Premier League Digest: Lukaku on the up but Aguero and Wenger continue to slide

Dan Zeqiri

Whose stock is rising? 

Romelu Lukaku 

The Belgian striker is neither the first nor last talented player to turn down a contract offer, but not many score twice and are rapturously cheered by their own fans just days later.

Lukaku's late brace against Hull took his league tally to 21 this season, making him the first Everton player to cross the 20-goal threshold in the Premier League era.

The more skeptical sections of social media will point out that they were the final two goals in a 4-0 win, at home against a team with 10 men: an exercise in 'stat-padding'. 

Skepticism is an attitude that has followed Lukaku throughout his career, despite the fact only Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Wayne Rooney scored more Premier League goals by the age of 24. 

Much of this can be attributed to the fact he left a big club (Chelsea) with the blessing of an even bigger manager (Jose Mourinho), prompting a 'there must be something wrong with him' take from fans. 

READ MORE: Secrecy over contract will do little to silence Wenger’s detractors

Romelu Lukaku hands his shirt to a fanCredit: PA

Lukaku is also a forward who is at his best when there is space to gallop into on the counter-attack, a luxury rarely afforded to strikers at top-six teams who face packed, deep-lying defences most weeks. 

Lukaku is showing more layers to his game as the weeks go by, however. He might not be the next Didier Drogba or Thierry Henry, but he is the match of anyone on the market at the moment. 

Dan Zeqiri

Bournemouth

A couple of weeks ago, Eddie Howe's side were being tipped by many for relegation, but after seven points from three games they are now comfortably nestled in mid-table. 

A convincing 2-0 win against Swansea on Saturday moved Bournemouth from 14th to 11th, and suddenly it is a top-half finish that looks more likely than a battle to avoid the drop. 

READ MORE: Arsenal deny approach for Dortmund manager Tuchel

Benik Afobe scores for Bournemouth against Swansea on Saturday

Benik Afobe was arguably the Cherries' stand-out performer on the weekend, but Ryan Fraser also looked lively and throughout the team the confidence seems to have returned after a dreadful start to 2017. 

As Howe said after beating Swansea: “We were going through a spell where everything that could go wrong was going wrong. But the players had not changed and the mentality of the group had not changed, which is the most important thing. I did feel that if we kept doing the right things then the results would turn.”

Next up for Bournemouth is the south coast derby against Southampton, and on current form they'll fancy their chances. 

Charlie Eccleshare

Kasper Schmeichel

During the ugly fall-out from Claudio Ranieri's sacking, Schmeichel was seen as one of the ring-leaders who got the Italian axed. People were starting to ask whether he was a trouble-maker. A month later and nobody is questioning the Dane's commitment any more.

Schmeichel has been outstanding since Ranieri's departure and the interim appointment of Craig Shakespeare. His penalty heroics helped Leicester secure their place in the Champions League quarter-finals and he was at it again against West Ham on Saturday, throwing himself around like a cat.

The Hammers fought back from 3-1 down to 3-2 and only the inspired Schmeichel denied them a point, making two tremendous saves to deny Andy Carroll.

Kasper Schmeichel denies West Ham from close rangeCredit: GETTY IMAGES

First, he clawed out Carroll's header on 77 minutes while falling behind the line. Then the Denmark international came to the rescue in added time as substitute Robert Snodgrass's free-kick was deflected into the path of Carroll six yards out, only for his thumping volley to be kept out by Schmeichel's out-stretched right arm.

In terms of difficulty, it was harder than either of his penalty saves against Sevilla and a reminder that the Leicester keeper deserves to be included in any debate over the best in the Premier League.

Shakespeare's men moved six points clear of the relegation zone thanks to Saturday's win as the Foxes held on to claim their first Premier League away win of the season.

Giles Mole

Marouane Fellaini

The big man has become a figure of fun for those who don't support Manchester United and a scapegoat for those who do.

But he showed against Middlesbrough that he still has value to the cause, giving the Boro defense headaches all afternoon (not a reference to his tendency to smash people in the face) and scoring the goal that putted the visitors ahead.

The Beautiful Game: Fellaini giving it the full gunCredit: Getty

Not even Marouane's mum would claim that the Moroccan is on the same level as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but he provided a physical presence and aerial power which allowed United's more cultured players to operate up front. For their many qualities, you cannot expect to compete against the less cultured sides in the Premier League with just Matas, Rashfords, or Lingards.

The big former Everton man fought his corner in the midfield battle and offered United something up front that they need. A decent all-round performance that did his chances of staying at the club no harm. Surely a club with United's deep pockets can find a home for a player as versatile and unique as this?

Alan Tyers

Dele Alli

With Gareth Southgate last week dealing Wayne Rooney's England career prospects a serious, if not necessarily fatal, blow, there was no better time for Delle to score and remind the England gaffer that it is he who is the future of English attacking football.

England's main man? Is Dele Alli the man to retire Wayne RooneyCredit: Rex

These look like promising times for English attacking talent (at least until they go to a tournament, freeze, and crash out against Portugal or somesuch in the first knockout phase and everyone turns on them). Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Marcus Rashford look as good a crop as the Three Lions have had for a while, but Ali might just be the jewel in the crown.

On the scoresheet on Sunday, for the third time in three games, and looking like he could be England's number ten for ten years. So long Wayne, and thanks for all the fish.

Alan Tyers

Whose stock is falling?

Arsene Wenger

It would be nice to swim against the tide and not focus on the embattled Arsenal manager, but when fans are flying competing planes over a stadium it makes the situation impossible to ignore. 

Losing away to a Tony Pulis team and conceding two goals from corners is a debacle many will file under 'Arsenal Groundhog Day', but actually this loss was unexpected. 

It was unexpected because, according to the script Arsenal's seasons supposedly follow, this is exactly the time of year when they steady themselves and put together a sequence of wins to secure Champions League football. 

Wenger has been a master of steering the ship to safety just as it looked set to run aground, of limiting the potentially tremulous effects of big defeats to nothing more than a ripple. 

Wenger is in the middle of his worst run as Arsenal managerCredit: EPA

That makes the current malaise a new situation. For all their imperfections, Arsenal's players have never been accused of losing faith in their manager, let alone 'downing tools'. Until now. 

Arsenal have metamorphosed from a team that did everything right bar a few fatal flaws, to team that is painfully average in every facet of the game with a few individuals who sometimes bail them out. 

The most damning evidence against Wenger is that, on paper, this is Arsenal's strongest squad for a decade. Yet Arsenal's glass-ceiling has remained impenetrable, and there is no reason to believe Wenger can smash through it. 

The fans have accepted that. The players, like the bleary-eyed folk emerging from Plato's Cave, have realised it. 

Dan Zeqiri

Slaven Bilic

What on earth has happened at West Ham this season? The troubles the club have faced moving from Upton Park to the London Stadium have been well documented, but the switch cannot fully explain how abject they have been for much of the campaign. 

Defensively, they are a shambles, and at their current rate are on course to concede more goals than Roberto Martinez's Everton did last season.

In total West Ham have shipped 52 goals in 29 Premier League matches, including three more on Saturday against Leicester in a 3-2 defeat

Things are not going well for Slaven Bilic

Bilic's side did at least show some spirit in the second half, but the team are lurching towards a nothing end to the season and without Dimitri Payet are lacking the stardust that made them such an exciting proposition last year. 

The way things are going, it's hard to see Bilic still at West Ham come August. 

Charlie Eccleshare

Arsenal's defence

The Gunners were once famed for their fortitude in defence. A chant of "1-0 to the Arse-en-al" was coined off the back of the fact they rarely conceded.

The likes of Adam, Keown, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould and Campbell repelled all before them. How Arsene Wenger would love some of that in his back line today. Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny and Monreal look powder-puff by comparison.

The Gunners are currently outside the Champions League places and their vulnerability at the back is alarming. They knew all about West Brom's threat from corners leading into Saturday's match and should have been drilled in training about how to cope with this aerial bombardment, yet twice they were unable to prevent Craig Dawson getting his head to the ball first to score.

Giles Mole

Sergio Aguero

Sure, he scored with a nice crisp finish but the great man was wasteful by his own standards against Liverpool. Missed the target with three shots, notably volleying over from ten yards when he surely should have scored.

Pep Guardiola sank to his knees after that, and this performance will have done little to change his mind about Aguero.

Credit: afp

Seems incredible that one of the best-ever Premier League strikers might be on the outs at the age of just 28 but he has never looked like a Pep player. He does not fit into the ethos or the system and, against Liverpool, he was quiet for long periods.

That was fine when he was dead-eyed, but all things considered, this is looking increasingly like his last season in the Premier League.

He slumped to the floor at the end of the match.

Alan Tyers

Víctor Valdés

The jokes were all too obvious: first time he's been a hero for Man United, has he been taking lessons from Stevie G, "once a Red, always a Red".... There is never a good time for a keeper to slip up in the penalty area and gift a goal, but to do it against your former club is a real stinger.

Vic cross: Valdes slips for a howlerCredit: BT Sport

It was particularly upsetting for VV because Boro were enjoying a really good spell then. At 2-0 down they should have been dead and buried but caretaker boss Steve Agnew decided that they might as well not die wondering. Gestede made a difference and, having previously sat back cowering, Boro were now right at United and loading their box with central attackers. At once point, United looked terrified and were playing with a back six. But one howler ended that. And Boro's chances of staying up, maybe?

387 League appearances for Barcelona, to this? If he stays at Boro, Valdes will be playing second-tier football just three years after playing for Barca. He cannot have seen this coming...

Alan Tyers

Five mind-boggling stats

47

James Milner now holds the record for most Premier League games scored in without losing (W37, D10).

13 

Christian Eriksen has scored more Premier League goals from outside the box than any other player since he made his debut. 

39

Percentage of Marouane Fellaini's Premier League goals that have been headed (13 of 33).

4

Romelu Lukaku is the fourth player to score more than 80 goals in the Premier League before turning 24 (after Owen, Fowler and Rooney).

48

Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made more passes than any other Sunderland player this weekend.

Goal of the weekend

Middlesbrough 0 - 2 Man Utd (Jesse Lingard, 62 min)

Jason Burt's team of the weekend

Team of the week (March 18,19)

Tactics corner

Arsene Wenger gets a hell of a lot of grief but the feeling of deja vu surrounding this weekend's defeat to West Brom will have angered Arsenal fans further, and understandably so. Primarily because it was so predictable.

We might normally reserve this space for discussion of the intricacies of the gegenpress or how to get the best of Juan Mata, but this week, it's taking a different slant...

Tony Pulis might not be famed for being a master tactician, mainly due to the fact that he has never taking a team to a points total above 47, and his style of football hardly sets the world alight.

But it is nonetheless remarkable how he continues to make such good use of set pieces - and how Wenger keeps on falling for it. 

West Brom have scored more goals from dead balls than any other team this season, and Pulis is on course for his highest ever Premier League finish and points total.

They might not be fashionable but they can be so effective, and using corners and free-kicks as opportunities to be both innovative and creative clearly has its benefits. Bravo, Tony.

Ali Tweedale

Refwatch 

According to Telegraph columnist Keith Hackett, Michael Oliver's was a calamitous, mistaken-ridden performance at the Etihad Stadium, in keeping with a troubled week for the official, that underlined why he is not on the Uefa elite panel of referees.

Milner took Sterling out with the goal gapingCredit: rex features

That seems a tad harsh, but Mr Hackett is right in some regards: how on earth James Milner got away with taking out Raheem Sterling two yards from goal by taking him out and getting none of the ball, I'll never know.

Sterling might have done more to get to the ball, and he might even have made more of it. No - I don't mean by throwing himself to the ground, but the fact he didn't really appeal will have put Oliver off giving a penalty, perhaps also because he would then have had to send Milner off. Regardless, he got that one wrong.

Ali Tweedale

How is the table looking?

Off the Ball

Picture of the weekend

Made-up stat of the weekend

98 - players who Jose Mourinho claimed were suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome after having to play football a bit more than usual.

Currency of the weekend

Chapeau to the eagle-eyed spotters on Match of the Day who noticed that referees were using the new 12-sided pound coin for the coin toss. New coin, same old… well, you get the idea.

Excellent stat of the weekend

"Six of the seven goals Liverpool have conceded away to top six teams have come in final 30mins. Did suffer a late drop in intensity today,” pointed out journalist Thore Haugstad.

Tweet of the weekend

Stats 

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes