·25 September 2023
·25 September 2023
Joe Gomez and Newcastle had a lovely time but Mikel Arteta needs to use his squad
Sheffield United Didn’t lose 9-0. Imagine how embarrassing that would have been.
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Newcastle Milan had 15 shots before Newcastle managed one last Tuesday; the Magpies scored eight goals without reply against Sheffield United five days later. Swings and roundabouts.
The Magpies might have crammed 81.25% of their entire season’s goal total so far into two of their seven games but it shows that when things click, they are the most destructive team in the country. Manchester City are a far better side but their brilliance is in consistency and control; Newcastle can tear opponents to pieces in the right circumstances.
There is a point at which a surfeit of goals becomes more about the team conceding them than the ones scoring, but after their recent stutters and stumbles Newcastle needed to rediscover that verve. They just about managed it at Bramall Lane.
Bruno Guimaraes was one of eight goalscorers for Newcastle against Sheffield United.
Everton Not since Frank Lampard’s penultimate Premier League game in charge have Everton lost after taking a lead. It might not sound like a particularly impressive achievement but for a club in their situation, that innate level of Dychian robustness helps separate them from their fellow relegation battlers.
The manager feared the “same old story” was unfolding against Brentford – “we created four or five chances and we come in at 1-1, which was a bit of a head scratcher but I have had that this season” – but the underlying numbers have generally been kinder to Everton than the actual numbers so far this season and they finally came to the fore.
Dyche needed them to and it felt like a series of smaller personal victories contributed to the overall win. The selection of James Garner over Arnaut Danjuma on the right was derided but his cross from wide helped create the first goal. Dwight McNeil replacing Ashley Young on corners is a godsend. Not starting Dominic Calvert-Lewin was perceived as a sign of negativity but his impact as a late substitute was decisive.
Brentford only suffered two Premier League home defeats last season, and Arsenal and Newcastle are not bad company for Everton to keep. Sort their own form out at Goodison Park and that perennial air of negativity will finally dissipate.
Jonny Evans A cagey 1-0 win at Burnley will do little to confound the critics. Welcome as the clean sheet would have been for Andre Onana, there was little else for Manchester United to cling to in terms of improvement aside from the result.
Beyond that, Evans having “one of the best nights of my life” as a 35-year-old veteran, a free agent in the summer returning to make up the numbers, only to emerge as perhaps the only feelgood story at Manchester United, was delightful.
They need to channel any positivity they can get at the moment, and Evans obliged with a wonderful assist and clean sheet on his first start for the club in eight years. It sends a fairly uncomfortable message about the standards running throughout the rest of the squad if one digs anywhere below surface level, but Evans set a fine example at Turf Moor.
Guglielmo Vicario It was a relatively innocuous moment but the thumbs-up Vicario offered Destiny Udogie after his compatriot’s back pass let Eddie Nketiah in and forced the keeper into making a save summed up the essence of this transformed Spurs side.
Mistakes will happen. They are a natural and unavoidable consequence of everyday life, never mind elite sport played against phenomenal athletes who are determined to beat you. Fearing them is pointless and self-defeating. Embracing them, provided the issue is in execution rather than idea, allows for growth, development, evolution and ultimately a more conducive environment for success.
Vicario has been quantifiably excellent – the second-highest save percentage and third-best PSxG minus goals allowed in the league, if that’s your thing – but on a more philosophical level he has encapsulated an overall shift in mentality and attitude perfectly.
Joe Gomez For a player who has not started more than four Premier League games in a row since November 2020, being used out of position in a nuanced role designed specifically to exploit the skillset of someone else, Gomez sure does look at home in that Liverpool side.
It feels like common consensus flips every week as to whether Liverpool should persist with the inverted right-back stuff, but seeing Gomez excel there against West Ham offered enough encouragement that the experiment is at least worth continuing when Trent Alexander-Arnold is unavailable.
Gomez’s defensive prowess has rarely been called into question but there is a welcome balance he strikes between those duties and his contributions in attack. Not to mention that composure and calm on the ball. The moment he received a pass in the centre circle from Virgil van Dijk, dribbled past Jarrod Bowen, beat Michail Antonio for strength and burst forward before releasing Luis Diaz down the left was sublime. Just please don’t knack your knee this time.
Billy Gilmour Satisfying as it is to view Chelsea’s ineptitude and Brighton’s genius through the prism of the former’s failures in plucking individuals from the latter, dumping them in a completely different system and environment and expecting the same results – think Marc Cucurella, Graham Potter and his staff and, certainly thus far at least, Moises Caicedo – the opposite journey seems to have the same effect too.
Gilmour started five Premier League games for Chelsea. The glimpses of ability he showed in the first team at Stamford Bridge were undermined by managerial upheaval and a demand for instant gratification. The conditions in west London do not promote patience and a miserable Norwich loan only set him back further.
Brighton invested in Gilmour when the Scot’s stock was at its lowest and they are reaping the rewards. The Seagulls have done phenomenal work scouting in South America and further afield but they saw potential in a player lost under everyone’s nose. They have given him a platform, a support network, an opportunity, and Gilmour has grasped it.
The 22-year-old created four chances, made three tackles, had 88 touches, set up Milos Kerkez’s own goal equaliser and generally ran proceedings against Bournemouth.
“I just wasn’t in the plans,” Gilmour recently said of his decision to leave Chelsea. “We were in America for pre-season, and then me and two other boys got told there’s not going to really be a chance here.” A year later, and he is one of Brighton’s most important players. Go figure.
Matheus Nunes has already recorded half the total of assists Rodri did in his first Manchester City season.
Manchester City’s talent profiling was already fairly ludicrous but if the standard year of acclimatisation, adjustment and adaptation to the Pep Guardiola way has been eliminated as efficiently as the seamless transition of their four summer signings suggests, it might well be over for everyone else.
Bernd Leno Aaron Ramsdale need not fear if the fate of his predecessor is anything to go by. Bernd Leno was the inaugural victim of Mikel Arteta’s fetish for swapping goalkeepers immediately after the first international break of the season but the German used that as a launchpad into the form of his career.
“When I wanted to fight for my place, the goalkeeper coach said, ‘You have to leave the club,'” Leno recalled of his Emirates plight late last week. “When he said it wasn’t about performance, I knew straight away I had to leave. I don’t know if they didn’t want two strong keepers.”
Foolish as it would be to pretend that necessary step in Arsenal’s evolution was anything resembling their loss, it was most definitely Fulham’s gain. Leno was probably not even the best keeper on show at Selhurst Park but he earned his third clean sheet of the season to match Ederson’s tally at the top of that particular list. The German has made the most saves of any keeper (169) since he joined Fulham last summer, funnily enough holding off the challenge of David Raya (158) in second. Arsenal, that.
Emi Martinez Boubacar Kamara, Douglas Luiz and Ezri Konsa were all excellent against Chelsea but that was pure, uncut Martinez: four great one-on-one saves underpinned by bravery, confidence and wonderful reading of the game; getting Nicolas Jackson booked for stopping a quick free-kick after booting the ball at him when his back was turned; then picking up his own yellow for time-wasting in the third minute of stoppage time.
Jordan Ayew No player has been fouled more often in Europe’s top five leagues so far this season. And they worried about replacing Wilfried Zaha.
Brentford When Ashley Young was booked after 38 seconds for fouling Keane Lewis-Potter to thwart a threatening overlap down the Everton right, it felt like a difficult start to the longest of afternoons for a 38-year-old full-back against a 22-year-old winger. It was dripping in Match of the Day highlight foreshadowing, something the travelling supporters must have dreaded as a harbinger of things to come.
Yet it was Everton who scored five minutes later. Young strolled through the rest of the match, ending with exactly twice as many touches as his adversary. Lewis-Potter was taken off towards the end of a game he had no further input in.
That was precisely the sort of target on a team’s back that Brentford would typically pride themselves on honing in on, a potential weakness for the Bees to exploit. But something is not quite clicking; as Thomas Frank said after the game, it “was very unlike us”.
The sheer volume of set-piece goals they concede also remains baffling in light of the amount they score.
Rico Henry might be one key absence too many. It was possible to absorb the loss of Ivan Toney, at least for a time, but a relatively slender squad was not supplemented with many more options across a difficult summer and it is beginning to show in the most unflattering of ways.
Chelsea The fewest wins, joint-fewest points (having played two games more than Everton) and joint-fewest goals of any ever-present Premier League side in 2023; Leicester and Leeds have still scored more times than them this year. And now the only player old enough to vote should probably be dropped too. It’s going well.
Mikel Arteta Why reward Reiss Nelson with a new contract before saying he “knows how important he is to our squad with the quality he has,” if he is only worth a 15-minute runout even after the only two players ahead of him in the position he is most likely to cover are injured?
Why keep Emile Smith Rowe if he can only be trusted for a few minutes of stoppage time in similar circumstances?
“You see all the rumours and players who are not happy in every country because it’s one game per week for a month and everybody has a new season with huge aspirations, there are not minutes for everybody,” Arteta said three weeks ago. “September will be very different,” he added, yet thus far his squad management remains frustratingly undermined by tunnel vision. October it is.
Luton Only once did the 2007/08 Derby County vintage have more shots in a Premier League game than Luton managed against Wolves on Saturday. And that was in the match which confirmed a long inevitable relegation for the Rams, when Fulham weathered a 21-shot storm to hold on for a point at fortress Pride Park in March.
The vaguely unfair but necessary comparisons will continue. Luton’s quest to exceed that record low points tally should have been jolted into life at Kenilworth Road. They would have had a home game against Gary O’Neil’s Wolves circled as one of their more likely victories even before Jean-Ricner Bellegarde’s first-half red card, but that degree of profligacy will rarely suffice for a Premier League win.
The shame is that Luton showed they can compete at this level, while also providing the evidence to suggest it won’t be for longer than a season on this occasion.
Rodri Forgive the crude deconstruction of Rodri’s game, but when evading cards and generally going unnoticed is a very specific part of your thing, putting your hands around someone’s neck because they *checks notes* tackled you fairly and then gave you a little shove in a harmless position near the corner flag, is a bit pathetic.
Nottingham Forest In 272 Premier League matches under Pep Guardiola, Manchester City have been outshot 12 times. Congratulations to Nottingham Forest for joining Bournemouth (July 2020), Manchester United (April 2019) and Liverpool (January 2018) in achieving the even rarer feat of doing so in defeat.
Gary O’Neil The only manager to lose to Lampard’s Chelsea 2.0. The first manager to drop Premier League points to Luton before displaying nuclear levels of cheek by ending the game with no striker and only one actual forward on the pitch, then claiming that his side “deserved to win the game” despite having three shots to 20, including no efforts whatsoever in the entirety of the first half.
Also the only manager to take calls from panicking chairmen exclusively in August, which is definitely the sole thing that will prevent him from replacing the only coach currently beating him in the sack race. O’Neil did excel after inheriting the Bournemouth dumpster fire after a record defeat last season but it is difficult to envisage him engendering any sort of improvement in Wolves, never mind a battered and broken Sheffield United.
David Moyes Seventy-two visits to Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United as a Premier League manager without winning. This season alone, Steve Cooper, Unai Emery and Roberto De Zerbi have all managed to win at one of those stadiums; De Zerbi (twice), Thomas Frank, Emery, Ruben Selles, Jesse Marsch and Graham Potter did it last campaign. At this point it’s genuinely impressive.
Bournemouth Down the table they slowly slide but once more with feeling: their record from the corresponding fixtures last season was P6 W0 D0 L6 F3 A22. They are three points up on that and haven’t even lost 9-0 yet, which is a real positive.
Honestly, that start has been absolutely horrible and it makes far more sense to judge Andoni Iraola’s work based on performances – which have undoubtedly improved – rather than results. And at least things will get easier soon.
Arsenal next, is it? Lovely.
, at his age. He must be fuming, watching Sam Johnstone be mint.
The promoted clubs P16 W0 D3 L13 F12 A41. Forget Luton trying to beat Derby, how about Luton, Burnley and Sheffield United attempting to avoid the 1997/98 ignominy of Barnsley, Bolton and Crystal Palace in coming up and going straight back down together?