Premier League hits and misses
Despair for the two sides of north London, Chelsea continue to grow, while Liverpool have the look of champions...
Last Updated: 28/10/19 4:03pm
A controversial choice as captain, Granit Xhaka was already a divisive figure among Arsenal fans, but his reaction to being substituted in the 61st minute of his side's 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace did nothing to dispel the doubters.
It was a horrible moment during a pulsating match which saw the Gunners surrender a two-goal advantage to draw with Crystal Palace.
- Xhaka in angry clash with Arsenal supporters
- Arsenal 2-2 Crystal Palace - Match report and highlights
- So why was Arsenal's winning goal ruled out?
Granted, it cannot be easy for a player when his own fans turn on him, but whether it was right or wrong for the Arsenal fans to boo him, the Swiss midfielder's reaction wasn't befitting of a captain.
Where does this all leave Xhaka? His future wearing the captain's armband at the Emirates Stadium must be in doubt. Speaking at his post-match press conference, head coach Unai Emery admitted his captain got it wrong and refused to back him when asked if he would remain captain.
His long-term future at the club must also now be in doubt. The 27-year-old's career is at a crossroads after being substituted by Emery in back-to-back games in the Premier League. His already strained relationship with Arsenal fans is further damaged by his reaction on Sunday.
It could be a long road back for Xhaka at Arsenal.
The Xhaka incident is another Emery will have to deal with as the pressure continues to build on Arsenal's Spanish coach.
The Gunners may have snuck a win in the Europa League in midweek but one point from games against Sheffield United and Crystal Palace in the Premier League is not good enough with the talent he possesses in his squad.
He once again left Mesut Ozil out of his matchday squad and the Arsenal fans showed their displeasure with that decision, singing the German's name on numerous occasions as the Gunners went in search of a winner. It's yet another example of a potential divide between Emery and the fans as the discontent starts to rise in north London.
Luck may have not been on his side against Palace with VAR ruling out what appeared to be a legitimately good winner late on from Sokratis, but they still surrendered a two-goal advantage as defensive frailties reared its ugly head again.
It doesn't get any easier for Emery and his side. Next up is another testing trip to Anfield to face league leaders Liverpool in the Carabao Cup, live on Sky Sports Football. Victory on Merseyside will help dispel the doubters for a while, but the jury is well and truly out on whether the Spaniard can get the fans back on side long term.
Gary Neville reminisced about his Manchester United days after Liverpool's vital 2-1 win over Tottenham on Super Sunday.
"There's a complete trust in the crowd in this team," he said. It may not feel like much - after all, the fans don't kick a single ball all season - but being at Anfield on Sunday, the comment could not be more true, or relevant.
Even after the initial shock of conceding, Liverpool fans refused to moan and groan. At one point, at 1-1, they wildly celebrated a throw-in award 20 yards from their own goal. Even when the chances dried out, they kept with it. They knew it was coming, and that is terrifying for oppositions.
That atmosphere, when the players need it most, is something Jurgen Klopp has referenced so often in the past, particularly in his first two years at Anfield having gotten used to a tireless support at Borussia Dortmund.
Liverpool fans deserve credit, but it doesn't come out of thin air. Klopp's side play the type of football that makes you want to clench your fist and pump the air. It's scintillating to watch.
Mauricio Pochettino referenced small signs of improvement for Spurs after a wretched run of form, and he wasn't clutching at straws.
Spurs were defensively strong, and looked dangerous in small parts at the beginning and end of the game.
And in a game like this, against a team like Liverpool, it would be counterproductive for Pochettino to publicly pick holes… so I'll do it for him instead.
It's at full-back where he will be hugely concerned. The Argentine said in his post-match press conference that Spurs have options in almost every position, but when the options at full-back aren't too impressive either way, that positive becomes futile.
Jurgen Klopp said in his programme notes that anyone with an ounce of knowledge knows Spurs have improved, but it seems he was just being overly nice. They haven't improved, and don't currently look like one of the best four teams in this league.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had insisted the return of Anthony Martial would rejuvenate a spluttering attack and in the travelling corner of Carrow Road, the visiting hordes united in song for a man who brought the spark back.
United had mustered only 10 goals in nine games - only two away from home before Sunday - but against the Premier League's second-bottom side, the fit-again Frenchman, who now has four goals and an assist in five starts, always looked in the mood.
Norwich might be leaky - Marcus Rashford was surely startled by the space he found himself in between wandering yellow shirts as he atoned for a penalty miss - but Martial, Rashford and Dan James were in the groove as a trio, switching, darting and linking as they ominously moved Norwich around the turf.
Martial spurned his own chance from the spot - Tim Krul alert on his line but outstanding in open play too - but he did beat the Dutchman in the second half with a goal that epitomised United's fluid combination play, feeding Rashford and dinking over the goalkeeper when his team-mate backheeled into his path.
After a recent two-month lay-off, he was given a deserved breather soon after adding the final flourish; Martial had not only scored again but given Solskjaer's stuttering side a shot in the arm at the top of the pitch. United look far sharper and slicker with him there and the numbers stack up, too. Under Solskajer's stewardship, United have a 77 per cent win rate - accruing an average 2.4 point per game - when Martial starts compared with 28% and 1.2 respectively when he doesn't. The evidence, as well as the eye test, is compelling.
"There's no doubt Leicester are the real deal. For the so-called big six, Leicester will be a massive worry."
Jamie Carragher, speaking on Sky Sports after Leicester's 9-0 thrashing of Southampton, is spot on. Pick from a range of descriptions for their performance - ruthless, scintillating, sensational, and most importantly, record-breaking.
As you know by now, Leicester broke the record for the biggest away win in the Premier League and matched the overall record. Had they squeezed in another goal, it would have taken them into double figures which we are yet to see in the competition.
Leicester now nestle comfortably in the top four - sitting in third on 20 points, level with Chelsea and four ahead of Arsenal in fifth - and they are looking likely to break the 'top six' stronghold. It's not the first time they've disrupted the status quo either, shocking the world when they won the Premier League title in the 2015/16 season.
While many sides begin the season strongly, getting into the top six and eventually dropping off to let the usual teams battle it out, Leicester are unlikely to follow this narrative. Much like their title-winning team, there is a feel about Brendan Rodgers' side where you believe they could beat anyone on their day. Admittedly, they came up against a poor Southampton side on Friday but not even the best sides have managed a 9-0 win.
Keep an eye on another Leicester rise. It could be another special season.
Raheem Sterling was an undoubted hit for Manchester City but which category did John Stones come into this weekend? Recalled to the starting line-up following an injury to Rodri, after having seen the midfielder preferred to him at the back against Atalanta, Stones was part of a City defence that kept a clean sheet in beating Aston Villa 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium.
But the match was not without its worrying moments for Stones. The defender passed the ball straight to John McGinn at one point during the first half and City were fortunate not to concede from the resulting opportunity. Perhaps he deserves some leeway given that he is encouraged to pass out from the back and Pep Guardiola was certainly supportive afterwards.
"Today, John Stones played incredibly well except one or two actions," he said. "They were solidly defensively and it is not easy to defend Wesley because he is so strong and moves into the channels."
But will this defence really be good enough to see Manchester City retain their title?
"We have these players," added Guardiola. "That is the only way."
The sign of a great team isn't always a great result, the kind Chelsea pulled off at Ajax in midweek. How they cement it counts for just as much, and there was plenty of opportunity for Frank Lampard's young side to slip up against a robust, organised side like Burnley.
But, in no small part thanks to Christian Pulisic, they looked a class above their hosts at Turf Moor and produced one of the best away performances Sean Dyche will have witnessed in some time.
It says a lot for the growing character of this Chelsea team; on the opening day of the season, after their heads dropped they conceded two quickfire goals to go 4-0 down at Manchester United. On Saturday night, it was them hammering in a rapid fourth and showing the mental steel which was questioned earlier in the campaign.
Pulisic's performance adds more potency to an already dangerous attacking frontline, and with Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Willian firing on all cylinders in recent weeks, Chelsea's top-four hopes look a lot more concrete than when Lampard arrived in July.
Time is not on Marco Silva's side. Ten Premier League games in, he has won just three times and lost the remaining seven, with Everton's late defeat to Brighton typifying the kind of season he is having.
Brighton's 78th-minute penalty, awarded by VAR after referee Andy Madley failed to spot Michael Keane's foul, was a harsh decision. The defender trod on Aaron Connolly's ankle but with little intent - his head was looking up for the incoming cross - and although it clearly hurt the Brighton forward, there have been penalties not given for similar incidents.
Silva was adamant in his post-match press conference - in which he avoided questions about his future - that Everton should have been awarded a 55th-minute penalty for Martin Montoya's pull down of Richarlison and he does have a point - but, vitally, VAR did not agree.
The frustrating thing for Silva and Everton fans alike is that the team played well for 78 minutes. They passed it well, looked dangerous going forward and showed determination to battle back from an early goal to lead.
They should have taken a point, if not all three, but their late run of bad luck was rounded off all too well with Lucas Digne's 94th-minute own goal, achingly demonstrating the type of luck that could see Silva depart Goodison Park before we reach Christmas.
It's an unfortunate fact that no other team in the history of the Premier League knows what it's like to lose 9-0 at home. Southampton are in unprecedented waters and the question is - what next?
Even with Ryan Bertrand's early sending off, Southampton should not have crumbled like they did to Leicester. Plenty of teams go down to ten men or even less and do not suffer such heavy defeats - some even draw or win. The Saints did get forward once or twice, when they were only 3-0 behind, but you could already see that the damage had been done and it would only get worse.
To say that Southampton are lacking in confidence is an understatement. In fact, after Friday's game, they may not even have any left and manager Ralph Hasenhuttl faces a monumental task in restoring some kind of pride in his team and get them playing in a way that will drag them out of an increasingly likely relegation battle.
It would be their third consecutive brush with the drop, despite Hasenhuttl's arrival supposed to stem that tide and see them back in the relative safety of mid-table. But the Austrian manager has a history of going into struggling sides and turning fortunes around, but rarely one under his own management. He will now need all of that experience of rebuilding confidence and belief in a team if they are to remain in the Premier League next season.
It's now four without a win for West Ham in the Premier League. The spark and confidence showed in the home win over Manchester United last month was severely lacking against Sheffield United, who more than matched a squad put together on a £100m plus higher budget.
Manuel Pellegrini seemed pleased in his post-match press conference about the chances West Ham created which was an odd comment as their main striker Sebastien Haller registered no shots on goal and was superbly marshalled by the Blades backline. The striker cut a frustrated figure throughout and who could blame him? The service into his was poor considering the high level of technicians in the West Ham squad.
They are failing to hit the heights expected by many. The top six is a world away on this showing.
There are two sides to every story and for all the difficulties Arsenal face following the 2-2 draw on Sunday, Crystal Palace continue to impress.
Roy Hodgson's side may have benefitted from the late VAR drama, but the high-flying Eagles deserve full credit for the way they battled back from a disastrous opening to the game at the Emirates.
Being two goals down inside 10 minutes would have seen many teams capitulate, but Palace, who stay sixth in the table, one point behind Arsenal in fifth after 10 games, showed their character and resilience to secure the point which sees positive start to the season continue.
It seems a good point, 10 games in, to judge newly-promoted Villa's chances of survival.
Villa were competitive in the 3-0 defeat by City for 65 minutes, until a controversial VAR call put the game beyond reach. In fact, they've been 'in' all 10 of their games this season. Hard-working and adventurous, if a little chaotic in defence at times, Villa create a lot but are peppered more - they've allowed 187 shots this season, more than any other side.
Their full-backs have successfully pushed up 10 yards since Matt Targett broke into the team, Jack Grealish has realised he can tear Premier League defences apart too, John McGinn will surely be a target for the top four in the coming windows and Marvelous Nakamba has been, well, marvellous.
Ten games in, the consensus is there should be three worse teams, but January is important. They need a striker to challenge and offer something different to Wesley, while Anwar El Ghazi and Trezeguet offer very different qualities, and Dean Smith is yet to decide who he prefers.
Sheffield United just love playing on the road. Chris Wilder has built a way of playing that frustrates the life out of opposition attacks but also gives his attackers a chance to shine in the final third. They remain unbeaten away from Bramall Lane this season and they were super value for it too up against a flat West Ham.
Wilder deserves huge praise for getting his team back into the game at a crucial time. After creating the better chances in the opening half, the Blades found themselves behind but their head honcho switched the momentum of the game by bringing Billy Sharp and Lys Mousset on early in the second half and it brought about the equalising goal. Wilder and his spirited team are adapting to the Premier League much faster than many expected. It's hard not to like them.