Another wild weekend in the Premier League is done and dusted. We get you caught up on the action with the Weekend Review.
JUMP TO: The best, then the rest | No quick fix for Freddie | The luck of VAR | ESPN’s advice for Rodgers | ‘One of those days’ for City, again | Only Liverpool can stop Liverpool | How much credit does ‘performance’ get you? | We should have seen Martin weeks ago | This is why we need the Rainbow Laces campaign
The Premier League has become entertainingly mediocre
What an odd old season it has been so far. Every team between Tottenham in fifth and Everton in 17th has won either four or five games. Those 13 teams are separated by six points. Two games ago, Tottenham were in 14th, now they’re one position away from the Champions League places. The gap between fifth and top is 20 points; the gap between fifth and bottom is 12.
Additionally, Spurs have earned that spot with 20 points: Never before in the three-points-for-a-win era of England’s top division has the fifth-placed team had so few points at this time. Last season, Spurs had 30 for the same place.
You could say this is all relatively arbitrary, or you could say we have the “gap between the elite and the rest” argument every year, but it does feel more stark this season. Who knows what the reason is, but essentially it feels like the Premier League has turned into a luxury version of the Championship. Still, as England’s second tier is routinely one of the most entertaining divisions around, that might not be an entirely bad thing.
Shaka Hislop is left scratching his head with Freddie Ljunberg’s starting XI in Arsenal’s draw at Norwich.
Ljungberg needs more than DNA to fix Arsenal
Arsenal have scored seven away goals this season. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has got six of them. The only one he hasn’t scored was the most vain of consolation goals, by Lucas Torreira against Liverpool. It’s slightly terrifying, from their perspective, to consider where they would be without Aubameyang — that has to be one of the things Freddie Ljungberg has to solve in his caretaker spell of indeterminate length.
Stan Kroenke’s messenger, his son Josh, said last week that Ljungberg has “Arsenal DNA,” a statement that is pointless at the best of times, but given how Arsenal’s play for the better part of a decade has been characterised by their spinelessness, it isn’t really the compliment he thinks it is.
Sure, Arsenal looked sparky enough in spells of their 2-2 draw with Norwich on Sunday, but you do have to wonder about a team’s fortitude if they can’t beat the team second-bottom in the league, even with all the supposed spring of the mythical “new manager bounce.”
All the game really did was emphasise that, while Arsenal’s squad is talented, their problems don’t stop with the identity of the coach, and also that those talented players — like one who can score all but one of their goals on the road — can mask those problems for a little while, but not forever.
Luckiest moment of the weekend
It’s the start of December, the beginning of the season of goodwill, so let’s extend that goodwill to not talking about VAR for once.
Well, only briefly, because Aubameyang was saved the indignity of missing a penalty by Max Aarons’ bootlaces encroaching into the area and thus it had to be retaken, allowing the Gabon striker to score the retake. Small margins in this game.
Brendan Rodgers says it’s only natural for his name to be thrown around to manage Arsenal.
Rodgers should stick it out at Leicester
Brendan Rodgers didn’t do a brilliant job of putting to bed any speculation about him and the Arsenal job, but that shouldn’t be a surprise and nor should it be a stick with which to beat him. He doesn’t owe Leicester anything, and any of their fans who are outraged by the prospect of him leaving for a supposedly better job should remember how he got to the King Power in the first place.
It’s not a surprise why Arsenal would want Rodgers (and if his powers extend to getting a consistent tune out of Kelechi Iheanacho, then we should probably upgrade his status from manager to magician), but you do wonder why Rodgers would want Arsenal.
At Leicester, he has a young, vibrant squad where most people already love him; they are already the most viable challengers to Liverpool, but a Champions League place would be a giddy bonus. At Arsenal, he would have talented players but a club riven with problems, the expectation of winning trophies yesterday but, in the short term at least, less prospect of actually doing that. Of course the money would be good, the status, too, and the idea of him restoring Arsenal to their former glory, as he nearly did with Liverpool, will appeal to his ego. But Brendan, take our advice: Stay where you are for a bit.
City need to rediscover their edge
Pep Guardiola didn’t seem overly concerned about Manchester City’s failure to beat Newcastle on Saturday, citing their overwhelming superiority and essentially suggesting Steve Bruce’s side were lucky to get a draw. If he was English, he would have said something like: “It was just one of them days.”
In isolation, you could write it off that way. But this does keep happening. It happened against Wolves. It happened against Norwich. It happened against Shakhtar Donetsk and Atalanta in the Champions League. The chances are it will happen again. Of course, this City team are theoretically so good that they could chase down the 11-point gap to Liverpool, but they will have to rediscover their edge pretty quickly to do so.
After Leicester’s late win over Everton, Shaka Hislop tips them to be the biggest challengers to Liverpool.
Only Liverpool can stop Liverpool
Another win, another result a little tighter than it should have been, another step toward the title. Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Brighton on Saturday emphasised a couple of things that we already knew about them. First, that they are on a relentless charge and keep finding new ways to win games, in this case a brace of headers from their centre-back.
But second, almost certainly the only thing that can stop them from winning their first title in 30 years is themselves. Alisson’s brain fade and red card ultimately didn’t cost them anything, but that sort of thing is a small example of the mistakes that could eventually lead to bigger calamity.
Watford were right to change … but it mightn’t make a difference
Watford might as well have sacked Quique Sanchez Flores. It wasn’t working, there were no signs it was going to start working, and when you’ve made a mistake, it’s better to admit it and do something rather than compounding the mistake by doing nothing.
But it probably still won’t do much good, as both the evidence before us this season and history indicate: They’re now the eighth Premier League team to sack two managers in one season, and only one of the previous seven survived (Swansea in 2016-17, who got rid of Francesco Guidolin and Bob Bradley but stayed up under Paul Clement). Plus, only four teams have survived with their current total of eight points (or fewer) from 14 games, one of which was in a 42-game season and another was on goal difference.
In short, it’s not looking good. Watford made one mistake in bringing Flores back and can’t afford to make another. And even if they nail their next appointment, it still might not be enough.
Will improvement be enough for Silva?
Marco Silva might take heart in Everton’s improved performance despite the late defeat to Leicester, and his team undoubtedly looked better than in recent weeks. But that’s the fourth time this season they have conceded a goal in the 90th minute or later, and only Norwich have lost more than the eight games they have.
So the question is whether the Everton board give him credit for the performance or reason that results are not improving and time is running out before any change can have much of a tangible impact.
Why didn’t Manuel Pellegrini pick Martin earlier?
There was a lot of sentiment about David Martin’s performance against Chelsea, watched by his West Ham hero father, Alvin, whom he hugged tightly afterward. Understandably so: How could you not be moved by this performance by a man who has spent his career in the Football League, suddenly and unexpectedly given his Premier League debut, with his boyhood club, and so wracked with nerves that he apparently couldn’t eat for a couple of days before, and essentially winning the game for his side?
But the more prosaic matter is why Manuel Pellegrini didn’t do this a couple of weeks ago. It was clear from his early minutes that Roberto was a calamity, so by not trying Martin earlier, Pellegrini could have cost his team valuable points.
It might seem a little churlish to focus on that issue after such a terrific result, but that sort of delayed/fudged decision is why Pellegrini’s position is still in some danger.
This is why we need the Rainbow Laces campaign
Any Chelsea fan will tell you that the anti-gay chants that opposition fans direct their way have been happening for years. Decades, even. But against West Ham at the weekend, it felt so much worse than usual, and indeed regular observers noted that they had never heard it so loud before.
This week just happens to see the start of the Rainbow Laces campaign, and at various Premier League grounds you’ll see banners, corner flags, substitution boards and of course laces in the rainbow colours, to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBT community and to try to make football a more welcoming place for its members.
If anyone wonders why that sort of campaign is needed, simply direct your attention to Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
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