Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Ten Premier League talking points: Christian Eriksen and much more
VAR and tactical fouling in the spotlight as Premier League returns with big wins for Manchester City and Manchester United - and a small but important victory for Arsenal...
Last Updated: 21/08/19 11:30am
An important first step for Arsenal
There were more spectacular wins for top-six teams on the opening weekend but do not underestimate the importance of Arsenal's 1-0 victory away to Newcastle. Some said that the Gunners had won the transfer window but it is always better to win on the pitch and Pierre-Emerick's Aubameyang's confident finish got the job done at St James' Park.
Aubameyang has outscored every Premier League player except Mohamed Salah since his arrival but if his impact on this game was predictable there were plenty of other aspects to Arsenal's performance to be encouraged by. Ainsley Maitland-Niles not only provided the assist but won the ball back by being on the front foot. There was real energy to the team's efforts.
Unai Emery's team could look very different by the end of the season. Arguably, none of his first-choice back four featured in this game, while new £72m signing Nicolas Pepe was only introduced as a substitute. But that only adds to the sense that there could be much more to come from Arsenal. A clean sheet and three points represent a really promising start.
Eriksen steals the show
It was new signing Tanguy Ndombele who finally made the breakthrough for Tottenham and it was Harry Kane whose two goals won them the match but there was no missing the fact that it was the introduction of Christian Eriksen that sparked their comeback against Aston Villa. All three goals came after the Dane entered the pitch midway through the second half.
Eriksen dictated things from then on, pushing and probing for the breakthrough. He fired off three shots and created three chances for others - only three Premier League players were involved in that many efforts on goal over the weekend and Eriksen was only on the pitch for 26 minutes. Spurs had more shots in that time than any other team in total.
It is no secret that Eriksen is keen on a new challenge and there have been some attempts to revise opinions in the wake of that. Even though Tottenham reached the Champions League final last term, it was not his strongest campaign. And yet, here was a welcome reminder of his qualities. Perhaps he still has a big role to play. Spurs still need him.
Mahrez's time to shine?
Riyad Mahrez scored seven Premier League goals in Manchester City's title win last season - only Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane could beat that for the champions - but it still felt like a relatively low-key campaign by his standards. He was left out more times than he was picked, after all. But he got his chance at West Ham and made it count.
Fresh from Africa Cup of Nations success with Algeria, Mahrez played with real confidence, providing two assists for Sterling and winning the penalty from which Aguero scored. He even played the pass before the pass for the other two goals in City's 5-0 win. He really was at the heart of it all and Pep Guardiola's eyes lit up when asked about Mahrez afterwards.
"The only problem that Riyad had last season is that his manager didn't select him because we had one of the best players ahead of him in Bernardo," said Guardiola. In picking Mahrez despite a disrupted pre-season, the City boss was demonstrating his faith in the winger. It could well be the catalyst for a much more impressive second season.
City and the tactical foul
Not everyone was so enamoured with Manchester City's performance with West Ham coach Manuel Pellegrini complaining about the use of tactical fouls by his old team. "The reason we didn't create too many chances is because all of our offensive ways of attacking resulted in a foul," Pellegrini said. "Every time we tried to arrive in their box they committed fouls."
Pellegrini highlighted the fact that City made 13 fouls on the day. That is a little surprising because the champions actually committed fewer fouls last season than every other Premier League team with the exception of Liverpool. Fuss over nothing? Not quite. This merely reflects the fact that the opposition sees so little of the ball against Guardiola's side.
When it comes to fouls per opposition pass, only a handful of teams transgress more regularly than City. "They lose the ball and bang, they go straight away," said Jack Wilshere. "It happens so quickly and they bring you down." Referees tend not to reach for the card because these fouls happen so far from City's goal.
And that, of course, is just the way they like it.
A word too for Lindelof
After keeping just two clean sheets at Old Trafford in the Premier League last season, Manchester United moved halfway towards that total as they thrashed Chelsea 4-0 on Sunday. The impact made by Harry Maguire, the world's most expensive defender, was instant. Man of the match and he was even involved in winning the ball back for the second goal.
Maguire made the most clearances and the most interceptions. He kicked it away, headed it away, looked composed on the ball and showed leadership qualities too. Given the spotlight that was on him, it was entirely understandable that Maguire took the plaudits afterwards. But it is worth mentioning, as Jose Mourinho did, the role of Victor Lindelof alongside him.
Lindelof had a difficult start to life at United but fans took to him last season and he looked assured alongside Maguire. For the first time in a long time, United have the makings of a centre-back partnership that they can rely on. The four goals highlight the attacking threat they possess, but the clean sheet shows there is now something to build it on too.
Worries for Lampard
Frank Lampard did all he could to cling to the positives, talking up the "attacking chemistry" that he saw from his Chelsea team and it is true there were some encouraging signs. They played positively. Only Spurs had more shots this weekend. It might have been very different had Tammy Abraham and Emerson's efforts not come back off the frame of the goal.
But it would be a mistake to dismiss a four-goal defeat as mere misfortune. They might have been minor details rather than part of the overall flow of the game - a mistake by Kurt Zouma here, an uncharacteristically bad Cesar Azpilicueta decision there - but they make for major problems if not addressed. Chelsea were slack in both boxes.
Help is on its way. Antonio Rudiger can come back in. N'Golo Kante too. Maybe Willian's experience will be useful as well. Lampard has the trust of the supporters and by putting faith in youth in the wake of the club's transfer ban, he will buy himself some time. But the fixtures come fast. Chelsea face Liverpool in the European Super Cup on Wednesday.
Learning curve on VAR
The decision to rule out Leander Dendoncker's goal for Wolves in what turned out to be a stalemate against Leicester certainly caused a stir. There was no suggestion at all that the handball by Dendoncker's team-mate Willy Boly was deliberate but the recent law change meant that the goal was overturned following a VAR check at Stockley Park.
There was a certain irony given that it was Boly's goal against Manchester City, scored with his hand, that was cited as one of the key reasons why the law change was necessary. Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo accepted the decision but identified another issue. "What concerns me is the tempo," he said. "The time that we stay in this silence, I don't like it."
That seemed to be the feeling inside the ground at the London Stadium the previous afternoon too. Such was the uncertainty towards the end of that game that players and fans appeared unsure how much to celebrate their goals. Accuracy has been gained but has something been lost? Perhaps, as Nuno said, it will just take time for it to feel normal.
New boys show intent
The newly-promoted clubs managed just one point between them but not only was that better than might have been expected from a trio of tricky looking away fixtures but there was a bit more to it than that. As well as Sheffield United's late equaliser at Bournemouth, Norwich took the game to Liverpool and Aston Villa gave Tottenham an almighty scare.
Norwich were actually beaten heavily by Liverpool, conceding four times before the interval, and there was much debate about the wisdom of their wide-open approach. But Teemu Pukki's goal sparked wild celebrations and sent the fans home with some hope. John McGinn gave Villa supporters a moment of their own and what a day it was for Billy Sharp.
The studies suggest that, perhaps counterintuitively, it makes more statistical sense for Premier League newcomers to prioritise defence over attack. That may be true but for those interested only in the spectacle, the sight of Daniel Farke pushing his full-backs on and Chris Wilder making such positive substitutions should surely be welcomed.
Brighton offer ambition
On the subject of showing greater ambition, Brighton took a big step towards vindicating their decision to part company with Chris Hughton in the summer - a decision for which the club received some criticism. Supporters understood the call rather better than the wider public and a 3-0 away win at Watford will only add to the optimism about the switch.
Brighton did not score three goals away from home in any Premier League game last season under Hughton but new manager Graham Potter managed it at the first attempt. The only time they had more possession than this on their travels was at Burnley and Huddersfield. This was not just a different result but a different attitude from what had come before.
"It is a bit of a dream," said Potter. "We did what we set out to do. We know there is a really good foundation here but the job is to just improve." Even two of his substitutes scored. "Sometimes you get a bit lucky," he added. Sometimes you make your own luck too. Brighton will feel that in showing a little bit more intent they might just have more fun along the way.
Burnley start with a bang
Speaking to Sean Dyche in April, he admitted that although everyone had warned him about how European commitments would affect his preparations at the start of last season's campaign, it was only when he experienced it himself that he fully appreciated the challenge. Freed from those demands this summer, Burnley took it out on Southampton.
After failing to win any of their first five games last term, Dyche's team picked up three points at the first attempt with a 3-0 win at Turf Moor. Erik Pieters marked his debut with two assists, both of them setting up Ashley Barnes to score, and there was even time for Jay Rodriguez to come off the bench and make his 'second debut' for the club.
It was just about the perfect afternoon for the Clarets. "It is a really good start, a really pleasing start," said Dyche. "The Premier League is a tough league and you are always looking to push the odds in your favour and it is a great starting point if you have a fully fit group of players who are very motivated." Burnley could be set for a much better season.