The focus on what players aren’t, rather than what they are, is one of the biggest changes in football coverage over the last decade. Matthew Le Tissier wasn’t an attacking player who failed to track back or press defenders for possession, but simply a magician with the ball. Manuel Rui Costa would drift out of entire matches, and yet we cherished him for the moments of magic.
Mesut Ozil has created more chances than any other Premier League player since the start of 2015/16. He created the most in 2015/16, the third most last season and the second most so far this season. He is on track to have created 100 or more chances in each of his last five seasons as a professional. And yet it is his consistency that is forever questioned.
Ozil is not the perfect player, but he is capable of near-perfect performances such as the one against Tottenham. His control was exceptional, his energy supreme and his short and long-range passing unsurpassed on the pitch. And all that in a fevered atmosphere when people had called for him to be dropped, supporters of his own club included.
I fully understand that Ozil’s lack of pressing makes that particular strategy difficult for Arsenal to maintain, but then is that not the fault of the strategy rather than the individual? When you have as much creativity and style as Ozil, constantly picking at faults is a joyless exercise. It’s time to focus on what magnificent players can do, rather than haranguing them for their imperfections. You’ll miss them when they’ve gone.
Arsenal’s home form
Of course you should go here to read much more on Arsenal’s excellence against Tottenham, but the stand-out statistic is that Arsene Wenger’s team are now on their best run of home form since moving to the Emirates.
If that had coincided with a gentle run of home league fixtures (Sunderland, Everton, Leicester, Bournemouth, West Brom, Brighton and Swansea since mid-May), comprehensive north London derby victory gives Arsenal’s streak added kudos. Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea come to the Emirates in the next six weeks. The top-four bid is back on track.
Our early winner, because how could he not be? From the first minute, when Pogba controlled the ball, surged away from his marker and started a counter-attack, you saw just how much this Manchester United side has missed him. And who the hell wouldn’t?
Kevin De Bruyne’s left foot
Not the first time that De Bruyne has been towards the top of the winners list this season. Not even the first time that De Bruyne’s left foot has been towards the top of the winners list this season. When you are this magnificent, individual body parts demand specific praise.
“If the ball goes on the left foot then you just try it,” De Bruyne said on Saturday evening. “Sometimes it comes off and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s the same with the outside, the inside. It helps if you can do different types of things, sometimes you might put spin on it. But I’m not scared to shoot with my left foot, obviously.”
The thing is, Kevin, you are judging others by your own brilliance. Having scored the winner against Chelsea, opening goal against Arsenal and the second goal against Leicester all with that weaker foot, why would De Bruyne be afraid to try anything out of the ordinary? The fear is all in the minds of any opponent unlucky enough to face him in this run of form that is quickly becoming an exceptional season of individual achievement.
“If people knew the real injury, they would be in shock that I was even playing. It was more than the knee but I will keep it personal – that’s why I choose not to talk of it,” said Ibrahimovic after his comeback against Newcastle United.
Now the Swede is not a man who is afraid to resort to hyperbole in order to self-promote. Ibrahimovic is someone you can imagine bottling his own urine and selling it as Eau de Zlatan; this is a man who probably refers to his farts as ‘released fragrance’.
Yet this latest statement about his own personal strength should be taken on merit. At the age of 35, Ibrahimovic suffered an injury that would threaten the career of someone ten years his junior. Not only has Ibrahimovic recovered to continue his Indian summer, he has recuperated well ahead of schedule.
Even if you don’t like the marketing hype – and I don’t – you have to respect the dedication to being the best professional he can be. Ibrahimovic’s astonishing fitness levels alone deserve to make him one of the pillars of his footballing generation, and the goal record isn’t bad either.
Twenty-seven months after his first Premier League hat-trick, Wilson scored three goals in a game again. The intervening period has seen two separate cruciate knee ligament injuries and thus only 27 league starts. No wonder Wilson kissed the match ball as if it was friend, lover and spouse rolled into one.
Mohamed Salah, Liverpool’s leader
Last season, Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho each scored 13 league goals for Liverpool, while nominal centre-forward Roberto Firmino scored 11. So was Salah bought to be part of that front three, chipping in as the goals were again shared out evenly?
Erm, no. We are in November and Salah has scored three times as many league goals as any other Liverpool player, has already matched Liverpool top scorer Coutinho’s total from last season and has had a stonking 31% of all Liverpool’s shots on target in the Premier League. That is sodding mad.
I heartily recommend that you go and read this piece by Peter Goldstein on Burnley’s exceptional form. Sean Dyche’s side have now won their last three league games without conceding, and are one point behind fourth place after almost a third of the season. Sorry, I’ll say it again: ONE POINT BEHIND FOURTH.
Only the two Manchester clubs have kept more clean sheets than a defence of Matt Lowton, Ben Mee, James Tarkowski and Stephen Ward, and they have played Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City. Forget the Everton job; that’s enough to get Dyche an OBE.
Successive league wins for the first time since April, and scorers of more than two goals in a league game for the first time since the same month. Having caused panic with their early-season form, Bournemouth are now above West Ham, Everton, Southampton, Stoke City and West Brom in the table, five perennial mid-table competitors.
Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata
Playing as a second striker or No. 10 is not Hazard’s natural position, but this Chelsea formation allows the Belgian to be picked only nominally in a central role. The reality is that it gives Hazard licence to roam deep and wide in order to collect the ball and dribble forward to give defenders twisted blood.
Yet Chelsea will always perform best as an attacking unit when Hazard and Morata can perform as a pair as well as individual attacking units. Against West Brom on Saturday, Morata assisted a Hazard goal for the first time after Hazard has twice assisted Morata goals, while the pair interchanged seven passes and constantly created space for one another. They accounted for three of Chelsea’s four goals and six of their seven shots on target. This has potential to become the most modern of little and large striking partnerships in a 3-5-1-1 rather than 3-4-3.
A Premier League manager again for the first time in eight years, albeit surely only on a temporary basis. Supporters of Sheffield Wednesday, Bolton, Leicester and Nottingham Forest will, I’m sure, wish him well.
Tottenham’s big game away record
You can read plenty about Tottenham’s bitterly disappointing display against Arsenal, following their bitterly disappointing display against Manchester United, in 16 Conclusions from Saturday. But it is also important to highlight exactly where Tottenham must improve if they are to become serious title challengers.
“It’s important for us to start beating the big teams away,” said Harry Kane on Thursday. “Not just Arsenal, but all of the top six. We’ve done very well at home against them in recent years. But if we want to be challenging for the title, these are the games we need to win away.”
Nailed it. Tottenham’s last 19 away games at big six teams in the league, a run stretching back to January 2014, have produced one victory and nine points. More worrying still is that Tottenham’s otherwise excellent defence have conceded goals at a rate of 2.05 goals per game.
The positive spin is that this is Tottenham’s last problem to solve, but the negative spin is that this abysmal run shows no sign of ending. In the last 12 months alone, Tottenham have lost 1-0 at Manchester United twice, 2-0 at Arsenal, 2-1 at Chelsea and drawn 1-1 at Arsenal. This is the handbrake to progress under Mauricio Pochettino.
The Premier League rest
The last 11 matches between the Premier League’s top six and the rest of the league:
Won – 11
Drawn – 0
Lost – 0
Goals scored – 32
Goals conceded – 7
The gap is getting bigger.
Our early loser. Pulis hasn’t been sacked because West Brom would necessarily have gone down under his stewardship. He hasn’t been sacked because West Brom had gone ten league games without a win.
He also hasn’t been sacked because he was the victim of his own success, as many will have you believe. Pulis used his programme notes to remind home supporters that he took over a club in the bottom three, but that is because he was appointed following the calamitous reign of Alan Irvine. West Brom finished eighth under Roy Hodgson 18 months before Pulis arrived, remember.
No, Pulis was sacked because he caused a large section of West Brom supporters to fall out of love with their club and its matches, fans who began to wait for the next home game with trepidation not anticipation.
Managers, players and owners will come and go, but supporters will always be there. Once the enjoyment has been sucked out of something people once delighted in, a change must come.
Andy Carroll and West Ham discipline
Carroll’s former club Newcastle United have a striker in Alexandar Mitrovic who has made himself unfit for purpose. So erratic is Mitrovic’s on-field behaviour that Rafael Benitez has made the decision that the Serbian cannot start league games for fear of him doing something stupid and giving his team a mountain to climb. The straight red card on the final day of Newcastle’s last Premier League season saw to that.
So at what point does Carroll fall into that same camp? For so long the problem was that West Ham couldn’t rely on the fitness of their No. 9, but now it is his indiscipline that threatens his first-team place. Those still picking Carroll in their England World Cup squads cannot have seen the elbows at work over the last month.
Carroll’s biggest problem is that he seems intent on not learning his lessons. Having been sent off for two aggressive uses of the arms against Burnley with the space of three minutes, he clattered into Marvin Zeegelaar after less than 20 seconds of Sunday’s game against Watford. We can only assume that the officials missed the full extent of the incident, for Carroll could easily have been sent off. It would have put him second only behind Kevin Pressman for the quickest red card in English football.
Twenty-five minutes later, Carroll was finally booked for barging into his opponent, frustrated at having lost possession of the ball. It was a display of petulance seen on Sunday League pitches across the country by a player angered by his own limitations.
One of the arguments for sacking Slaven Bilic was that West Ham’s players had lost their discipline under the Croatian, but here was evidence that players must take responsibility for their own actions. Being riled by a run of bad form is all well and good, but that frustration must be channelled appropriately. How many times are we going to ask whether Carroll has learned not to cross the line between physicality and violence? He’s 28, for goodness sake.
“If it works, great. If it doesn’t, then I’ll see the East End of London for seven months, then I’ll go elsewhere.”
It’s that kind of positive thinking that will truly breathe new life into the members of West Ham’s squad struggling to believe that they can turn a corner. Those players might have to look elsewhere for motivation.
The most pertinent question surrounding Moyes’ appointment was whether he was a man and manager now defined by his Everton success or his subsequent failure. Definitive conclusions should not be drawn after one game, but Moyes is certainly fighting the tide of opinion from within his own club’s support. West Ham were as limp in defence against Watford as his Sunderland team of last season.
“Most people would have expected something like that, because that’s what it’s been before,” Moyes told Sky Sports after the game. Indeed David, but you have been appointed to effect change, and quickly. After playing Leicester City on Friday, West Ham travel to Moyes’ former club Everton before facing Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in consecutive league games. Work to do on the training ground and on his own reputation.
However, the most worrying post-match comment from Moyes came not on the team, but the derision of West Ham’s owners by the club’s away support. “You’ve destroyed our club”, “sack the board” and “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” were three pre-watershed chants. “I don’t know the history and the reasons for that,” was Moyes response.
If that is truly the case, Moyes has not done the due diligence on West Ham that he should have, and therefore cannot have adequately prepared for this task. Did Moyes agree to the West Ham job because he knew the situation and had definite strategies to address the issues, or did he say yes because they were the first – and surely only – Premier League club to offer him a job?
The defence would plead that Alli was coming back from a slight injury, which may have hampered his performance. The prosecution would point out that this is the fourth or fifth league game this season in which Alli has been virtually anonymous. This is the first slump of his career. Now the hard work starts to regain his majestic form of last season.
Five defeats on the spin in all competitions, and Swansea are in danger of sinking without trace. Swansea’s owners sacked Francesco Guidolin on October 3 last season, with their side in 17th having averaged 0.57 points per game. Swansea are currently in 19th, having averaged 0.67 points per game. If this is improvement, it is slight enough to cause panic again.
I’d get used to that bench, fella.
Since the end of January, Southampton have won eight games in all competitions. The current position in the league ladder of those eight defeated clubs: 8th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 26th and 44th. They have become a club that loses every game against the best and struggles to beat the rest.
Just 15 of their last 77 shots have been on target, and they have scored six times from 120 shots in their last ten league games. Pitiful.
Two surprise blockbuster summer signings
Renato Sanches joined Swansea on loan from Bayern Munich. Grzegorz Krychowiak joined West Brom on loan from Paris Saint-Germain. They were held up as the perfect fixes for the central midfields of two clubs with greater ambitions than their 2016/17 league positions.
Sanches has struggled almost from the moment he arrived, while Krychowiak was substituted after 45 miserable minutes on Saturday. Their teams have taken a combined 18 points from 24 matches.