Arsenal and Everton have restored the pride of their fans and Trent Alexander-Arnold still has the support of his. Manchester United may not.
The green light from Celebration Police commissioner Richard Keys said it all. Arsenal earned their right to drink it in and savour the moment. The players deserved to be honoured. The supporters undoubtedly merited acclaim. The manager and his coaching staff warranted veneration. The sense of mutual exaltation was palpable.
Piece by piece, Arsenal are shedding aspects of the cliched reputation they had carefully cultivated over the last decade and a half. This is no longer a pretty but weak team which can be intimidated and cowed into defeat. This is no longer a side without leaders, nor a group without bite. And the Emirates library has rarely felt quite so raucous.
The ease with which Arsenal dominated their most bitter rivals helped in that regard, but this was no derby day exception to a rule of otherwise subdued atmosphere. A feeling of positivity has been growing all season and it is pervading the red side of north London without developing into arrogance, hubris or undue expectation.
Mikel Arteta mentioned two key words after the game. He emphasised how the players had “connected” with both each other and the supporters, thus forming an “energy” which Tottenham failed to harness.
“We have a really meaningful opportunity to give a lot of people happiness on a beautiful day and we have delivered that and it is a really great feeling,” the Spaniard said. It can be an addictive one, too. Seven consecutive home Premier League wins – their longest such run under Arteta – sums up that self-fulfilling cycle. For the first time in a while, Arsenal feel like a team in every aspect, with everyone pulling together in the same direction.
That Norwegian bloke is pretty handy but at some point there needs to be more focus on the other side of this double act.
Some remarkably obtuse and generally quite stupid things were written about Phil Foden in the not-too-distant past. One expert suggested a two-year loan elsewhere. Another pundit scoffed at his last Manchester City contract extension.
Phil Foden agrees to sit on the bench for six years
— Neil Custis (@ncustisTheSun) December 10, 2018
The claim now is that Foden is in line for a new deal with wages which will represent his importance to the team. He is as crucial a cog in this machine as anyone and the way he has been guided to that point has been absolutely impeccable.
Replacing Lionel Messi as the youngest player to reach 50 goals for Pep Guardiola is quite something. It feels like Haaland’s brilliance might have to be enjoyed in passing, as just another stop on his journey to achieving era-defining omnipotence. Manchester City can console themselves with the prospect of a generational academy product staying for life.
For a manager fading under an intense spotlight, it undoubtedly helps to take on one of the precious few managers facing more pressure. David Moyes might actually be pleased to see Ralph Hasenhuttl and Jurgen Klopp on the horizon, having seen off Bruno Lage.
It was not the most convincing victory but West Ham had reached the stage where results had to take precedence over performances. That will have to change in the coming weeks because the level of investment Moyes has been granted demands a certain degree of fan-pleasing effervescence. But to build back up again, the Hammers had to start from the ground floor.
There was finally a balance struck between new signings and a trustworthy old guard. Gianluca Scamacca scored but Maxwel Cornet was poor from the start; bringing in fresh faces was never the only answer.
As if to prove the point, it was 32-year-old Craig Dawson, who spent much of the summer on the brink of being sold, who addressed the defensive issues which have undermined much of what West Ham have been hoping to achieve.
This was not a wholesale response to every criticism and Moyes has still drained much of the credit he had accrued before this season, but it was a fine first step on the route to refinement. West Ham can only hope they have been through the worst of their growing pains.
Gary O’Neil’s miserly Bournemouth
The last Premier League goal Bournemouth conceded from open play against a non-Big Six side was set up by Theo Walcott and scored by Moise Kean. It was July 2020 and Eddie Howe was in charge.
Nottingham Forest scored from a corner and a penalty. Newcastle scored from a penalty. Aston Villa, Wolves and now Brentford were kept out entirely. Bournemouth have managed to equal the worst defeat in Premier League history and still not have the worst defensive record in the division after eight games.
It has come at no small expense to their attacking output – under Gary O’Neil, the Cherries have had 30 shots with nine on target in four games, allowing 61 and 18 respectively in that time – but considering the inexperienced interim coach inherited a team which had just lost 9-0 and was predicted by their literal manager to do so a few more times, that’s not half bad. It is undoubtedly a better foundation from which to work than the one his predecessor had carelessly laid.
The last Everton manager to go six consecutive Premier League games unbeaten in the same season was Sam Allardyce. The information is out there now and it is on you, dear reader, to deal with the consequences.
Frank Lampard was over-praised for his work at Chelsea but there is a danger of underplaying the effect he has had at Everton. In terms of restoring that unity with the fans it is a mini-scale version of what Arteta has achieved at Arsenal.
That makes it difficult for neutrals or rivals to properly appreciate the changes that have taken place. When the manager focuses on those intangible relationships between the supporter base and the players, the way one feeds into the other and vice versa, it is specifically not for anyone else to acknowledge or value.
The difference at Goodison Park is obvious but it is starting to transfer elsewhere. Coming from behind to beat Southampton at St Mary’s was Everton’s first comeback victory away from home in the Premier League since February 2020. It creates a belief that is impossible to manufacture otherwise and that has been Lampard’s Everton legacy thus far.
It is genuinely wonderful how Graham Potter has fully embraced the elite managerial life by tidying his hair up ever so slightly and trimming his beard a little. Really emphasises the whole ‘Indie band signed to a major record deal’ vibe but he looks great.
The 47-year-old’s first Premier League game in charge brought his first taste of Big Six power. Chelsea were second-best for much of their trip to Selhurst Park, conceded the first goal, should really have had a man sent off and had an entire spine of central defence and midfield struggle throughout, with Wesley Fofana and Jorginho particularly susceptible.
Yet Thiago Silva survived and thrived, setting up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s equaliser. Palace tired and mustered only two shots after half-time. And Potter could call on one £58m forward and three prodigiously gifted academy products from his bench to rescue three points.
Having failed to beat Crystal Palace in his previous seven meetings with Brighton, Potter knew he had to convert to the dark side of definitely real refereeing conspiracies and such. The guy has earned it.
Eddie Howe’s hand-me-down front five
With Alexander Isak suffering international knack and Chris Wood burned on duty with his country, Newcastle travelled to Craven Cottage with a script drafted, if not printed off and laminated: their predictable struggle to breach the home defence would be compounded by a motivated Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Eddie Howe has spent a small fortune already at St James’ Park but much of that investment has been focused on the defence and midfield. Against Fulham, it was the talents he inherited from his predecessor which shone.
Even held together with duct tape, Callum Wilson is a threat. Miguel Almiron was stunning by his side, displaying the full range of goalscoring prowess and barely putting a foot wrong. Jacob Murphy was the least effective member of the front three but still impressed on his first Premier League start of the season.
Behind them, Bruno Guimaraes was obviously impeccable but so too were Joe Willock and Sean Longstaff. Players who looked lost under the previous regime are finding their groove.
In rejecting the idea of managing England in the near future at least, Howe stated his short-term aims of “trying to make this team better”. The process has slowed somewhat this season – and this was a win over a 10-man promoted team – but it is worth noting how well the manager is doing in terms of improving individuals and making more of what he was given rather than simply buying everything brand new.
Roberto De Zerbi
Just imagine how fun Brighton will be when this new fella starts to properly learn Our Game.
“I do not mean in terms of points or goals, but when I expect them to look solid is in the middle of November. That is when I will be able to say, this is our team. That is a good moment to think that the team will be in a good position in terms of how they are playing and also in terms of the table.”
Bruno Lage perhaps thought it clever to establish his own timeframe by which his work could be evaluated. The Wolves hierarchy called his bluff, noticed that such “solidity” and identity was unlikely to form any time soon and, if anything, gave the manager too much time.
Down to the similarities he bore in name to his predecessor, Lage has been the ultimate transitional manager. It has been a reign of forgettable nothingness: Wolves finished 10th in his only full campaign, are 10th in a table since his appointment and scored less than a goal a game over 16 months.
His closing run brought one win in 15 games and culminated in Ruben Neves and Jonny playing at centre-half in a system he swore to evolve from but had to revert to after spending a considerable sum in the summer transfer window but overlooking the importance of actual defenders.
It will make for a great Sporcle answer in the coming years, mind.
In 810 Premier League games under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United conceded four goals or more 12 times.
In 349 Premier League games under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ralf Rangnick and Erik ten Hag, Manchester United have conceded four goals or more 14 times. Eight of those instances have come in the last 12 months.
The challenge Ten Hag faces might well be more psychological than anything else. These capitulations have become so commonplace, with the same players being caught in the same headlights, that we are reaching the stage of diminishing returns.
A flattering 6-3 defeat to their most bitter rivals would once have been the single most embarrassing result in a Manchester United season but now it is met with a nod, a shrug and a cut to Ferguson looking duly unimpressed in the stands.
It just doesn’t hit the same way anymore. When Tottenham beat his side 6-1 at the start of October 2020, Solskjaer described it as “the worst day for all of them as United players”. Almost exactly two years later, it would probably get lost in the shuffle.
Someone stayed up too late reading The Goblet of Fire.
The Trent Alexander-Arnold narrative is incredibly tiresome. It is a volatile argument which flips each week without either side even attempting to see it from the other’s point of view. One insists on focusing on his strengths while the other seeks only to concentrate on his weaknesses.
“It’s Gareth’s decision,” Jurgen Klopp said of England manager Southgate’s continued disregard of the right-back. “He made it. I see it different. It doesn’t mean anyone is right or wrong.”
Therein lies the key. These are two managers with wildly conflicting objectives in completely different circumstances. Klopp chooses to take the risk for the reward and Southgate does not.
Based on the frequency with which performances like those against Brighton are starting to come, it is not difficult to see why. Teams are targeting, if not Alexander-Arnold himself, then the space he naturally vacates as a sort of roaming defender. As much as he offers going forward, he can take away at the back if the opposition knows how to exploit those situations.
Brighton most certainly did and Liverpool’s next two Premier League games are against teams in Arsenal and Manchester City who will openly seek to do the same. It is a remarkable amount of pressure to place upon a 23-year-old who did not ask to be put into the centre of this storm but that is the hand Alexander-Arnold has been dealt. He will not need to be told that he has to play it far better than he did against Brighton.
Aston Villa fans will likely feel it has been much longer, but Steven Gerrard is yet to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his appointment as manager. His 34 Premier League games in charge have brought 12 wins, seven draws and 16 defeats. Dean Smith’s reign ended with a record of 11 wins, six draws and 17 defeats from his last 34 top-flight games.
It is remarkably uninspiring stuff from a pretty nothing team. Villa are not the worst in the division. Four clubs have scored at least as few goals and eight have conceded more. It is just difficult to work out precisely what it is they want to do and what Gerrard works on during training.
Leeds were beaten 5-2 in their previous game and had a man sent off with almost the entire second half to play. They did not ease to a clean sheet but nor was it a particular struggle to keep Villa at bay. The tetchy response to a perfectly reasonable question from a respected journalist after the game betrayed the pressure Gerrard is under.
There is an alternate timeline in which Nathaniel Chalobah is preparing to lead England into the World Cup as captain. His solitary cap for the Three Lions came in October 2018, heralding the start of a new post-tournament cycle when new faces were beginning to emerge.
Much to the chagrin of Fulham supporters, the current chronology has him getting sent off in the opening stages of his first Premier League start since July 2020. That probably isn’t the way to get Marco Silva to trust you.
But it is genuinely impressive to play the full 90 minutes of a League Cup defeat to Crawley in defensive midfield and still not have that be the low point of your season. It is likely to be a while until he gets another opportunity to change that.
The tide has turned in the stadium and, if long-read reports are to be believed, the dressing room. It is unknown precisely what is keeping Ralph Hasenhuttl in gainful employment but it most certainly isn’t the form and performances of the team he has been given.
Southampton invested a lot this summer and are currently showing far too little for it. Those flashes of glory in victory over Chelsea and defeat to Manchester United were to be expected as a young team went through the highs and lows and learning and growing together.
But defeats to Wolves, Aston Villa and Everton reflect atrociously considering the scrutiny the managers of those teams have been under. Southampton had a clear vision for the composition of their squad this summer but Hasenhuttl and the clouds forming around him are only obscuring that view.
When Arsenal beat Tottenham 3-1 at the Emirates in September 2021, the visitors had 10 shots to 12 and 54% possession. It was described by Sky Sports at the time as ‘the sort of performance that supporters will never accept,’ another dull and uninventive display under the Portuguese.
When Arsenal beat Tottenham 3-1 at the Emirates in October 2022, the visitors had seven shots to 22 and 35% possession. Antonio Conte probably shouldn’t be sacked before ending up in Saudi Arabia but if he thinks fans will welcome that sort of performance because he has a few more winner’s medals in his drawer, he might well be sorely mistaken.
There is almost no noise surrounding a Crystal Palace team that has won one of its opening seven games and sits just outside the relegation zone. And for good reason: their starting fixtures hardly encouraged a momentum-building run.
Far greater lessons will be learned about Patrick Vieira’s side in the build-up to the World Cup. Their seven Premier League fixtures until that break all come against current bottom-half sides.
But the manager will be eager to stop one trend developing into anything more meaningful. Palace have dropped four points in the closing stages of their last three games. Brentford equalised in the 88th minute at the end of August and Conor Gallagher broke their hearts in stoppage-time at the weekend.
Only Leicester have conceded more goals in the final 15 minutes of games than Palace and this is really not the season where you want to be in an ‘only Leicester’ situation.
You had a good run, brother.