Premier League winners and losers: Arsenal, Fernandes, Mateta amazing but Chelsea and Liverpool shocking

Matt Stead
Chelsea midfielder Enzo Fernandez, Manchester United player Bruno Fernandes, Everton striker Youssef Chermiti and Liverpool's Alexis Mac Allister
Chelsea are six points ahead of a deduction-less Everton

Arsenal are mimicking Manchester City to compete for a title Liverpool have so thoroughly bottled. Chelsea are a mess but tracksuit Dyche is unstoppable.


Before this season, Arsenal had won 23 Premier League games by five goals or more. For former champions of their stature and historic attacking prowess, it seemed like a pretty low figure; Manchester City had managed it 28 times during Pep Guardiola’s managerial reign alone.

Their most league wins by five goals or more in any one season was three in 2000/01, when they beat City themselves and Newcastle 5-0, and Leicester 6-1. They have doubled that tally in 2023/24 with four games remaining.

It should not be forgotten how they were supposed to be the ones who fell first in this home straight. Against two recent champions who could rely on muscle memory to kick in, it was expected that Arsenal would be haunted by the memory of last season’s collapse and would fall away again, letting Manchester City and Liverpool fight it out.

Nothing of the sort. Liverpool have faded quickly under the pressure, while Arsenal are doing their best impression of a Guardiola side swatting all before them on a title march to keep up the chase. It might still be all for nought in terms of a trophy, but Arsenal have proven their resilience and mental strength when they could easily have crumbled. If it doesn’t happen this season, there need be no fear that this is their last chance.

READ MORE16 Conclusions on Arsenal 5-0 Chelsea: Odegaard, White; Caicedo and Mudryk humbled; Cole Palmer FC


Nicolas Jover
Saliba dragging Enzo Fernandez beyond the furthest forward Arsenal player and actively just holding him there while both watched a short corner routine unfold, Moises Caicedo not noticing and appealing for offside as Benjamin White swept the ball home, and Fernandez at no stage realising he had just been used as a very expensive pawn in another game of Jover set-piece chess was a striking way to underline the difference between Chelsea’s naivety and Arsenal’s cunning. It was also very funny.


Sean Dyche
That Chelsea thrashing makes for an unavoidable anomaly but after embarking on a run of four successive victories without conceding following a points deduction in December, Everton have belatedly reacted to having a couple more points taken away with consecutive 2-0 wins.

The only thing more powerful than an Everton team at a raucous Goodison Park wanting to stick it to the Premier League might be a betracksuited Dyche, finally taking John McGinn’s sartorial critique to heart and fully embracing his inner self.

“The basics” are too often a lamentable excuse managers fall back on to scapegoat players but Jarrad Branthwaite referring to them after the game felt pointed; Everton mastered them in a way Liverpool fell risibly short. They ran further and faster, dominated them in transition, remained organised and in their shape and bullied them at set-pieces.

It was as close to Dyche’s first game, that humbling of Arsenal at home in February 2023, as Everton have come since. They unsettled a better team, forced them to play their own game and punished frailty from a dead ball to capitalise. Those have to be the foundations moving forward, at least in this sort of match.


Bruno Fernandes
There is nothing to gain from any further external assessment of Erik ten Hag’s suitability as Manchester United manager. He was a good coach for them at one point but is no longer, his tactics have become increasingly inexplicable and his delusional public comments are those of a man trying to convince himself and the hierarchy that this could work. And even in victory, Manchester United proved it cannot.

Whether the decision is made in the summer or in a mid-season panic when their incompatibility is made even clearer next campaign, it is more instructive to consider which current players should form part of this bold new Manchester United future.

Building around the current captain is the most obvious of starts. Yet there is still a portion of the fanbase who would rather see Manchester United use this as an opportunity to move on.

Bruno Fernandes has already been one of the great one-man teams in Premier League history and for all his abundant defects, Manchester United would be significantly worse without him. His creative impact is obvious, but beyond that is the tirelessness which sets an example too few teammates try to match.

His attitude and actions can make him a difficult player to like but no successful team prides itself on being pleasant or agreeable and a record of 15 goals and 11 assists in this team demands respect. Fernandes is Manchester United’s best and most important player by a farcical distance – the only individual at the club who currently fits the Ratcliffe remit of “populating all the key roles with people who are best in class, 10 out of 10s”.


Jean-Philippe Mateta
Eight goals in nine games under Oliver Glasner, which affords Mateta a little leeway to beat his tallies for Roy Hodgson (eight in 39) and Patrick Vieira (eight in 53).

This is shirt-tucked brilliance on another level. The £20m valuation Crystal Palace made of Mateta when Bundesliga interest started to emerge in January seemed fanciful but while this might simply be the most purple of patches, it has at least doubled.

Only five players have ever scored more non-penalty goals for Crystal Palace in the Premier League. But forget those meaningless things; Mateta’s cult-hero status was solidified by that second-half track back and slide tackle on Bruno Guimaraes in his own half, which resulted in a move he almost scored from himself.

On current form, there really ain’t no striker better than Jean-Philippe Mateta.

READ: Every Premier League club’s most improved player this season


Mark Travers
Having conceded 32 goals in 12 games and been chief ball-collector at Anfield during Scott Parker’s final match as manager last season, it was difficult to see Travers finding a permanent way back between the Bournemouth posts.

The two Premier League fixtures captain Neto missed this campaign gave Ionut Radu an opportunity to step in, which he promptly spurned by conceding seven times.

It was a game against Wolves which prompted the first exchange of gloves between Travers and Neto in August 2022, and ahead of the same fixture 19 months later Andoni Iraola answered the only pre-match question it is possible to ask a manager who has made a tactical change: What’s the thinking there?

The selection was merely a nod to Travers performing well in training, and it translated to a match in which Bournemouth rarely seemed unsettled. So much of that was down to the calmness and composure of the Irishman, a stark contrast to Neto’s last few inconsistent months.


How big are the dressing rooms at Selhurst Park? Because it feels like Oliver Glasner has pinned a 2,000-word feature on the walls to turn Will Hughes into the most effective midfielder in the country.

READ MOREChelsea the kings of Barclays peaks and troughs as a proud Palace record comes under threat



It has been said before but bears repeating intermittently: it is genuinely impressive that Chelsea have spent £1billion constructing a squad so embarrassingly flawed that the only solution seems to be even more investment. Quite where is both obvious and unknown, at least in terms of where to start.

Three goalkeepers signed for £45m, yet each have considerable question marks over their suitability and none have proven themselves anything close to a worthy long-term option.

Four centre-halves signed for £181m, but their best player in that position by a substantial margin remains the 39-year-old free agent they will almost certainly allow to leave upon the expiration of his contract in the summer.

Two full-backs signed for £91m, but neither on the right nor left do Chelsea resemble in any way a settled team.

Six central midfielders signed for £321m, yet no club seems to have as soft or ineffective a spine which offers too little protection to those behind them and no support to those in front.

A mess of 13 forwards signed for £352m, but none capable of leading the line or sharing a burden placed squarely on the shoulders of the most recent and only unqualified success of two years of failed recruitment.

Chuck in more money tossed away on even younger prospects in the academies of other clubs for probable future PSR purposes, plus the spiralling figures splurged on a succession of managers, each incapable of making sense of the maddening numbers, and it is a remarkable, hysterical and entirely self-inflicted mess.

Chelsea have thrown a ludicrous amount of waste at the wall and only Cole Palmer has stuck. Tuesday was a harsh but necessary example of how this could have been even worse if circumstances had not placed him in their laps. The success of one prodigiously talented 21-year-old signed at great expense on a long contract does not justify this stupid Chelsea policy; it damns it in the most unflinching of terms as the exception to the rule.

There is no easy way to even see where they begin rectifying it this summer. The manager’s position is uncertain, the recruitment set-up is a confused jumble of good ideas from other clubs but without the framework to support it, and half the players are expected to be sold to make room for more new ones. A hit-rate of one positive signing in 30 or so over two years does not evoke confidence.


The idea that Liverpool made a mistake in announcing Jurgen Klopp’s departure early is a nonsense. If the German made his decision to step down in November as he claimed, no competent club could possibly have waited seven months before embarking on the search for a replacement. It had to be made public knowledge for Liverpool to proceed.

And it hardly instantly derailed them. The Reds won their next match 5-2 and the one after that 4-1. Their 12 games after the Klopp news broke included one defeat away at Arsenal, a draw to Manchester City and ten victories, including winning a League Cup.

The collapse over the last 39 days, exiting two competitions and losing ground in a Premier League title race, had been coming. There were signs for those who cared to look beyond the Quadruple dream farewell scenario. Liverpool have been profligate all season and the late starts and reliance on salvaging points from losing positions which had sustained them was always liable to swing the other way eventually.

They were the odd ones out, the contenders who were not meant to be, the “little horse that still needs milk and to learn how to jump,” to borrow a Mourinho-ism.

But that does nothing to dilute the sheer disappointment of how Liverpool have caved. They were not meant to be in this position but by mid-March and with their injury crisis abating they absolutely were. Then they flaked against Manchester United, disintegrated against Atalanta and stumbled against Manchester United again and Crystal Palace in the league.

This was the worst of those by far. It wasn’t even about the title, as that required two brilliant teams slipping for Liverpool to be able to capitalise. It was about the standards they seem to have abandoned, the belief they appear to have exhausted.

It felt like Klopp was leaving a phenomenal team behind, one poised to keep building and thriving and evolving together. In one sense it is an easier job for his successor to walk into, with a lower bar in terms of expectations; in another, there is far more work to do than anyone realised to even keep them at this level, never mind reaching Manchester City and Arsenal.

READ MOREKlopp, Van Dijk, Salah, Trent, Robbo, Nunez – all destroyed in the Mailbox


Fair play to Gary O’Neil for choosing not to contribute to the pile-on when prompted by questions about the disallowed goal after the game. Wolves have suffered from some awful officiating decisions this season – and this was certainly among them – which the manager has complained about at length before.

But it was important for that not to be the focus. First, because as O’Neil noted, Stuart Attwell has had “a tough few days”. Many a Nottingham Forest fan will scoff and roll their eyes at that thought but the pressure and spotlight which comes with having your professional integrity publicly questioned by an entire football club is uniquely punishing. Referees make bad calls. They are human. It should not be embraced but it has to be accepted as entirely inevitable. And none deserve the sort of abuse Attwell will have been subjected to recently. O’Neil simply hoping he is OK when the easy option would have been to jump on the bandwagon was refreshing.

The manager’s foremost thought was what he described as “our worst performance of the season so far”. Wolves were sloppy and error-strewn and in calling that out, O’Neil was addressing something within his control and remit rather than the variables he has no jurisdiction over.

“I have answered your questions around it so many times after so many games and all that goes out after the game is either me moaning or not moaning about decisions,” O’Neil said of VAR, adding: “It doesn’t help anybody.”

Attwell and the predictable line of post-match questioning afforded the players a shield from criticism and O’Neil was doubly right to remove it to turn the focus on them instead. While much of their recent slump can be put down to a laughably shallow squad depth which must be addressed in the summer, this was a different sort of defeat in which standards had notably dropped. And it had nothing to do with the referee being a Luton fan.


Gary O’Neil
On the other hand, spending a week of the build-up mildly condescending to Bournemouth about their apparent long-ball approach and failing to devise a gameplan capable of countering it is a great bit. That was the closest he has come to feeling like a Liverpool manager.


Jacob Murphy
Newcastle have lost matches before – 18 of them this season in comparison to seven last campaign – but rarely are they quite so thoroughly beaten at their own game by a team outside the elite.

Crystal Palace were more aggressive, more attacking and more sure of their game plan. Only one team resembled a peak Eddie Howe team and it wasn’t the visitors, whose away record is worse than all but the bottom four.

Newcastle were tackled eight times in their own defensive third, which is more often than in any match dating back to at least the 2017/18 season, the last for which such statistics are readily available. Murphy was Palace’s trigger as an awkwardly stationed right wing-back, and a player who sums up this crossroads Howe now stands at with a squad of hard-working, versatile players he trusts, but who are not of the requisite quality consistently enough.

An unthinkably rich club can, in many ways, not afford another poor summer of recruitment. Newcastle cannot take as many passengers to the next stage of their evolution.


Sheffield United
Not sure there is a better encapsulation of this Sheffield United season than Chris Wilder signing Ivo Grbic, declaring him “the number one from here on in,” watching him concede 25 goals and keep no clean sheets in nine games, sticking with him long enough to eradicate any lingering hopes of an unlikely survival, bringing Wes Foderingham back into the team and watching him immediately let in four goals to help break the Premier League record for most conceded in a 38-game season, yet still be comfortably the club’s best player in yet another defeat.

Foderingham alone has conceded more goals this season (67) than every team bar Burnley (69) and Luton (75), and has still not been close to their worst keeper. Sheffield United, 2023/24.