It’s huge in north London, with Spurs fans relishing a derby for once. Also: will Man Utd’s crisis deepen at Burnley? And can Nicolas Jackson find a goal?
Game to watch – Arsenal v Tottenham
Big Ange is already a hero to Tottenham fans. If the Aussie inspires their first win at the Emirates in almost 13 years, they might as well build the statue now.
Postecoglou has done a remarkable job at Spurs. Not only has he transformed a side so shoddy last season and shorn of their greatest-ever goalscorer in the summer into a robust team of entertainers, in little more than three months he has made Tottenham, if not yet great, certainly credible again. No mean feat, that, given the mess the manager inherited.
This, though, is the first major test of Ange-ball. Postecoglou changes his tactics for no opponent, and so far he hasn’t had to. You would expect Spurs to be on the front foot against Brentford, Bournemouth and Burnley, and Manchester United certainly carry no fear at present.
Arsenal, though, are a different proposition.
The new era should make their derby misery at the Emirates irrelevant but Spurs fans trudging across north London can’t yet shake the misery they’ve endured since 2010. In 12 without a win, they have lost eight, chucked away a couple of two-goal leads, and been tw*tted 5-2 twice.
At least Spurs fans can be confident that their team won’t just roll over to have their bellies tickled like they have in their last three defeats at the Emirates, all under different managers. But Arsenal will be aching to demonstrate in the clearest possible terms how far they have come, even if there remains a way to go to be considered a genuine threat.
Neither Mikel Arteta nor Postecoglou will kowtow to the other in their approach to what could and should be a thriller.
Team to watch – Manchester United
From all the positive vibes in north London, to the steady stream of sh*te being served up by United so far this season.
The dark clouds have once more gathered over Old Trafford after three consecutive defeats, four in total for the season, their worst start since 1986/87. There was a deepening sense of crisis even before the 4-3 defeat to Bayern Munich which somewhat flattered the Red Devils. But the outlook will be bleak in the extreme if their away woes continue at Burnley on Saturday night.
Erik ten Hag could explain away losing to Arsenal, Brighton and Bayern, with injuries and absences a key factor in each defeat. But that won’t wash at Turf Moor and those available must buck up their ideas sharpish.
There isn’t a unit in Ten Hag’s squad operating effectively at present – certainly not for longer than fleeting spells. The goalkeeper is under huge scrutiny, his defence is porous and getting no protection from a midfield neither screening the back line nor serving a forward line that, Rasmus Hojlund apart, looks utterly bereft of verve or vigour.
Given the turnaround between Bavaria and Burnley, Ten Hag will have to prioritise, which will surely see him focus on his ransacked engine room. Is Sofyan Amrabat fit yet? We don’t know but Casemiro desperately needs some help, especially since he seems to have left his legs on whichever beach he was sunning himself this summer.
Few expected United to get anything at Bayern; the loss at Arsenal almost wasn’t; and being humbled by Brighton can happen to anyone. But defeat at Burnley, so far winless this season, would be far harder to excuse.
1986-87 – Manchester United have lost as many as four of their opening six games of a season in all competitions for the first time since 1986-87 under Ron Atkinson – the season in which Alex Ferguson would later take charge of the club. Harbinger. pic.twitter.com/UQf6MgWYlI
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 20, 2023
Player to watch – Nicolas Jackson
A few fourth-tier forwards might have wanted a word this week with Lee Dixon after the ex-England defender described Jackson’s finishing as ‘like League Two’. Harsh, on Dixon’s part, but not entirely unfair.
Jackson has struggled badly since joining Chelsea, who have spent a billion quid to end up with the 23-year-old as their only viable option to lead Mauricio Pochettino’s line. The Blues boss would probably consider taking the £32million forward out of the firing line but, ahead of the visit of Aston Villa, he has little alternative but to hope that Jackson stumbles upon some potency.
The Senegal striker hasn’t been all bad. His link-up play has been encouraging and he has stretched defences. But Jackson will always be judged on his goals return which, at present, is limited to a single strike, the third in a 3-0 win over Luton.
As most managers will tell you, the fact he is getting chances is reason for optimism. Jackson has attempted 18 shots in five games; perhaps all he needs is a stroke of good fortune to open the floodgates? Pochettino needs to hope it comes against Villa, with only Manchester United’s wretched start shielding Chelsea from greater scrutiny.
Manager to watch – Paul Heckingbottom
At the start of the week, it might have been a surprise to see Heckingbottom still at his post for the visit of Newcastle on Sunday. After letting rip at the officials in the wake of the gut-wrenching defeat to Tottenham on Saturday, it was reported that the Sheffield United manager’s job was under threat, with Chris Wilder being primed to return to Bramall Lane.
But Heckingbottom remains in charge – for now – and the talk of being replaced could work for the Blades boss. It is claimed his players went to United’s hierarchy to fight his corner and the speculation could serve to rally Heckingbottom’s troops.
The immediate danger seems to have passed but the shadow of Wilder, who remains very friendly with Blades owner Prince Abdullah, looms over Heckingbottom while his side remain winless. A first victory, over Champions League opposition, in front of the TV cameras and a rocking Bramall Lane, would certainly earn the boss more breathing space.
The Blades aren’t far off. Their last three defeats have all been the result of late lapses, while the draw against Everton could have been won in similarly dramatic fashion had it not been for Jordan Pickford’s triple save.
EFL game to watch – Coventry v Huddersfield
Three Championship games on the box this weekend, though none really get the balls tingling. Your Friday feature is QPR’s trip to Birmingham, while on Sunday, Hull welcome Stoke. Meh.
At least the only Monday Night Football on offer next week, 17th versus 16th in the Championship, offers the narrative of a new era dawning at Huddersfield. The Terriers travel to Coventry City after waving off Neil Warnock on Wednesday night, when neither they nor Stoke could hold on to a lead for longer than six minutes in a 2-2 draw.
In Warnock’s place on the Town bench should be Darren Moore, with current reports suggesting he has the edge over Nathan Jones. The Sky Blues have issues of their own having not won in their last five, with the midweek defeat to Cardiff coming on the back of four draws.
European game to watch – Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid
We’re spoilt for choice on Sunday night, when PSG host Marseille, with the visitors in the rare position of going into Le Classique above the Parisians in the table. Albeit by a single point. And, typically, OM have plunged themselves into chaos by parting company with another coach, with Marcelino lasting less than three months.
At the same time, though, is the Madrid derby, the setting for the weekend edition of The Jude Bellingham Show. The England midfielder scored another late winner in midweek and his form, especially in the absence of Vinicius Jr, is one of the major reasons why Real remain perfect in La Liga, sitting two points ahead of Barcelona at the summit.
Of course, Diego Simeone is just bursting to p*ss on Real’s chips. Atletico have struggled with injuries this season and their luck was typified by conceding a last-gasp leveller in the Champions League on Tuesday night to Lazio’s keeper. That came after a 3-0 humbling at Valencia. But few do ‘seething’ better than Simeone, who needs some midfielders back off the treatment table if Atletico are to shackle Bellingham.