Premier League hits and misses: Arsenal hitting their stride but is it time for Marcelo Bielsa to rethink his strategy?

Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son profit from gung-ho Leeds; Record-breaking Sheffield United in desperate situation as West Brom's defence is exposed again; Lewis Dunk shining for Brighton; Man Utd move level on points with Liverpool; a rare step backwards for Everton under Carlo Ancelotti

How much will winless streak cost Tottenham?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Tottenham's win against Leeds

Tottenham can cast aside, for the moment, any questions of negativity in their style and play after putting three goals past Leeds, especially when it could have been more.

The visitors' open style was always going to allow players with the quality of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son to profit, and combine yet again - with less than half the season gone, no duo has combined for more goals in a Premier League campaign ever.

A first win in five games was an important return to form for Jose Mourinho, and for Tottenham, to move them back within four points of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.

"The result is important," the manager said. "We didn't play the last match and the run of results in the last few weeks was not good so we needed these three points so we go up a little bit in the table."

Hopefully for Mourinho, this is Spurs back to their early-season form. Certainly in terms of their goal return, and how quiet they kept Hugo Lloris all afternoon, the prospects are promising.

But what of the last four games? Had Tottenham beaten Liverpool at Anfield on December 17, they would have held off the Reds to top the table; at the end of the season, will they look back on that night and poor performances against Wolves, Leicester and Crystal Palace and ask if that is where the title slipped away?

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Spurs are back in the fold, not that they were ever too far away from it. In a crazy season like this, anything is possible, certainly a four-point gap to the top in the course of more than 20 games.

But Spurs will have to be four points better than two in-form Liverpool and Manchester United sides if they are going to end top of the pile. And dropping 10 points across four games before bouncing back against Leeds will make that a fair bit tougher.
Ron Walker

Arsenal hitting their stride at last

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal's win over West Brom

Arsenal's season appeared to be descending into crisis in the run-up to Christmas. The 2-1 defeat to Everton on December 19 extended their winless run in the Premier League to seven games. It was followed by a 4-1 thrashing by Manchester City in the Carabao Cup only three days later.

Less than two weeks on, however, and the mood has been transformed. Arsenal's 4-0 win over West Brom on Saturday night gave them a third consecutive Premier League win for the first time since July. Mikel Arteta's side have jumped from 15th to 11th. Suddenly they are only three points off the European places.

At The Hawthorns, and for perhaps the first time under Arteta, Arsenal were rampant. They registered 20 shots - their highest total under the Spaniard - and 12 on target - their highest total in any game since December 2017.

The confidence that seemed to have deserted them has come flooding back. Their young stars, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli, have injected energy into the side's game and senior players such as Alexandre Lacazette, who scored twice against West Brom, are feeling the benefits of having runners around them.

Arsenal will face far tougher opponents than this relegation-threatened West Brom side, of course. But for the first time in a long time, the momentum is with them again. Their next Premier League games come at home to Crystal Palace and Newcastle. The opportunity is there to build on their recent improvement.
Nick Wright

How does Bielsa beat the top teams?

Luke Ayling and Harry Kane battle for the ball
Image: Luke Ayling and Harry Kane battle for the ball at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Criticising the style of Marcelo Bielsa after a defeat is a foolish task - he is not going to change his ways and his method is likely to see Leeds beat a different team emphatically in the following fixtures.

But there is definitely debate to be had about whether his approach should at least be tweaked against the best sides; concessions made to the opposition's quality. After all, if Leeds are going to build on their impressive start to life back in the top flight, taking points off the top teams will be the next challenge.

Following Tottenham's 3-0 win over Leeds, Jose Mourinho highlighted how he had predicted "mobility" from his attacking players would free them from Leeds' man-to-man marking - and Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son demonstrated how to expose the system perfectly for Spurs' second goal.

It follows a frantic 6-2 defeat for Leeds at Manchester United - where the visitors provided space for the Old Trafford hosts to break into - a loss at Chelsea where they also conceded three, and a 4-1 hammering from Leicester in November.

Leeds are the Premier League's entertainers, there is no doubt about that, and their opening weekend 4-3 defeat to Liverpool and subsequent 1-1 draw with Man City earned praise from both pundits and opposition managers alike.

No one wants that energy, excitement, and adventure to be traded for conservatism, but adapting to try to nullify some of the opposition's strengths in the toughest fixtures could help this talented team take points as well as plaudits off the leading teams.

But is Bielsa - who has so far rigidly stuck to his beliefs - prepared to go down that route?

More likely, he will insist that following his preferred path more effectively is the way he wants this Leeds team to go. Whether that can bring success against the strongest outfits remains to be seen... but it will be fun finding out.
Peter Smith

West Brom's defence exposed again

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West Brom manager Sam Allardyce says his side have a battle against relegation after a 4-0 defeat at home to Arsenal in the Premier League

It was another heavy defeat for West Brom. In Sam Allardyce's first three home games in charge, he has seen 12 goals go past Sam Johnstone and his defence. He made a change for the visit of Arsenal, bringing in the experience of Branislav Ivanovic, but with a plethora of speedy youngsters lining up opposite, he was unable to help much.

It was down the wings where West Brom were really exposed. Kieran Tierney darted past Darnell Furlong all too easily before he scored the opener and Dara O'Shea could not keep the talent of Bukayo Saka under wraps.

Then there was some poor play from Semi Ajayi as Alexandre Lacazette scored his first - giving the ball away to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the first instance before some chaotic play at the back - and the French striker was unmarked when he turned home Arsenal's fourth.

After the game, West Brom manager Sam Allardyce said: "We've got to battle on as a team and try and do the things we need to do better than we're doing now. That means first and foremost, stop giving sloppy goals away… We need to be more resilient in terms of our defending and until we start getting clean sheets, we won't get enough points to try and move up the table because we don't have any proven Premier League goalscorers in our squad."

Worryingly, West Brom's goal difference is creeping further into the negative numbers, now at -28 with a massive 39 goals conceded in 17 games - that is over two per game. As we all know, goal difference can be vital in a relegation battle and the Baggies are currently losing on that front.
Charlotte Marsh

Dunk shows Brighton possess heart for battle

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Brighton's draw with Wolves

"To show the fight we did and get back in the game, it was a massive point," said Lewis Dunk, whose powerful header rescued a point for Brighton against Wolves.

His team are the Premier League draw specialists. No team have drawn more than their eight matches with four of their last five fixtures ending in stalemate. Of course, you can look at a run like that in two ways, but Graham Potter will be worried that it is now just one win in 17 games across all competitions. Draws need to become wins.

Yes, they are not losing games consistently but this run they are on is relegation form. However, with a player like Dunk in their ranks they are well equipped to deal with a season of struggles. The skipper is arguably playing the best football of his career. His passing out from the back sends Brighton on their way to many attacks and his desire to attack set-pieces in the opposition box is a key weapon for an attack that is lacking in confidence this season.

With him at the heart of their play, Brighton should once again have enough to survive.
Lewis Jones

Record-breaking Blades - but for all the wrong reasons

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Crystal Palace's win against Sheffield United

It has been a truly miserable season so far for Chris Wilder and Sheffield United and things did not get any better after their trip to Selhurst Park on Saturday.

The Blades arrived in the capital missing nine players and without a Premier League victory all campaign, in stark contrast to how they performed last time out when finishing ninth in the table.

The visitors never really threatened to end that unwelcome run, going down to a limp 2-0 loss that now means they have taken QPR's record for the longest winless run from the start of a Premier League campaign.

In fact, they are the first English top-flight side to fail to win any of their first 17 games in a season since Bolton Wanderers in 1902-03 (22).

And no wonder confidence appeared to be at rock bottom in south-east London, with the players having not tasted victory in the league since beating Chelsea 3-0 back in July, a run stretching 20 matches now.
Richard Morgan

Can Man Utd push Liverpool all the way?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United's win over Aston Villa

Forget that there's still 22 games of an arduous season to play. Forget that Liverpool's goal difference is superior to the tune of eight. Forget the nail-biting moments, the string of David de Gea saves and the missed Aston Villa chances - Manchester United are level on points with leaders Liverpool and, for the first time in a long time, must be considered genuine title contenders.

How long that title challenge lasts remains to be seen, the excitement could well be extinguished by the time the final whistle sounds at Anfield in less than three weeks' time, but the fact Manchester United are currently in contention is an achievement in itself.

Let's not forget, it's a year to the day since United entered 2020 a staggering 24 points off the eventual champions. Exactly two months and 10 games ago, when Arsenal inflicted the last league defeat on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side, they were nine points adrift of the champions.

At this stage it would be naïve to declare that United's recent ascension will cause Liverpool sleepless night, but what it certainly does is add another fascinating element to the race for the title.

Liverpool have had company at the top before, multiple times this season in fact, with Tottenham, Chelsea and Southampton all enjoying spells at the summit. All have been seen off, but, this time, it feels different.

Having strolled imperiously to the title last season, you just wonder how Liverpool will respond to having their arch-rivals - the team whose record of 20 top-flight crowns they are looking to equal come the end of the season - breathing down their necks.

That's the position Manchester United have put themselves in, but that's only the start of it - the challenge now is to sustain it right to the very end.
Jack Wilkinson

Villa capable of gatecrashing top six

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Image: Dean Smith watches on as Aston Villa are narrowly beaten by Manchester United

"Aston Villa should now be aiming for a top-six finish," said Sky Sports' Darren Bent ahead of kick-off at Old Trafford.

It was perhaps a statement that raised a few eyebrows from those watching on from home - do Dean Smith's side really have the consistency and quality to be finishing above one of Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham, Leicester or Chelsea? Well, they've taken seven points from a possible 12 against those big-hitters this season and the defeat at United only further enhanced Bent's words that Villa aren't about to fall away.

United never had a moment to relax in a pulsating fixture with Jack Grealish dancing into space all over the pitch, creating four chances for his teammates - only one of which was taken. Yes, Emiliano Martinez had to be called upon to make seven saves across the 90 minutes but United's expected goal figure was 2.64, suggesting that he was making stops most Premier League goalkeepers would be expected to keep out. Villa had 15 shots to United's 19 and wasted numerous set-piece situations - they took 10 corners but failed to create a single chance from them - something Dean Smith will have been disappointed with. On another day, they could have walked away with a result.

This latest performance, following on from the draw with Chelsea, proves that Villa are capable of gatecrashing the top six over the next few months.
Lewis Jones

A reality check for Everton

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from West Ham's win over Everton

Everton's defeat to West Ham was another reality check. They went into the game on the back of another four-game winning run, just as they had at the start of the season. But a slice of bad luck as Yerry Mina's deflection zipped into the path of Tomas Soucek to slot home saw Everton beaten in the Premier League for the first time in over a month and end what was a mostly positive festive period.

With Richarlison back in the starting XI and James Rodriguez returning to the bench, there was hope that Everton could rediscover their free-scoring touch that stood them in good stead earlier in the season.

But their attacking play was rather dull and the finishing lacked direction - they had ten shots but only two of these were on target. Dominic Calvert-Lewin failed to find the net for a fifth Premier League game having scored 11 goals in 11 matches previously and is struggling with a lack of service. The striker could only muster two shots - the same as Abdoulaye Doucoure - and Richarlison had one.

But again Everton's defence had a mostly impressive evening. Jordan Pickford didn't have too much to do while Seamus Coleman made a welcome return. With Michael Keane rested, Mason Holgate moved into the middle alongside Mina, both taking the top two spots for clearances (six and five respectively). As Ancelotti said: "I think the defence were better than their offensive partners."

The Everton manager is hoping to have more injured players back in action for their next Premier League game on January 12 against Wolves, which will hopefully improve a lacklustre start to 2021.
Charlotte Marsh

West Ham improvement clear over festive period

Three games in six days is a huge task for anyone, especially with the intensity of the Premier League. West Ham had drawn their previous two games and an away trip to Everton, especially with their recent form, was no easy task.

Since coming back to West Ham, David Moyes has spoken of his desire to improve the mentality of his players as well as their on-field performances. Beating Everton certainly showed that both are on the up, with Moyes saying: "Everton could have gone second top tonight so we've come to Goodison and got a result which shows you how well the players are playing."

It was a battle of the defences at Goodison Park, but West Ham were the better side up front, particularly after the break. Everton didn't offer much in attack, although Darren Randolph - who was a late addition after an injury to Lukasz Fabianski in the warm-up - did well when called upon.

Tomas Soucek is also proving to be a superb addition, slotting home his fifth goal of the season after Yerry Mina's deflection fell into his path - he is now West Ham's highest scorer in the Premier League. Declan Rice also continues to show what a superb talent he is.

When Moyes inherited his West Ham squad just over a year ago, they may not have had the steel to see such a result through. But their improvement is clear as West Ham head into their next two games against Burnley and West Brom with renewed confidence.
Charlotte Marsh

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