Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Monday 26th September 2016 12:04

Winners

Arsenal
Their record is identical – P6, W4, D1, L1 – but Arsenal actually sit ahead of Liverpool on goal difference, almost matching the Premier League’s anointed Great Entertainers for goals and narrowly beating them defensively. The pair have met already this season and there was merely a c**k hair between them, but the Gunners’ defeat should come with an asterisk and the words ‘Holding’ and ‘Chambers’. Oh and ‘no Ozil’.

And yet Liverpool’s odds for the title are half those of Arsenal’s; the team that finished eighth last season are seen as more probable title winners than the side that finished second.

It can only be that familiarity has bred contempt with Arsenal. We can comprehend a Liverpool side in their first full season under the effervescent and infectious Jurgen Klopp winning their first Premier League title more easily than we can envisage Arsene Wenger’s perennial ‘not quites’ suddenly becoming the very best. And yet if you watched this Arsenal side blindly – without any knowledge of the last ten years – you would nod sagely and say ‘watch these guys…they’re special’.

When I wrote last week about Granit Xhaka being more swiftly integrated into the first XI, it was not because I did not believe that the Santi Cazorla-Francis Coquelin axis could not win games; it was simply because I could not see enough change. To play basically the same team, under the same manager, and expect things to radically improve seems preposterous. There has to be forward motion and Xhaka brings that, both literally with his forward-first passing, and figuratively because he will ultimately be an upgrade.

What’s clear is that this particular Arsenal side is the best it’s ever been. Perhaps it will suit them that hardly anybody has noticed and is instead marvelling at a Liverpool side which is – at best – on a par.

For lots, lots more on the Arsenal-Chelsea game, read Matt Stead’s excellent 16 Conclusions.

 

Mesut Ozil
Seriously, if I read any more pieces about this insouciant genius being lazy or a big-game bottler, this computer is going through the window. Thankfully it’s only a Chromebook and can be replaced pretty cheaply, which is not the case with Ozil. He is a wonderful, wonderful player and we should be really sodding glad he is here to entertain us. There was a massive grin on the face of this Premier League neutral when he smacked his hand against his chest after his second goal of the season. He loves Arsenal; Arsenal loves him; cockles are warmed.

 

Liverpool
Last week’s column began thus: ‘There are four Premier League players who have registered more than one goal and assist in the first five games of the season. One of them plays for Arsenal and takes penalties (Santi Cazorla), and the other three look utterly devastating for Manchester City.’

As well as realising that Nacer Chadli should also have been on that original list with his ridiculous one-game one-man show, a week later we can add the names of Alexis Sanchez, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana. The latter pair were once again astonishingly good in another (almost) complete Liverpool performance.

The caveat is that the opposition were limited even before they were reduced to ten men, but Liverpool pressed and then attacked as a swarm. They were devastating. Even 12 or 13 men could not have handled them, never mind the poor ten of Hull.

Every outfield player bar Ragnar Klavan had at least one shot, with Coutinho and Sadio Mane notching six each. They are a force of nature – a hurricane, a tornado, a tsunami, a plague – and it’s fascinating to see whether this can be sustained over a whole season.

In case you missed it, you should read Daniel Storey on Klopp’s mission to be the same team both home and away.

 

Loris Karius
Jurgen Klopp may claim that he has not made a decision but Simon Mignolet should probably get used to having a numb arse. At least the entertainment is good.

 

Ander Herrera
There were many thousands of words written in 16 Conclusions about the brilliance of Paul Pogba and the rest of this Wayne Rooney-less Manchester United side, but Ander Herrera’s performance deserves a little more praise, in the context of what had been written in midweek.

There were three different messages being fed to the media last week – from the club saying that they were not unhappy with Jose Mourinho’s public criticisms of his players, from ‘senior players’ grumbling about their manager and from somebody ‘close to Jose Mourinho’ who was keen to point the finger at Louis van Gaal and his methods that were still infecting the club. One player named in several reports as struggling to cope with new instructions was Ander Herrera, perhaps seen as an easy target as the quiet foreigner.

So to see him produce a masterclass of tenacity, discipline and – surprisingly, perhaps – leadership from a deep position against Leicester was particularly rewarding. Still think I am struggling to take on new instructions, oh, ‘friend’ of Jose?

 

Raheem Sterling
That goal. Bloody hell. This time last year, Sterling would have attempted to square that ball to Sergio Aguero and probably cocked it up. And we would have groaned. And people would have once again said that he lacked the temperament to play for a big club. Actually, it turns out he just needed one of the best managers in the history of football to tell him that he truly believes he is made for this stage and oh, get in the box more.

No Kevin De Bruyne for a month? The excellence of Sterling means that’s not the title-derailing problem that it was last season.

 

Sergio Aguero
The best pure striker in English football? For me, there is no competition. Just watch the space he gains with just one touch for his first goal against Swansea. But if there’s one manager who is not content with managing the best pure striker in English football it is Pep Guardiola.

“I’m so happy with Sergio, so, so happy, but I want more, I want more. He can do better. He can do better,” says Guardiola. It sounds a) ominous for every bugger else and b) very promising indeed for Aguero, a player bizarrely underrated because his ‘journey’ does not resonate with the media. Few people think ‘rich club buying great player for loads of money’ is a story worth recounting or rewarding.

You never know, the Premier League’s best striker might finally get a place in the PFA team of the year. Perhaps he should do a David Bowie and turn it down.

 

Tottenham
My word, there are a lot of big winners this week. You can read about Son Heung-Min here (he was our early winner) but the most impressive thing about Tottenham is that they have conceded just three times in six Premier League games. They were hard to beat last season (until they suddenly became really very easy to beat) but Victor Wanyama (five tackles against Middlesbrough on Saturday) has added a new, specialist dimension.

Spurs were missing four pillars of their success last season – Danny Rose, Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier and Harry Kane – and yet they not just survived, but thrived at the Riverside.

To those crowing about the best start to a season in 51 years: In 1965/66, Tottenham finished eighth. It’s probably not the best statistic on which to hang your hat.

 

Alan Pardew
Credit where credit is reluctantly due – Pardew’s substititions certainly had an impact. Connor Wickham’s physical presence panicked Sunderland and he eventually earned the free-kick that brought the winner, Zeki Fryers was found down the back of the sofa for a cameo that brought the equaliser and Lee Chung-yong’s only touch was the free-kick that Christian Benteke powered home for the winner.

No wonder he is apparently incensed that he was not seriously considered for the England job.

 

Jason Puncheon
In the form of his life playing for his local team. We would all like to be Jason Puncheon right now.

 

Charlie Austin
One shot, one goal. One key pass, one assist. Just 25 touches. Just 15 passes completed at a woeful 60% pass completion rate. But as any insufferable bore will tell you, he knows where the goal is.

This is brilliant by the way…

 

Eddie Howe
Our new hero after telling the BBC in midweek: “I have no problem with the fact that the Premier League doesn’t have as many English, or British, managers as it should. I think we [Britons] have to prove we’re good enough for those jobs.”

After the PFM whining of Harry Redknapp, Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew, Steve Bruce and Sean Dyche, it’s refreshing to hear a man oft-vaunted as the ‘best young English manager’ saying that his nationality should not matter a jot. He knows that to have his name mentioned in connection with jobs at clubs like Arsenal, he has to at least replicate last season’s results and stay in the Premier League with ease.

That cause was helped considerably by victory over Everton and was more impressive in coming at the end of a week in which they were outclassed by Manchester City and then dumped out of the League Cup by Preston. Howe had to show his mettle by re-energising his players and finding a way to dominate the midfield of Everton. Giving the energetic Harry Arter the licence to roam ahead of Andrew Surman proved the key, with Jack Wilshere happy to accommodate.

 

Steve Cook
It’s Daniel Storey’s day off and yet he still keeps messaging about Steve Cook. He did a load of clearances or something.

 

Francesco Guidolin
Swansea may have lost but this was their best performance of the season and there appears to be little doubt about the willingness of the players to work for their beleaguered manager. Perhaps the prospect of Ryan Giggs’ monotone made them pull their collective socks up past their knees.

 

Losers

Wayne Rooney
Because otherwise his absence will dominate the comments.

 

Everton
Bump. Having extensively praised Ronald Koeman, here came the reality check for him and us. This squad is simply not strong enough for a sustained challenge for a top-four place.

Bryan Oviedo was exposed at the back-up left-back in the absence of Leighton Baines, a half-fit Gareth Barry was considered a risk worth taking when the alternative was Tom Cleverley, Gerard Deulofeu was supposed to be the change-up option but was given just one word – ‘awful’ – in the Liverpool Echo’s player ratings, and a search on the bench for a goal threat led Ronald Koeman inevitably and disappointingly to Enner Valencia.

It’s no wonder that Koeman was prickly when asked about Ross Barkley; that must have felt like the least of his problems.

In the short term, Everton must find a solution to sluggish starts that will be exposed by teams with energy (Andros Townsend could have a field day on Friday) and in the long term, they really must build a better squad.

 

West Ham
We’ll just leave this here…

Simone Zaza
His Premier League record so far:

Played 213 minutes.
Taken five shots (none on target)
Attempted four tackles (one was successful)
Attempted four dribbles (one was successful)
Recorded a pass completion rate of 72.7%
Booked twice.

 

Antonio Conte
We usually scoff at the idea that managerial skills cannot be transferred to the Premier League, but surely he has watched enough English football to know that you can’t play so bloody slow?

For a heartless evisceration of Chelsea’s performance against Arsenal, read Matt Stead’s 16 Conclusions.

 

Leicester City
Simply rotten. As usual, you can read more in 16 Conclusions but it’s worth looking at Claudio Ranieri’s post-match quotes and the number of times he used the word ‘concentration’. Questions have to be asked of any team that concedes three first-half goals from corners, but this is a Foxes side built for such challenges; you sacrifice pace and indulge a central defensive pairing of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth primarily so that you are solid at set-pieces. That they should stand accused of simply not concentrating should be deeply embarrassing, especially with Porto visiting on Tuesday. Same again and they could get another dicking.

 

Hull City
It’s been lost in the euphoria of seven points from their first four games and the clusterf***s At West Ham, Stoke and Sunderland, but this is still a Hull side without a permanent manager, with Jake Livermore still at centre-half and with David Meyler still their first option off the bench. While you can believe that the Hammers and Potters will improve – either results or manager will change – it’s hard to see the Tigers going in any other direction but down. This could be a long, long, long, long season on Humberside.

 

Middlesbrough
When you come up from the Championship with the best defence in the division but the lowest number of goals in the top six, the one thing you must add to your game is goal threat. What earns clean sheets in the Championship simply will not translate wholly to the Premier League. More often than not, you are going to concede, so that – newcomers to this glorious game of football – means that you will probably need to score twice to win a game. Boro have only managed that feat once this season, against a rotten Sunderland side.

While there is no shame in a promoted side allowing 14.2 shots per game (seven teams are worse), coupling that with just 8.7 shots per game is a one-way ticket to a relegation scrap.

Against Tottenham, Alvaro Negredo was so isolated from his teammates that he would have needed a second taxi drop, and it was only when Adama Traore came on the pitch that the two Tottenham centre-halves had anything to do other than decide who was marking the Spaniard.

Manager Aitor Karanka said after the game that he wanted the players to decide whether they wanted to be the first-half team or the second-half team. He might have to decide himself whether he wants to be difficult to beat or to try and win football matches.

 

David Moyes
He was our early loser, the lucky thing. It might be the only thing he wins this season.

 

Wilfried Bony
Last week there was talk of other Stoke players being unhappy with his attitude in training and then against West Brom he was substituted just after the hour mark to the obvious delight of Stoke fans. Remember when we really thought this was a match made in heaven?

 

Craig Gardner
Exactly the kind of average player that should be left on the bench in Tony Pulis’ 1000th match in management. You really are never too old to learn.

 

Sarah Winterburn

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