Big Midweek: Arsenal versus Gerrard’s Villa, Rodgers faces Man Utd, Isak’s debut, Bournemouth

Date published: Tuesday 30th August 2022 7:43 - Ian Watson

Mikel Arteta and Steven Gerrard watch Arsenal face Aston Villa.

Steven Gerrard and Brendan Rodgers are already feeling the heat before they face Arsenal and Man Utd respectively. At Liverpool, Newcastle’s £60m striker should make his debut…

 

Game to watch – Arsenal v Aston Villa
It’s been a wretched start to the season for Steven Gerrard and things aren’t about to get any easier with a trip to Arsenal preceding the visit of Manchester City.

After losing three of their first four games, culminating in the Villans being booed off after a home defeat to West Ham on Sunday, some Villa fans have already had enough. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction to a poor start against teams between 12th and 18th in the early table; Villa’s concerns stretch back into last season. Under Gerrard they have lost nine of their last 15 in the Premier League.

Gerrard is trying to prompt an improvement but few of his attempts to change Villa’s fortunes are having any success. That in itself is being used as a stick with which to beat the manager: he doesn’t seem to know his best XI or system.

Villa’s poor form isn’t for the lack of possession or territory. But despite the playmakers at his disposal and the width offered by Lucas Digne and Matty Cash, Villa just aren’t creating the opportunities. And against Arsenal and City, Digne and Cash are likely to be kept on a far tighter leash.

At the back, Gerrard hasn’t been helped by a long-term injury to Diego Carlos. The manager evidently doesn’t have much faith in a Tyrone Mings-Ezri Konsa partnership but with Carlos crocked and little sign of another centre-back before the deadline, Gerrard is left with no choice but to trust the pair against a buoyant Arsenal side.

Mikel Arteta will have some sympathy for Gerrard since this time last year it was him under huge pressure after a wretched start. Things, though, are very different now for the Gunners.

Arsenal are perfect through their first four games and already have shown different ways to win. The contrast with Villa couldn’t be greater, but Gerrard somehow needs to conjure up something, even just the sketch of a plan, against the top two after struggling badly against fellow bottom-half dwellers.

 


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Team to watch – Bournemouth
Villa’s wretchedness at least allowed Bournemouth the chance to get some points on the board on the opening day before the new boys faced a daunting run against City, Arsenal and Liverpool. The high of that opening day, though, felt like a distant memory for Scott Parker after his side conceded 16 without reply, with nine of them scored by the Reds on Saturday.

Parker staggered ‘shellshocked’ away from Anfield and he was sacked on Tuesday, with Maxim Demin saying: “I would like to place on record my gratitude to Scott and his team for their efforts during their time with us. Our promotion back to the Premier League last season under his tenure will always be remembered as one of the most successful seasons in our history.

“However, in order for us to keep progressing as a team and a Club as a whole, it is unconditional that we are aligned in our strategy to run the club sustainably. We must also show belief in and respect for one another. That is the approach that has brought this club so much success in recent history, and one that we will not veer from now. Our search for a new head coach will begin immediately.”

The lesson? Don’t react to a 0-9 by telling your board it’ll happen again and it’s their fault. With Parker and his cardie gone, Gary O’Neil will take temporary charge and the team’s response to a chastening few days will tell us plenty when Wolves show up on Wednesday night.

 

 

Manager to watch – Brendan Rodgers
Gerrard and Parker may feel they’re having a tough time of it right now but, even if it goes against his perma-positive approach, few managers are likely to be feeling quite as sorry for themselves as Rodgers right now.

When he takes his bottom-of-the-league side into battle against Manchester United, there will almost certainly be a feeling of what could have been for Rodgers, who was at various points in the last year the favourite to land the Red Devils job.

United, though, went in a different direction by hiring Ralf Rangnick as an interim boss before putting their eggs in Erik ten Hag’s basket. In the meantime, Rodgers’ stock has fallen in line with the expectations of his Leicester team.

The Foxes have spent the summer in flux, trying to retain their best players all the while knowing that strengthening a squad already weaker than last season is impossible without sales. So Rodgers approaches the United game with trepidation over what the build-up might bring and which players he may or may not be able to call upon.

Some Leicester fans, even if a minority, have already decided the take their frustrations out on the manager but Rodgers knows more will follow their lead if they go a fifth game without a win. Especially while Rodgers acknowledged that his side showed a ‘lack of aggression’ against 10 men for the most part at Chelsea. Rodgers can do little about against the weakening of his squad right now but a softer mentality could become a huge problem for the manager.

Brendan Rodgers during a pre-season friendly

 

Player to watch – Alexander Isak
The Newcastle record signing was deprived a debut because his work permit still hadn’t arrived before the trip to Wolves. It might not drop into the Magpies’ mailbox before Wednesday, but Eddie Howe, as always, is extremely optimistic of being able to field Isak at Anfield.

Howe, though, reckons the Molinuex match will have served as an ‘eye-opener’ for Isak, specifically in relation to the physicality required to thrive in the Premier League. The Swede needs to catch on quick if he does make his debut against Liverpool and Virgil van Dijk.

Isak will almost certainly have seen the possibilities for him in this Newcastle side. Despite the absence of Bruno Guimaraes which gave the Toon midfield a much more workmanlike feeling, Howe’s side still mustered up 21 shots, even if it took them 90 minutes to score with one.

Then it was Allan Saint-Maximin who levelled for Newcastle and the thrilling winger seems to have straightened himself out after it appeared at one point this summer that he might be heading through the exit door. Liverpool will need to be extremely wary of Saint-Maximin on the counter, especially now Newcastle have a centre-forward Howe feels he can rely upon to exploit the chaos the winger causes.

 

EFL game to watch – Watford v Middlesbrough
Amid every Premier League game being screened this midweek, Boro’s trip to Watford is the only EFL offering on the box.

The Hornets suffered their first defeat of the season at the weekend despite twice coming from behind at QPR. In contrast, Boro ended their five-match winless start by beating 10-man Swansea at The Riverside.

That said, a one-goal win for Boro would see Chris Wilder’s men draw level on points and goal-difference with their hosts and there was enough in their winless start for the Teessiders to be encouraged. Despite sitting 18th in the table, Boro rank second in the Championship for expected points and after strengthening in the last fortnight could capitalise on the pre-deadline uncertainty around Vicarage Road on Tuesday.

 

European game to watch – Roma v Monza
As well as the Premier League, Serie A and Ligue 1 are also cramming in a full fixture programme this midweek, though there aren’t many match-ups on the continent to really grab you by the balls.

Buried somewhere on BT Sport 9 is Jose’s Roma against rock-bottom Monza. Roma are one of six teams on seven points after three games with Mourinho’s men coming through a 1-1 draw with Juventus on Saturday.

Mourinho is set to rotate for the Tuesday night visit of Monza on a matchday when six of the top eight face teams placed 12th or lower. The exceptions being Torino and Atalanta who face each other on Thursday.

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