at the final whistle – achieved solely from clinical finishing and four superb goals.

In-form Miguel Almiron has now netted seven goals in as many league games. The 28-year-old epitomises the club’s rapid transformation. No player has outscored the Paraguayan since the turn of October, and his tally in that time draws level with goal-machine Erling Haaland.

Howe inherited six players in his starting XI at Southampton, and yet those very same players who battled relegation are now fighting for Champions League qualification.

The advanced style of play was evident again, pinning Southampton back with the new, braver style. Howe has the Midas touch on Tyneside, and his players are stepping up to the plate as he, the hierarchy and fans continue to raise standards and expectations.

Newcastle’s long-term plan to become a powerhouse club on the European stage is growing shorter by the week.
Adam Smith

Time running out for Hasenhuttl?

“You have to accept that we will have 10-15 defeats per season.”

Those were the words of Ralph Hasenhuttl when I spoke to him at Southampton’s training ground on Friday.

Two days later, a 4-1 thrashing by Newcastle at St Mary’s has reportedly left his job hanging by a thread.

Southampton find themselves in the relegation zone after 14 games. Sunday’s loss was their eighth in the Premier League already this season.

Ralph Hasenhuttl
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Ralph Hasenhuttl has lost six of his previous nine Premier League games as Southampton manager

Hasenhuttl has been used to pressure during his time on the south coast. Two 9-0 defeats and several poor runs of form since the Austrian’s appointment in December 2018 have resulted in his position being questioned multiple times. But the 55-year-old always seems to bounce back.

However, a sequence of six defeats in nine Premier League matches after £83m was spent this summer – mainly on young players – could see the Southampton hierarchy finally run out of patience.

“Southampton are a team fighting for their lives. Unless they improve on being more aggressive and willing to take one for the cause, they’re going down,” former Saints boss Graeme Souness told Sky Sports.

Southampton might not want to take that risk with Hasenhuttl in charge any longer.
Dan Sansom

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