1. City are worthy record-breakers
For weeks, many statistics about Manchester City have had to be phrased carefully. The record for consecutive Premier League wins in one campaign was 13. The overall record, spread over two seasons, was 14. Not any more. Now both belong to City who, since Everton drew at the Etihad Stadium in August, have reeled off 15 consecutive triumphs. That is September, October, November and the first half of December negotiated without dropping a point. It is also the best start to a season by any English club in top-flight history, beating Tottenham’s Double winners of 1960-61.
AS IT HAPPENED: Swansea v Manchester City
If beating the bottom club, Swansea, seemed an undemanding way of making history, City did so in style, prevailing 4-0. They deserve to be out on their own. They have displayed an ability to win tight games, in a run of four straight 2-1 wins, and to hammer opponents, in the run of three victories where the aggregate score was 17-0. They have showed the character to get late winners and the class to out-pass everyone. They have beaten their major rivals: Liverpool, then Chelsea, then Arsenal, then Manchester United. They have succeeded however and wherever required.
2. Arsenal’s away form threatens to cost them a Champions League place.
In itself, there is nothing embarrassing about drawing 0-0 with a West Ham side who have acquired purpose and a work ethic under David Moyes, especially when a visiting side has 21 shots, just as a 1-1 draw against Southampton on Sunday was hardly disgraceful. Collectively, however, it means Arsenal have dropped 18 points away from home. To put it another way, they have only taken nine. They have only scored nine goals on their travels, as few as a dismal Stoke side and barely half as many as Watford and Leicester have managed. Take away the five they scored at Everton and it is four in the remaining eight matches.
AS IT HAPPENED: West Ham v Arsenal
Arsenal’s away record is much the worst of the top seven and, in what threatens to be a close contest for the final top-four spots, it could be crucial. There is a temptation to regard Arsenal as a soft touch on the road, and they have lost 11 of their last 21 away league games. Yet last December, they won 5-1 at the London Stadium in a run of six away league games that produced 16 points and included two 4-1 triumphs. They have had difficult away games this season – Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea among them – but now look in need of a similar run to book a top-four spot and silence their critics alike.
3. Puel has a return to Southampton to savour.
Perhaps it is not in Claude Puel’s style to boast. Or perhaps it is, but because of his drab delivery and habit of whispering, no one has noticed. Either way, the Frenchman is entitled to blow his own trumpet after he marked his return to Southampton with a 4-1 win. It took Puel’s record as Leicester manager to five wins in eight games, with a solitary defeat. His side have scored seven in the last two; not bad for a manager whose football was deemed as dull as his persona.
AS IT HAPPENED: Southampton v Leicester
READ MORE: Puel serves up Saints revenge
All of which is likely to bring suggestions that Southampton were wrong to sack him after he took them to eighth place and a Cup final. The alternative perspective is that they secured 17 fewer points than under Ronald Koeman the previous year, scoring 22 fewer goals and averaging under one a game at home. He was unpopular with fans and, it is thought, players. But whether or not he was harshly treated, he is illustrating his abilities for his new employers. Leicester look more likely than Southampton to come eighth this season.
4. Chelsea can be better with a front three.
Chelsea have made a habit of bouncing back from setbacks this season and Huddersfield have the lowest wage bill and, arguably, the least talent in the division. If there was no surprise that the champions won at the John Smith’s Stadium, the way they did was instructive. In the absence of the injured Alvaro Morata, they used Eden Hazard as a false nine. More significantly, however, Antonio Conte revived his tactics of last season and played 3-4-3, flanking the Belgian with Pedro and Willian. The Brazilian scored the second goal, the Spaniard third, while both Hazard and Willian were involved in the opener.
AS IT HAPPENED: Huddersfield v Chelsea
Of late, Chelsea have been playing 3-5-2, a formation seemingly designed with Europe in mind to give them the solidity of a third central midfielder. It places a huge emphasis on Hazard and has worked when, as has often been the case, the Belgian has been brilliant. It did not succeed at West Ham. Three days later, Hazard seemed to appreciate having more company in the forward line as Chelsea excelled. Even if Conte has reservations about going into games against top teams with only two central midfielders, he ought to be able to play 3-4-3 against many a Premier League side.
5. It was great to see Burnley in the top four.
It was only for 24 hours, but the sight of Burnley in the top four for the first time in 42 years should appeal both to the nostalgic and to those who believe football should not be determined by money alone. Their late winner against Stoke came from Ashley Barnes, a £450,000 buy from Brighton. On Saturday, Scott Arfield, who came on a free transfer from Huddersfield, earned them three points against Stoke. Both teams included Nick Pope and Johann Berg Gudmundsson, 19 months after they were relegated to League One with Charlton. Kevin Long also played, a man with 27 league appearances in eight years since joining for around £100,000 from Cork City, and helped Burnley keep back-to-back clean sheets.
AS IT HAPPENED: Burnley v Stoke City
And while others were costlier, it is still a triumph against the odds for Burnley, who probably have one of the three lowest wage bills in the division and who sign players their peers probably ignore, to be in the Champions League positions, however briefly.