Arsenal are Premier League winners again but Potter and Moyes are edging closer to the sack
Arsenal made the midweek talk look silly, with a helping foot from Erling Haaland. Steve Cooper is repaying the sort of faith Potter and Moyes are testing.
‘Our ambition this season was to win the Premier League and we’re so disappointed that we came short with that aim, because it’s not good enough for this club,’ Mikel Arteta wrote in his final programme notes as Arsenal captain. ‘Hopefully the new generation will be better than us and will become fantastic leaders and heroes here.’
Reading those words almost seven years later, it’s clear that Arteta always quietly dreamed of playing a part in the development of that “new generation” at Arsenal as he embraced retirement and transitioned into coaching. The Spaniard’s 17-year career was wrapped up in May 2016, when Arsenal scored four goals against Aston Villa and one involved a holding midfielder’s shot rebounding off the crossbar and in off the keeper in second-half stoppage-time.
For Arteta and Mark Bunn, read Jorginho and Emiliano Martinez. That 4-0 victory against Villa in 2016 helped Arsenal finish second; a 4-2 win over the same opponent in 2023 lifted them back into first place and instantly reinvigorated hopes which seemed dashed in midweek.
Arsenal came from behind twice, trailed for 41 minutes, led for about five and won when the consequences of not doing so would have been deemed terminal to their title prospects. The expectation was that they would crumble after three games without victory culminated in defeat at home to their main challengers, but the reality was that the experience and the occasion fortified this brilliant group and prodigious manager.
It should not be possible for a team to have simultaneously fallen behind in the fewest games (seven, equal with Manchester City) while winning the most matches from losing positions (four, equal with Tottenham and Crystal Palace). But Arsenal have an ambition, a manager with an unwavering sense of this club’s minimum requirements and a squad comprised of what their fans would certainly describe as “fantastic leaders and heroes”. The momentum belongs to Arsenal once more.
‘It is now important that our focus is solely on football,’ read the final line to the story confirming Steve Cooper’s contract extension on Nottingham Forest’s official website. ‘As a group we are all concentrated and will do everything we can to help the team move up the league table and once again demonstrate our qualities that led us to the Premier League.’
The decision to not only keep Cooper but add another two years to his deal in October came as a shock. Forest had lost five consecutive Premier League games, the last of which also represented Leicester’s first win of the season as the Foxes beat their close rivals 4-0 at the King Power. The #dreaded vote of confidence followed but it was assumed by many that Cooper would be removed from an increasingly confused City Ground equation soon enough.
Since underlining their faith in Cooper by giving him a new contract, Forest have picked up as many Premier League points as Brighton (21), more than both Leicester (20) and Chelsea (18), and have not been beaten at home despite hosting Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City.
The players love him, the fans worship him and the city adores him. Forest stuck when most people – and the accepted wisdom of Premier League survival – told them to twist. They have a stronger hand than most around them now.
Four different managers have taken charge of the two games between Chelsea and Southampton this season, but with one same result. Thomas Tuchel was sacked eight days after being vanquished by Ralph Hasenhuttl in August; Ruben Selles has nudged Graham Potter ever closer to the brink in February.
The Spaniard has been open and frank about his ambition to replace Nathan Jones permanently at St Mary’s; in terms of caretakers he is Andy Bernard, sweeping the office floor while waiting for the opportunity to reveal the suit, turtleneck jumper and trainers underneath his overalls.
Selles has been a popular figure with the Southampton squad since his appointment to an overhauled coaching staff in June. “He’s really good,” Kyle Walker-Peters said in September. “He’s really vocal, gives a lot of encouragement and is talking 24/7 – which is what I like.” But the prescience of one quote stands out: “From day one, he had me doing goalline clearances.”
Walker-Peters was unavailable for the Chelsea onslaught due to injury, but the benefit of those training drills was clear to see in the last-gasp interventions of Romain Perraud, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Armel Bella-Kotchap. Southampton made the third-most tackles of any team in the Premier League this season (32), every starting outfielder committed at least one foul and the five substitutes made four interceptions and six clearances between them.
Saints, fittingly enough after the failed reign of Jones, did not compromise. There can’t have been many better than them around Europe in terms of aggression, clean sheets and defending your box at the weekend. James Ward-Prowse territory needs a new mayor and Selles certainly looks the part.
Bournemouth with Neto
Bournemouth’s Premier League record this season when Neto has started: P13 W3 D6 L4 F11 A14 Pts15
Bournemouth’s Premier League record this season when Mark Travers has started: P10 W2 D0 L8 F7 A32 Pts6
One of those goalkeepers has the highest save percentage of any Premier League goalkeeper this season; the other has the worst. Just try and guess which is which.
The Champions League rescue act of 2020/21 was more obviously influential but the brilliance of Alisson is no less important to Liverpool in 2022/23. While the Brazilian is not scoring 95th-minute winners, he is providing a stable platform for his previously shaken team.
Those saves from Miguel Almiron, Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson throughout the game were excellent and the long pass to Mo Salah which led to Nick Pope’s red card was characteristically glorious. The Egyptian’s immediate thumbs-up and a post-match Jurgen Klopp embrace underlined the justified gratitude of Alisson’s teammates and manager.
Make that 29 of 74 Premier League wins as a manager by a goal to nil. At 39.2%, only Tony Pulis (41.8%) has a higher proportion of overall top-flight victories by the same scoreline.
The Sean Dyche diet might not be pretty but the results are damn effective and everything is made more palatable when Seamus Coleman produces finishes of that calibre. It really was the perfect appointment, at least in the short term.
Any Premier League Manager of the Year chat needs to start and perhaps end with Marco Silva, who has taken a promoted club to sixth place and the FA Cup fifth round on a budget of less than £70m.
This has been a stunning season built on the same wonderfully dogged foundations that Roy Hodgson found so fertile in 2010. Fulham were Europa League runners-up that year and supporters would not have expected to be checking their passport expiry again in their lifetime, but Silva has the Cottagers within four points of Champions League qualification.
It is the consummate team effort: only four clubs have used more players and no side has had more different goalscorers. Fulham are top of a Premier League table without the Big Six and the only threat to them not changing managers in a Premier League season for the first time since 2013 is Silva being rightfully plucked by another team. The way the Cottagers are going, the field of those he might be tempted to jump for is ever diminishing.
It took £25.8m to sign him from Barcelona, £800,000 to afford a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, personal scouting reports on Achraf Hakimi and neuroscientists and £39m to make Pedro Porro’s loan permanent but Emerson Royal has finally become the wing-back Antonio Conte craved, just as the Italian stopped being able to actually attend Tottenham matches.
Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka
Maybe more players should try missing penalties in major international tournament finals because two of those have been sensational and the other – having been managed impeccably by Erik ten Hag – is finding his feet and form again, and it really is lovely to see.
As written elsewhere on these hallowed pages: ‘Chelsea can’t go on like this. There may be a sense that this season is being written off as nothing more than a bedding in period for new players, but at some point the situation becomes untenable.’
Todd Boehly might want to close his eyes, stick his fingers in his ears and try shouting to drown out the external noise, but there will come a time when he must watch and listen to the dull mess he presides over. While the Chelsea owner’s outlook on managerial safety is refreshing – with apologies to Thomas Tuchel – it is also becoming increasingly damaging.
Many of the supporters have turned and some of the numerous hundred players in that squad might not be far behind. Chelsea have scored from one of their last 79 shots. Manchester City have won more of Chelsea’s last 15 games than Chelsea. Chelsea are the first team Southampton have done the league double over since 17th-placed Burnley and relegated Sheffield United in 2020/21.
“Some people will think I’m the problem. I don’t think they’re right but that doesn’t mean they can’t articulate their views,” said Potter after his latest setback. But as ever when that line of argument comes up, the question as to whether he is the solution must be asked. Boehly might have to start considering the prospect of there being more than one answer.
“That’s one thing with our gaffer, literally, he loses his mind. When we concede one he’s like ‘you do not concede two within ten minutes’. You’ve got to make sure you work from your shape and then you go for it. The only time you can actually really go for it? Last ten of a match you can probably go for it and try and get something if it’s 1-0. But before that, if it’s one goal, you can get that one goal from anything, it could be like a corner, a throw-in, they could score an own goal, anything can happen when it’s 1-0. Just try not to concede two. Concede two, do not make it three… just try and shut up shop so the game doesn’t run away.”
Speaking earlier this season, Michail Antonio summed up the managerial ethos of David Moyes with ruthless efficiency. And it all stands true. Look up West Ham’s current season on Wikipedia, glance down their season summary and come to a subheadline of ‘Biggest defeat’, and you will see this stunning list of results: 0-2 v Manchester City; 0-2 v Brighton; 0-2 v Leicester; 1-3 v Arsenal; 0-2 v Brentford; 0-2 v Tottenham.
West Ham will not be thrashed. They have lost as many Premier League games by three goals or more as Manchester City since the start of the 2020/21 season. But that really is not good enough under a manager who is bereft of ideas.
Genuinely not sure you *do* have to feel for him. It was quite a silly thing to do, funny as instantly cleaning out Kieran Trippier afterwards.
Eddie Howe obviously did the weird manager thing of pretending it shouldn’t have been a red card because it happened to his team, but Newcastle’s form should be of far greater concern. Three goals in seven games have cost an increasingly stretched squad its Champions League place and the Magpies are yet to win in six Premier League matches without Bruno Guimaraes this season. A solid performance means little after defeat to such a bitter rival.
Since playing an integral role in Argentina winning the World Cup, Emiliano Martinez has conceded 13 goals in six Premier League games and collected more bookings for time-wasting (two) than clean sheets (one).
Karma had a field day with the keeper, whose diligent running down of the clock at Villa Park ensured there was enough stoppage-time for Arsenal to take the lead with a shot that bounced into the net off the back of his head, before confirming victory by scoring when Martinez infuriated his manager by going up for a corner in search of an equaliser which would have taken the hosts from 11th to 11th.
That is what you get for doing hilariously peculiar things with the Golden Glove trophy. Aston Villa are suddenly on a three-game losing streak and their goalkeeper’s erraticism and unreliability is not helping.
“I don’t have any doubt that we’ll avoid a situation similar to last season. It’s impossible,” said Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani last summer, having finished 17th, three points above the relegation zone, with a manager sacked in February.
Yet there Leeds are: 19th, two points from safety and managerless in February. It is a dereliction of boardroom duty to go to the home of a relegation rival with an U-21 coach in charge, almost a fortnight on from parting with the previous incumbent.
Leeds might hope that Michael Skubala can drag them through to the end of the season but that looks like a progressively fanciful plan with each game. They are falling without a trace of competence.
Are Manchester City better without Erling Haaland missing two chances in quick succession from a cumulative 12 yards, having weirdly tried to win a penalty from minimal contact when he could have just continued running and been through on goal? It’s a difficult conversation but one probably worth having.
“Now we have to start going on a run because that is what Manchester City should do,” said a gleeful Haaland after a victory over Arsenal which was prematurely praised by many as What Champions Do. But Pep Guardiola’s side no longer seem to possess that same ability to string a ludicrous sequence of victories together. Their longest winning run in this Premier League season is three games, beaten by Newcastle, Arsenal, Man Utd, Fulham, Liverpool and Chelsea, while being matched by Brentford. In their four title-winning campaigns under the Spaniard, Man City have been on victory streaks of at least 12 games at some point but this team lacks that unerring consistency.
That can never be said of Haaland with a straight face but it is true that he has failed to score a single goal against the two sides he has faced since netting hat-tricks against them earlier in the season. Man Utd and Nottingham Forest have both exacted a measure of revenge on the Norwegian and Crystal Palace will hope to keep the theme going next month. Mind you…
One win in 10 games. The dross below should provide enough of a cushion but also the gap to 18th is just six points.
Hello xG darkness, my old friend.
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