Premier League good weekend, bad weekend

Seb Stafford-Bloor

Good Weekend...

Manchester City & Liverpool

Or, really, anyone who watched Manchester City against Liverpool. Recently, English football has started to attract some rather pompous sneers, and the derision of those seemingly incapable of celebrating any performance which doesn't amount to clinical, perfect domination.

But this? Come on. A point may be of no real use to either team, but what a spectacle they produced. It was a game riddled with imperfections, but one which was breathlessly entertaining from first minute to last; flawed or not, this was football at its most bold - a Rocky fight of an encounter in which nobody made any deference to circumstance or risk.

Adam Lallana's late miss will unfortunately become a stain on his career and Sergio Aguero's ugly volley will likely give him some restless nights, too, but those blemishes only amplified the drama. When the Premier League vends its broadcasting rights and sells itself overseas, this is the kind of game which features in its presentation package. Essentially, this was the lung-pumping, chest-beating, forget-the-repercussions cliche coming to life.

And a tip of the hat to Kevin De Bruyne as well, because his cross for Aguero was the ball of this weekend and many others. 

Romelu Lukaku

Actually, good for him, because modern football has taught us to expect the worst in this type of situation. Lukaku spent his week expressing his disillusionment with Everton's ambition and, at the time, it was easy to view his "10 cup finals" comment as nothing other than generic rhetoric. But he evidently meant it and capped a spirited performance with two well-taken goals in stoppage time of the 4-0 win over Hull. 

The fans' response was also worth noting, because that too bucked contemporary trends. There was no cold shoulder for Lukaku and nor was there any evidence of a retaliatory sulk; his name was sung throughout. Perhaps the uncomfortable truth for Bill Kenwright and Farhad Moshiri is that their best player is guilty only of expressing frustrations which most of their fanbase share?

A very good weekend: he became the Premier League's outright leading scorer and put a check mark against his professionalism. 

Kasper Schmeichel

Goodness, what a save he made from Andy Carroll and what a performance he gave. And we've seen that before, haven't we?

Schmeichel suffers under the weight of his father's legacy, because that's a shadow which few could emerge from. Interestingly, while that late save seemed very familiar, Schmeichel Jr. has, whenever interviewed, insisted that he has drawn little or no technical inspiration from his dad. Odd, but apparently true. 

Regardless, he's becoming a fine goalkeeper in his own right and, even though Leicester are now all but mathematically safe from relegation, they will almost certainly have to bat away interest in the summer. He is not his father and he never will be, but he has arguably become one of the top five goalkeepers in the Premier League and been one of the few Leicester players not to dip from the 2015/16 level.

Bournemouth

Bournemouth haven't changed, they've just remembered what made them effective in the first place. They're a passing team, but they can't exist on retention alone and have needed to rediscover the purpose in their distribution. And they have. Without becoming overly direct, there's now a greater emphasis on moving up the field at pace and it was telling on Saturday that their two goals, while not quite quick breaks, relied upon that swift verticality. Their football wasn't necessarily always that accurate in the win over Swansea, but Eddie Howe has evidently urged his players to complement their neat, tidy patterns with some offensive risk and that's paying dividends.

A week ago, two of their three goals against West Ham came from incisive moves. This weekend, they scored twice again from situations which depended on urgency. Another win in the bag and, subsequently, a third consecutive Premier League season likely assured.

Bad Weekend...

Arsenal

The actual critique writes itself, because Arsenal are now without a Premier League win in over a month and now drifting listlessly towards a Europa League finish. The detail in the 3-1 loss to West Brom was still troubling, though, with just two shots on target recorded and a performance pockmarked with feeble errors. Craig Dawson's second goal was a case in point, given that any one of three home players could have scored, unmarked as they all were inside the six-yard box.

Maybe you could understand a lesser threat slipping between the cracks in the marking, but a centre-half who has already scored? There's no reasonable way of explaining that. The defending of set-pieces would be the primary focus of any week leading into a game with a Tony Pulis side and, yet, Arsenal looked as if they'd barely given them a second's thought.  

These are symptoms of collective disengagement and, despite the atmosphere which surrounds the team, there's no valid justication for that, either. It's been suggested that this, and the results leading to it, are a symptom the squad's disaffection with Wenger. Maybe, but that's a bold stance. Arsenal's squad might be flecked with world-class ability, but there are more than a few players who only exist at this level of the game because of their manager. Without him and his inexhaustible patience, some of them would never have seen the inside of the top-four. 

Arsenal's plane charterers

In a way, a good weekend, because they received the attention they were after. Let's be clear: fans don't fly banners over football grounds to protest, they do it for the publicity and to make themselves the story. When Supporter A is chartering his plane, it's with the vain hope that some poor intern somewhere is forced to call him up and record his thoughts for a second-tier website.

"So, Talking Head, tell me why you think Arsene Wenger shouldn't get a new contract..."

It's a moment in the sun, 15 minutes of fame, and something to brag about over WKDs in a local Yates. It's also the modern fan, with all his hollow posturing, at his unbearable, Lovejoyian worst. 

Supporters have a duty to one another. Aside from being bound by tribal mastic, they're obligated not to humiliate one another by association. The irony, then, is that although these little stunts are intended to glorify a sole protagonist, they invariably reflect badly on an entire fanbase. Now, flying planes has become another thing that Arsenal fans do

Nice one. 

Sunderland

Gone. There's no miracle this time. 

Sunderland actually played quite well on Saturday and they certainly rattled Burnley's cage, but the harder they tried the more it obvious it became that they just aren't equipped for this struggle. They've scored just seven goals in the whole of 2017 and four of those came at Selhurst Park; despite Jermain Defoe's Indian Summer, at no point this season has it ever looked likely that they'll still be here in August. 

It's not all David Moyes's fault. He's made some strange selections and brought an unhelpfully defeatist attitude to the club, but he's been swimming against a tide of long-term dysfunction and dozens of failed transfer windows. Maybe Sunderland need this? It always sounds fanciful and there are never any guarantees that a relegated club can return to the Premier League, but they must burn the fat off their souls and touching the fire is generally the only way to do that. 

It's sad, but they've been building up this debt with the house for many years and it's finally being called in. 

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