Premier League winners and losers: Arsenal and City get it done but are Fulham *too* mercurial?

Dave Tickner
Emile Smith Rowe celebrates with Martin Odegaard after Arsenal score against Luton
Emile Smith Rowe celebrates with Martin Odegaard

Wins for Arsenal and Manchester City pile all the pressure on to Liverpool’s Thursday night shoulders, Nottingham Forest snaffle a huge three points in impressive fashion and Newcastle’s frustrating season of slow, backward drift continues inexorably onwards.



Just vast amounts to be said for quietly efficient never-in-doubt victories where some key players get a bit of a rest during the white-heat intensity of a title race.

Sure, it’s easy to say ‘only Luton at home’ but Luton have been awkward buggers all season and days earlier gave Spurs a hellish time. Arsenal are very different to Spurs these days, but still. There was absolutely no guarantee this was going to be as serene and facile as it was.

It’s undeniably true that not only do tougher tests await but in fact no easier ones await, but that’s just all the more reason to tick this one off as quietly and unfussily and second-gearishly as possible. Job done. On to the next.


Emile Smith Rowe
That was nice, wasn’t it? Hard not to feel for Smith Rowe, who feels indelibly linked to a bygone Arsenal era that is both only a couple of years but also a lifetime ago.

Smith Rowe was, along with Bukayo Saka, the great hope for lifting the Gunners from their doldrums at a time when Mikel Arteta’s Process looked like it had a very strong chance of failure. But while Saka has gone on to become a star player for club and country, Smith Rowe has been rather left behind by it all.

For a multitude of reasons, he has barely had even a bit-part role in Arsenal’s rapid transformation from top-four bottlers to title bottlers and maybe, who knows, even title winners.

Having scored 10 goals in 33 appearances in 2021/22’s ultimate disappointment, Smith Rowe has played less than 500 minutes across the two seasons in which Arsenal have emerged as a genuine force once more.

But 85 of those minutes came against Luton and Smith Rowe enjoyed himself immensely, playing a crucial role in both goals and just generally looking once more – and for the first time in a long time – like an important part of Arsenal’s present and future rather than an unfortunate and unfair reminder of a time now left behind.


Manchester City
A necessary three points, obviously, but the manner of it was important too. The cliché at this stage of the season is generally that results trump performances, but City needed both after the total failure to launch against Arsenal and uncertain second-half effort at Liverpool.

In hindsight, an ever-so-slightly stuttering Aston Villa were probably the ideal next visitors to the Etihad. It provided a chance for City to take out their Arsenal frustrations on an opponent of sufficient calibre that it means something. Nobody cares about City swatting away Barclays makeweights. Villa were sweetspot opponents for the task at hand.


Phil Foden
Foden’s second and third Premier League hat-tricks have come in the last two months, while League Two fraud Erling Haaland hasn’t bothered to score even one of them since September.

This is now already comfortably Foden’s best Premier League season in front of goal, and six goals in his last five Premier League appearances suggest he could yet break the 20-goal barrier. It would be a significant staging post in his undeniable progress to greater and greater importance to Pep Guardiola and the team.


Manchester City’s wingers
Jack Grealish and Jeremy Doku have both had stop-start seasons, but both were excellent in City’s takedown of Villa. City looked far more threatening and far more entertaining with the contrasting styles but equal menace of those two out wide and Foden tearing it up in the middle.


Nottingham Forest
A vitally important first win since the points penalty was handed down. Burnley’s own mini-resurgence made it powerfully necessary for Forest to boast something similar, and they’re now on a three-game unbeaten run worth five points which sounds much better than the five-match winless run worth two points that was the case before Tuesday night’s impressive win over an increasingly and pleasingly mercurial Fulham.

That these runs from Forest and Burnley have made such a tangible difference to the relegation picture is just one of the reasons the fight against the drop can often be so much more fun – from the outside at least – than a title race.

The title race is defined entirely by points dropped. Relentless winning is mandatory and can become rather joyless. To go on a tangent to a tangent, it’s also one of the reasons we enjoy Arsenal’s big celebrations so much and will fight with our last breath for Martin Odegaard’s right to indulge in some camera-based whimsy with a photographer. Arsenal at least remind us that winning games is meant to be fun, and how performatively upset people get about that is wonderful to us.

Anyway, back to the original aside. The relegation battle is all about points gained, not lost. In its own way, it’s a more positive thing. A single win can be transformative, a couple of them – or even as with Forest and Burnley a win and a smattering of draws – can make the whole thing look totally different.


Chris Wood
We all know Chris Wood’s attributes by now, the sort of striker he’s supposed to be. And that sort of striker absolutely is not ‘smack it in from 30 yards for a third goal in three games’. Tremendous stuff from the New Zealander.


Morgan Gibbs-White
The perhaps harsh truth is that their simply haven’t been quite enough nights like that this season. Certainly not as many as last season. But when on this kind of form he’s a truly beguiling footballer and little wonder he remains the Forest player most likely to catch Big Six eyes the next time a points deduction is in the offing.


Bournemouth and their streaky antics
We’re huge fans of Bournemouth’s season. They’ve spent the whole season in streaks of either relegation form or title-challenging form with absolutely nothing in between. With mid-table the inevitable and obviously entirely acceptable outcome. It’s a stupid-looking season when you break it down.

Having kicked off with nine winless games they then set about winning seven of the next nine. Then it was another seven games without a win, and now after a narrow success against Palace it’s four wins and a draw in the last five. And they’ve got Luton and Manchester United next before they face anyone else good, so every chance this latest uptick extends further yet.


Brennan Johnson
An increasingly influential component of Tottenham’s attacking unit whether deployed from the start or the bench, with four goals and three assists across his last 486 minutes of Premier League football. Spurs are still Spurs, though.


Dominic Calvert-Lewin
A first goal since October and it could be a pretty important one after earning Everton a late point at Newcastle.



And they haven’t even played their game yet. These title races are hard.


The sad demise of Brighton’s BTTS bit
Genuinely a bit gutted about this. We can accept Brighton being a bit more rubbish than we wanted them to be, but we cannot accept them being less fun.

Brighton’s first 16 games of this Premier League season contained not one single clean sheet. And to be clear, that’s for or against. Brighton shut out nobody, and nobody shut out Brighton. They were at this time also on one of the longest scoring streaks in Premier League history.

Those records both fell in a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal in December. We could live with that, but what’s followed is the distressing part.

Wednesday night’s stalemate at Brentford was a third goalless draw in their last 11 Premier League games. Brighton have just 13 points from those 11 games. They’re not doing themselves justice in any way here.


Crystal Palace
Palace are now in very real and present danger of ending the season with a points total not beginning with a 4. Maybe nobody else is troubled by this, but we are shook. There’s not been much one can rely on over the last decade, but Crystal Palace ending a Premier League season with 40-something points was one of them. Time for Oliver Glasner to pull his finger out and secure at least 10 points from eight games against – oof – Manchester City, Liverpool, West Ham, Newcastle, Fulham, Manchester United, Wolves and Aston Villa. Hmm.


It’s been a crap season. Even if we accept that last season’s progress was unexpectedly rapid and that some stabilising or even drop-off could be expected and allowed, it’s still been crap.

Mitigation exists with injuries and other frustrations but other clubs have coped better with similar. Newcastle were pretty clear last year they considered themselves part of the ‘Big Seven’ and with that comes scrutiny. We’ve said before that the clearest evidence that Newcastle aren’t in fact (yet) part of that gilded group comes in the very fact they’ve got away with a season this weak with barely a shred of scrutiny.

Manchester United and Newcastle were separated by four points last season. The gap between them right now is also four points having both crashed out bottom of their Champions League groups. Compare and contrast the coverage of Man United’s season and Newcastle’s.


We don’t really even want to call them losers. We love these silly sods and their utterly maverick, mercurial approach to the Barclays.

A team that has taken four points from two games against Arsenal and five points from four games against Burnley and Sheffield United is a team after our own hearts.

Defeat to Forest on Tuesday night – they were 3-0 down by half-time because of course they were – followed the late scramble to snatch a point from the Blades at the weekend. This is a team, remember, that went into the international break on the back of giving Spurs a thorough 3-0 schooling at Craven Cottage.


Aston Villa
No shame in defeat at the Etihad, of course, but the manner of the capitulation was a touch worrying no matter what mitigation is provided by a string of absentees.

Villa are breathing rarefied air and remain just about favourites for fourth while near certainties for fifth at worst, but that’s alarming collapses in their two most recent games against fellow top-five opponents. With Arsenal and Liverpool still to come on the run-in that’s a concern.

And even on the most basic, simple numbers front, they could have done with avoiding a goal-difference dent given how close that particular battle is with Spurs.