Ten things we all completely forgot about this Premier League season before it triumphantly returns

Matt Stead
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta celebrates with Ben White

The Premier League returns soon after taking a back seat to the World Cup. Where were we? No idea whatsoever. Arsenal are top but that’s not the half of it.


10) Liverpool’s uncertain ownership situation
“We’re exploring a sale, but there’s no urgency, no time frame for us, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s business as usual. One outcome could be our continued stewardship for quite a while,” Liverpool chairman Tom Werner said on the opening day of the World Cup, almost two weeks after it was reported that Fenway Sports Group had put the club up for sale.

Not a great deal has developed since then: interest worth billions from investors in Dubai and a separate Saudi-Qatari consortium has emerged and it seems FSG would prefer only a partial sale rather than parting with their prized asset completely.

But there is a vague sense of chaos at Anfield, even with their current run of three wins in their last four games, the outlier being a Carabao Cup penalty shoot-out victory over Derby. Mike Gordon, described as a powerful ally of Jurgen Klopp, has relinquished much of his role’s responsibility.

Soon after that became public, sporting director Julian Ward and director of research Ian Gordon both announced their intention to leave the club next year. Things have stabilised somewhat on the pitch but Liverpool have not faced such an uncertain future at executive level for some time.


9) Everything has changed at Bournemouth
After finally emerging from the notoriously uncompromising Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test – which at this stage presumably resembles Donald Trump’s “person, woman, man, camera, TV” cognitive test from a couple of years ago – Bill Foley was finally able to complete his takeover of Bournemouth. In doing so, he increased the number of American majority shareholders of English top-flight teams to eight, bringing Michael B. Jordan along with him in the process.

Long before then, and after a relatively short and remarkably tantalising dalliance with Marcelo Bielsa, Gary O’Neil was finally given his own set of keys to the car he had been chauffeuring since late August. It was not the six-game unbeaten start which swung it, nor obviously the four straight defeats which immediately followed. O’Neil instead seemed to earn the permanent job with a 3-0 humbling of Everton before the break.

Fifteen days later and voila, an 18-month contract for a coach who Cherries chief executive Neill Blake reckons “has earned this opportunity to continue to take the team and the club forward”. A January transfer WAR CHEST should help, even though Bournemouth have been known to spend such things on Benik Afobe and Lewis Grabban.


8) Everton and West Ham’s relegation battle
A fun family game for that inevitable Christmas Day lull when everyone is f**king sick of each other’s company after spending about two hours together: recite the current Premier League table as accurately as possible.

I somehow got the entire top eight in order, then all the right teams from 9th to 17th but in completely wrong positions, before recovering with a perfect bottom three. Uproarious fun. Grandma will love it.

West Ham and Everton are in some trouble though, right? The former went into their time off with one win in six, losing each of their last three. The latter prepared for their mid-season trip to Australia by scoring four goals in seven matches and foolishly saving three of them for a single win against Crystal Palace. A 0-0 draw with Fulham, a 2-0 defeat to Leicester and a 3-0 reverse at Bournemouth had Conor Coady breaking records for level of earnestness when Fronting Up.

One point separates the Hammers and the Toffees from the relegation zone and their slides really do seem solidified. West Ham have Arsenal next, while Everton round the year out against Manchester City. Frank Lampard is the bookies’ favourite as next Premier League manager to leave his post; David Moyes is second.


7) Wolves appointed Julen Lopetegui
That can’t be right. He turned them down, didn’t he? It was ages ago, well before that World Cup nonsense. Then that lovely Mick Beale fella turned it down out of devotion to QPR. “It was a real privilege to be asked to go to speak to them but I didn’t think it was the right moment because I entered into an agreement here,” he said. “Integrity is a real big thing for me, and loyalty. I have been all-in here and I have asked other people to be all-in so I can’t be the first person to run away from the ship.”

The absolute best of luck to him in their continued Championship promotion push.

It turns out Lopetegui gave it a second thought, got back in touch with a directionless Wolves, agreed to take over and watched them become further marooned at the foot of the table with a loss against league leaders Arsenal, then dismissed the idea that an increased financial package swayed him by happily saying his father’s health had improved and the Molineux “project” was too enticing not to join.

Nope. Still weird. The bloke’s not even Portuguese.


6) Arsenal are flying
That Wolves win kept Arsenal firmly on track at the summit. Most, if not all, will remember that Mikel Arteta has processed them all the way to the top of the table after 14 games. But what might have been forgotten is just how historically impressive their start has been. Only four teams have ever accrued more points at this stage of a Premier League season than the Gunners’ 37. They were utterly phenomenal before the big shiny thing appeared on the horizon to distract everybody.

The five-point gap they enjoy over Manchester City is the biggest between any two teams next to each other in the table. It might disintegrate without Gabriel Jesus, especially now fouling Bukayo Saka has been identified as completely fair game on the world stage. They could maintain that pace, or at least enough of one to win an unfathomable title. But either way, Arsenal have been incredible thus far.


5) Erling Haaland is going to break all the records
If Arsenal do slip from their vaunted position, it is likely to be on the oil required to lubricate those ludicrous joints of the Manchester City goalbot. While his forced nemesis Kylian Mbappe was Roque Santa Cruzing his way to a mythically brilliant defeat, Erling Haaland was waiting, biding his time, ignoring Pep Guardiola’s frantic phone calls and asking Scott Carson how to grow a beard.

Haaland has not scored in 46 days, which does admittedly amount to a one-match drought from that baffling loss to Bournemouth before he was made to pay for picking to represent Norway over England. The bloke still has 23 goals in 18 games this season and has already matched the total Premier League Golden Boot tallies of six previous winners. And he is as fresh as everyone else is knackered.


4) Garnacho > Ronaldo
That was the equation running through Erik ten Hag’s mind at Craven Cottage. Manchester United had lost their last Premier League game to Aston Villa and were being held by Fulham heading into the final 20 minutes. Inspiration was needed but what was described as an illness at the time meant Cristiano Ronaldo could not be called upon from the bench. Alejandro Garnacho was instead given that responsibility and he embraced the occasion.

The teenager’s wonderful stoppage-time winner lifted Manchester United into fifth and heralded the coronation of their next great hope. But only a few hours later, the first snippets of Cristiano Ronaldo’s chat with Piers Morgan were published and the attention had turned again.

Ronaldo cut ties with Old Trafford while he was out in Qatar and while the inevitable speculation is that Ten Hag will dip into the January market for reinforcements, Garnacho deserves more than for the rug to be pulled out from underneath.


3) Chelsea are stumbling
It is no secret that Graham Potter had started to struggle at Chelsea before a break he might consider well-timed. The Blues have lost their last three Premier League games and drew the two immediately prior to that, losing ground in an unexpectedly crowded Champions League race. The Arsenal defeat was humbling and the Newcastle loss was particularly rotten; a Carabao exit to Manchester City actually makes it three consecutive goalless defeats.

A chance to work on the training ground with those not at the World Cup, as well as an opportunity to figure out tactics and team selection away from the breathless schedule, should help. Their fairly extensive injury list was exacerbated by Armando Broja’s devastating knee ligament rupture, mind.


2) Miguel Almiron is Ballon d’Or-bound
The inability of Paraguay to qualify for the World Cup, finishing 8th in CONMEBOL’s 10-country group, aided Miguel Almiron’s month of relative privacy. He had never been quite as ubiquitous as in the weeks before the tournament, when he produced the absolute best football of his career.

Almiron has credited “work, more work and even more hard work” as the reason behind an upturn in form which has seen him already double his previous best goalscoring season in the Premier League. The 28-year-old has seven goals in his last eight games, assisting Joe Willock’s winner against Chelsea. Jack Grealish knows now.


1) Nathan Jones is Southampton manager
“I know there’s a lot of work to do,” admitted Nathan Jones, before the Welshman delivered a damning assessment on the character of his inherited squad: “I also know I’ve got a lot of tools moving forward.” Poor Theo Walcott.

The comments came after the most inexplicable occurrence of this Premier League season so far. Southampton played a match that wasn’t managed by Ralph Hasenhuttl. The last time Saints did that they contrived to lose 3-1 away to a Big Six team, falling to Spurs in December 2018 and dropping into the relegation zone under Mark Hughes. Almost four years later, Liverpool inflicted the same result on Southampton at Anfield to leave them sprawled in 19th.

While the club was transformed during Hasenhuttl’s tenure, one would be forgiven for thinking little has changed. But Jones has taken over a young, exciting and vibrant squad – the only one at all close to Arsenal in terms of average age – which should benefit from a different coaching approach. A few new managers have been afforded a mini pre-season of sorts at the perfect time; if anything that will just make it more weird to see someone other than a sartorially advanced Austrian giant prowling the St Mary’s touchline.