Quick! Sound the entertaining top four clash klaxon! What a game Arsenal and Manchester United served up on Saturday evening, and you cannot think for one minute that Jose intended the game to play out like that.
Arsenal had kept numerous clean sheets leading up to this match and they could be instantly forgotten as the Gunners’ back four turned in the kind of performance suggesting they’d had their Christmas party that lunchtime. United were clinical and raced into the kind of 2-0 lead that normally meant the rest of the game would be played out on page one of Jose’s “how to defend an early lead” manual. Incredibly, Arsenal had other ideas and forced David De Gea into making a Premier League record 29 saves in the match. Even Ozil got involved in a bit of tracking back and tackling. It was one of the best Arsenal performances in years and guess what? They lost. Paul Pogba picked up a red card for United the day after he openly (and honestly) admitted he hoped a couple of City players might be injured for next week’s derby. Pogba now misses the Manchester Derby himself as karma put it’s hand-up and reminded everyone in football that it can still play a part. I am not disputing the red card for a second, but what on earth was Hector Bellerin up to? The right-back is the epitome of all that is wrong at Arsenal in this era and the “tackle” he put in on Pogba was tantamount to the 52-year-old playing Sunday League when he knew he was about to get burned again by a teenager.
I am sure it is only a coincidence, but West Ham United looked quite decent in the game Joe Hart was forced to miss as it was against Manchester City, his parent club. The Hammers even led at half-time before the inevitable happened – the inevitable being City turning some of that 75% share of the ball into actual goals. David Silva netted the late winner that keeps them well clear at the top.
People say Jurgen Klopp has no plan B to sort out the Liverpool backline but he proved them all wrong in Liverpool’s trip to Brighton. King Kloppo decided that if the Liverpool defenders were not good enough to defend then he wouldn’t bother picking them, instead opting for a back three of Emre Can (midfielder), Gini Wijnaldum (definitely a midfielder) and Dejan Lovren (his profile says defender but we are still to be convinced). And, bizarrely, it worked with Can scoring Liverpool’s opener and that attacking line wreaking havoc in the Brighton half. The final score was 5-1 to the Reds who are back in the top four as a result.
I wonder if any fans of the “Greatest Team in the World” are wishing they hadn’t bothered beating Real Madrid? Since then Spurs have been very, very average and they dropped more points against Watford. Granted, they stopped the rot of losing the last few away games on the bounce but they need to do better than 1-1 draws at Vicarage Road (as well as 1-1 draws with WBA at Wembley, to be honest) if they are going to finish in the Champions League places. Davinson Sanchez did manage to find a way to slow down Watford’s Brazilian speedster – a forearm smash into the throat which led to a red card for the Spurs defender. The best reason I’ve heard for the decline of Tottenham Hotspur? Everyone is distracted by Pochettino’s book. Really?
Sam Allardyce, record breaker! Big Sam became the first man to manage seven different Premier League clubs. Hang on, we are celebrating this why exactly? If I got sacked five times from the same type of job I’d be doing very well to get job number six or seven. Paul Merson et al bleat on about “them foreign managers” taking all the jobs but surely the likes of Allardyce, Pardew and Hodgson are equally guilty of blocking the path for younger and dare I say it maybe even more talented, coaches coming through. Anyway, that crisis club Everton are up to 10th now following two wins in a row. Allardyce saw his new charges ease past Huddersfield Town who are a club very much in a downward spiral.
Once again Rafa Benitez saw his team take a 1-0 lead in a game they were expected to lose and once again Rafa Benitez saw his team go on and lose. Eden Hazard was superb as Chelsea turned the game around and kept up their chase in the Premier League race.
Burnley were brought crashing back down to earth with the same thud as Demarai Gray made when he connected with the woodwork following his winning goal. Leicester City are on a little bit of a roll under Claude Puel and had to be at their best to see off Sean Dyche’s men. If Gray keeps up this kind of form under his new manager, how long before Gareth Southgate ruins it by calling him up for England?
Alan Pardew talked of letting West Bromwich Albion off the leash when taking over from caretaker Gary Megson during the week. However, it looked like the leash might be surgically attached to the WBA players as they lumbered their way through a third draw in a row. Crystal Palace are off the bottom of the table as a result which is, frankly, a damning indictment of many of the other teams in the Premier League rather than cracking work done by Roy Hodgson.
Southampton and Bournemouth got it on in some kind of South Coast derby on Sunday, though realistically there won’t be a proper South Coast derby until Southampton and Portsmouth find themselves in the same League once again. Bournemouth, as delightfully inconsistent as ever, led 1-0 through a Ryan Fraser goal before Pep Guardiola’s player of the week Nathan Redmond came off the bench to create Charlie Austin’s equaliser.
Paul Clement did get one thing right this weekend. He said after Swansea’s 2-1 loss to Stoke City that Swansea “deserved to be bottom of the league”. Correct Paul, correct. Sadly, an outbreak of stating the obvious probably won’t be enough to save your job.