A Premier League team of the season so far features four Arsenal players. Is that fair? We also have more views on Lampard and co.
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Premier League team of the season so far
Signed off from work with a burnt hand, so with the season at its midway point I got to thinking about the team of the season so far. Here’s my best effort:
Goalkeeper: Alisson. Not many to choose from here. With Ederson, de Gea, and Lloris all underperforming it was between the Brazilian and Nick Pope, with Raya an outsider. But in truth Alisson has been performing as well as ever, even if it’s been behind a binfire this year.
Right back: Trippier. One of the more straightforward calls – he’s been very good, while the other usual candidates (Walker, James, TAA) have either had spells out or patchy runs or forgotten how to play football. Not entirely convinced by White, despite his admittedly good form.
Centre back (right side): Stones. Saliba and Varane will be disappointed when they read this, and rightly so, but Stones has stepped up and been the best and most reliable presence in City’s back line, even if—as with Alisson—the rest of that defence hasn’t been at its best.
Centre back (left side): Gabriel. Again, Martinez and Botman have cause for complaint, but Gabriel has the edge for me. Seems to have cut out the moments of madness from last season while keeping the tenacity and will to win.
Left back: Zinchenko. Would’ve been a shoo-in if it hadn’t been for injury, and even having missed a fair few games there aren’t many others staking a claim – maybe Burn? Not the season for full-backs, it seems.
Defensive midfield: Casemiro. As far as I’m concerned Rodri is still underrated – he’s just so, so good – but Casemiro has single-handedly transformed United this season. The Arsenal game showed just how much we need him. Partey isn’t far behind those two, mind.
Central midfield: de Bruyne. He’s still the best even when he’s not at his best, isn’t he? Xhaka, Guimaraes, Gundogan, and Eriksen can only admire with the rest of us from the bench.
Attacking midfield: Odegaard. I’m sure Arsenal fans knew it already, but for me he’s been the surprise of the season. What a fine player he’s become, delivering on all that teenage hype (as few do).
Right wing: Saka. A shame not to get Almiron in, but at least it’s another smiley assassin to take his place. Lovely, lovely Bukayo. If he’d played every game then Mahrez would be in with a shout.
Left wing: Rashford. What a welcome development this is. I was sure he’d become one of those players who was never quite ‘realising his potential’ until we all just realised that this was his level. I was wrong. Martinelli has faded a little while Marcus has risen, so he gets in on barefaced recency bias.
Striker: Haaland. Of course. Sorry Harry, but I’m not moving to 4-4-2 just for you.
Manager: Arteta. God he’s annoying, but it’d be churlish not to pick him. Silva, de Zerbi, ten Hag, and Howe make up his rag-tag team of assistants.
Looking back over that, it seems a little ‘big six/seven’ centric, but I can’t think of many from elsewhere: Mac Allister? Caicedo? Anyone else I’m forgetting?
Tiger (for the curious, I picked up a frying pan that had been in the oven for 45 minutes—won’t be making tarte tatin again in a hurry) MUFC, Cambridge
Worried about an Arsenal collapse
I’m an Arsenal fan, and am so happy with the team’s form and performances this season. The fact we’re seeing such quality from a young group like this bodes well for the future and is scary for our rivals.
Since the late win against United, the confidence we can win the title is through the roof, as seen by what many contributors have written to the mailbox. However I for one am still worried we won’t.
Starting in April, Arsenal have a run of tough away games (Liverpool, Man City and Newcastle) and another set of potential banana skins with a home match vs Chelsea, and an away game at West Ham.
If we get to April with a double digit lead on City, I’ll be feeling confident but at this point it’s still far too early to call, especially because the two teams haven’t even played each other once so far this season.
If Arsenal get a few injuries to key players (especially Partey and/or Xhaka- the drop-off in quality is the bigger when these guys miss a game compared to when anyone else does IMO) and City go on one of their long winning runs (I feel they are due one, especially after Pep flipped out at them recently), the whole narrative will change and the pressure will start to tell.
I hope I’m wrong. Maybe it’s all these years of disappointments and false dawns that have made me feel like this, but at the moment I’m still more concerned about how this can all go terribly wrong, rather than the positives.
Last night on MNF, Gary Neville predicted Man U would finish above Arsenal this season.
Man U have 39pts from 20 games this season; 1.95PPG (points per game). If they managed to improve their PPG for their final 18 games by 30% to 2.54 (putting them at the level of the very best EPL teams ever; a PPG equivalent to a 97pt season), then they would finish the season with 85pts.
For Arsenal to finish the season with fewer than 85pts, they would need a PPG for their remaining 19 games of lower than 1.79 – 32% lower than their 2.63PPG so far this season and 19% lower than their 2.2PPG for calendar year 2022.
1.79PPG is equivalent to a 61pt season. Arsenal got 69pts last season finishing 5th and 61pts the season before finishing 8th.
So given current points, for this to happen, Arsenal would have to return to the PPG form of their 2020/21 (8th placed) season and Man U would need to attain the PPG form of the best ever EPL teams for the rest of the season.
How does this man still have a job in punditry? His extreme bias means he has zero credibility with his opinions – they’re just not grounded in reality.
Where next for Lampard?
I see the question of where next for Frank Lampard popping up in the morning mailbox.
Surely a managerial swap of Moyes to Everton and Lampard to West Ham and all the ensuing ‘pashun’ from the fans for a man who ‘really understands the club’ is just too good an opportunity to miss? Think of the headlines/clicks.
While I’m here – how can a team that can call upon both Haaland and Odegaard fail to qualify for the World Cup? Any Norwegian mailboxers have informed opinions on the failed World Cup qualification campaign?
Conor Malone, Donegal
Enough of the Gerrard and Lampard revisionism
I’ve got to take issue with Matt Pitt’s revisionism of Gerrard and Lampard’s managerial careers in the morning mailbox. Matt says:
‘When in heaven’s name are Premier League clubs going to stop appointing untested managers on the basis they were half-decent players?’
Gerrard was not good at Villa. Lampard was not good at Everton (with caveats) and I’m not at all trying to defend them. But Gerrard was in charge of the Liverpool U18s for a season before being promoted to the U19s, such was the good work that he was doing. After a season with the U19s, he moved to Rangers. In his 3rd season there, he led them to their first title in years, not losing a game that season and conceding only 13 goals in the process (thanks Wikipedia). He also topped their Europa League group and had pretty good results in Europe throughout his time there (remember that they’d gone out in qualifying to Progres Niederkorn the year before his arrival).
The idea that he walked into the Villa job solely based on his playing career is just wrong. Did his name help? Yeah, I’m sure it did. But he cut his teeth at youth level before stepping up and being a success at his next club.
Lampard started at Derby, the kind of club that Will in the morning mailbox asserts that he wouldn’t touch. He took them to 6th and the playoff final, losing to Villa. At Chelsea he took them to 4th and an FA Cup final.
Again, the idea that he walked into the Everton job solely because of his playing career is just untrue. Again, did his name help? Again, I’m sure it did. Success? Definitely at Derby, his Chelsea time is arguable and their fans will be better placed to tell you whether they regard it as a success. But offer them 4th place and an FA Cup final this year and I’m sure they’d bite your hand off.
So were these two good appointments at their last clubs? No, clearly not. Did they walk into those posts with no previous experience of management? No, they absolutely didn’t.
Being fair to Lampard…
One of the defining characteristics of Football365 is their distaste of Frank Lampard, which I think is based on what was a very stupid political comment over a decade ago. We really no idea what his current stance is and I am hoping he has changed based on the events of the last 13 years… Lampard certainly seems to be liked by those such as Lineker who unquestionably know Lampard and probably his morals better than you, me or Johnny…
From an outsider’s viewpoint he seems far more affable than Steven Gerrard which meant your previous support for the former Liverpool man was somewhat bemusing. If we are basing our liking of someone based on historical actions I would put Lamps’ crime below that of Mr G’s nightclub basement antics. I really hope having said this he doesn’t start a political podcast with Matt Le Tissier.
Anyway I just want to compliment you and Ian King on that article about Lampard’s future options. I read it thinking it would be basically 100 percent dig and gloating. But it was actually a very fair assessment of his current position. Somebody woke up on the right side of the bed this morning.
So that’s it really – well done you on your fair reporting and analysis which is what the majority of us like in a football article rather than insane clickbait which would be destroyed by a more balanced Mediawatch cough* Nicholson*cough.
Changing minds on Lampard
Back in the spring, you kindly published an email of mine (twice, in fact!) in defence of Frank Lampard. So, in the spirit of f365 revisiting your pre-season predictions when some of them have turned out to be embarrassingly inaccurate, I thought it only fair that I show my face again now.
The gist of the email was that he was being judged too harshly too quickly, having inherited a shambles of a squad, and that there were enough positive signs that he deserved a proper chance. Well, I believe the first part remains true but he’s now had that chance and I don’t think anyone can deny that he has bollocksed it up.
In terms of signings, Coady, Tarkowski and Gueye were sensible enough, given our financial situation, and Garner and Onana look decent at times – although it’s not realistic to expect them to boss matches regularly in their first full season at the club.
However, our attack is another story completely. Rondon was clearly finished by the end of last season, Tosun was in the process of being ushered out and Dele Alli wasn’t able to get his act together so with Richarlison leaving for Spurs (with his previous role on the left seemingly being filled by Dwight McNeil – who now looks like a ghost of the fairly ordinary player he was at Burnley), we were left with just Calvert-Lewin and the kids to play upfront.
I still can’t get my head around the fact that it was only when Calvert-Lewin got injured that we realised we might have a problem; not to mention the fact that the solution was to poach a striker from the one Premier League team who were famous at that time for creating plenty of chances but not putting them away (Neil Maupay from Brighton, who doesn’t even compensate for the lack of goals through being particularly strong, fast or skilful).
Anthony Gordon can run fast with the ball but he’s not a striker and, even in his preferred position, his end product is wildly variable. Of course, he is young enough that he might improve in that respect but it is not certain that he will so if we received a single bid in the region of those which were being reported back in the summer, we should have accepted it immediately and reinvested the money in a player who can produce the goods now.
Perhaps it isn’t fair to criticise Lampard too much for all that, though, when player decisions are made together with the Director of Football, Bill Kenwright and Farhad Moshiri (the latter two being involved in the process for reasons known only to them). The direction of the players on the pitch, though, is entirely on him.
With just under a year played under his management, I’m still not sure what our tactics were actually supposed to be. We weren’t really a long ball team but then neither were there any obvious patterns of passing which suggested that we were working towards a particular kind of goal – the full backs didn’t overlap that frequently and nor was there enough movement off the ball for us to work our way up through the middle of the pitch.
We looked more organised for a bit and seemed to value possession but there was always a sense that we were just knocking it around waiting for a chance to appear by itself or for a moment of magic to be produced by Iwobi (whose bright spell seems to have come to an end), Gordon (see above), Gray (decent but inconsistent) or McNeil (see above). Instead, what usually followed was a stray pass followed by capitulation at the back.
Ultimately, that’s not good enough. It’s a shame because he comes across as a decent bloke who cares about the club and seems to want to work hard to be the best manager he can but you can’t learn on the job while battling relegation at a club of Everton’s size. With results and morale taking another nosedive, it had to happen.
Once again though, the lack of forethought from the board has made the situation far worse than it needed to be. You could argue that the decision should have been made after the Wolves game, when it was clear that the regroup and tour which took place during the World Cup hadn’t had the necessary effect. If not then, it should have taken place after Brighton pulled our pants down at home.
So, how he was allowed to stay on and lose to two other strugglers *during the transfer window* is beyond me – and the fact that Farhad Moshiri made a point of telling Jim White that they were discussing the matter as soon as they left the London Stadium (as if not waiting until they got home somehow made them proactive!) is quite remarkable. For the second time in a year, we are looking for a new manager as the time during which they would normally expect to bring players in passes us by. It’s no wonder people are furious.
On a slightly more positive note, I’ll end with a thank you to Ian Wright. Lots of journalists ran with the story of the Everton board being advised to stay away from games for their own safety but he’s the only one I’ve seen who has acknowledged the subsequent police statement that no threats or incidents of violence – involving headlocks or otherwise – have been reported to them.
It also seems that it wasn’t the police who advised the board to stay away so in the absence of any witness testimony, cctv or even phone footage of said headlock, I think that’s a story to file in the bin alongside the Fortress Sports Fund.
There appears to be a lack of understanding about a concept in football which has started rearing its ugly head in recent times. Well, I assume that to be the case or it is just an attempt to belittle a rival’s performance. Take the mail from Ash (LFC – unsurprisingly) who bemoans ‘Utd did what they have done all season against any team they know they cannot out football, park the bus and play counter’. There is a big difference between parking the bus and playing counter attacking football.
Parking the bus was essentially a term coined by Mourinho in the noughties, and the best example of this tactic can be seen during the game between Jose’s Inter Milan and Barcelona at the Nou Camp in 2010. Inter were camped in their box with no real desire to attack, set up ultra defensively to sit deep with 11 men and frustrate the opposition. It worked a treat as Inter defended the whole game, conceded 1 and held on to win 3-2 on aggregate, given their 2 goal advantage from the first leg. Inter had 24% possession and 0 shots on goal. Parking the bus is holding on for dear life and defending for 90 minutes.
This is not the same as playing counter attacking football. The clue is in the name, counter ATTACKING football. On Sunday we (Utd) defended deep at times and hit Arsenal on the counter. But we also had the ball a fair bit (more than I expected to be honest), ending with 43% possession (to be expected away from home against a top side), 4 shots on target (only 1 fewer than Arsenal) and 2 goals. This is not parking the bus. By way of comparison, during our famous 3-1 victory away against Arsenal in May 2009 in the CL we had less of the ball (42%) and 3 shots on target. Nobody with half a brain would have accused us of parking the bus then and they wouldn’t/shouldn’t now.
With the players we currently have, we are at our most dangerous when playing on the break in the big games. TH is playing the cards in his hand and it has generally worked in the bigger games this season. Don’t be surprised if we have a more possession-based approach as time goes on. But if not, there’s more than one way to skin a cat and counter attacking football is exciting when done well.
Finally, a question for Ash to ponder. Liverpool beat City 1-0 at Anfield earlier in the season, they only had 37% possession and 2 shots on target to City’s 6. The majority of the game was played in Liverpool’s half and/or defensive third. Did you consider that to be a case of Liverpool parking the bus? Thought not.
Garey Vance, MUFC
Slight issue with the ‘ten greatest Premier League signings made from reigning champions’…
Surely Eric Cantona, signed within the Premier League era, from the reigning League Champions Leeds, would and should top this list, no?