Most important goal of the weekend… Shkodran Mustafi
Before the match, some Arsenal fans were in the kind of bind that no fan especially enjoys – win, and a manager past his prime escapes the jaws of doom. Lose, and while the season takes a hit, the manager is that bit closer to being booted out.
The result against Manchester City won’t have pleased anyone. There was witless early defending that Leroy Sane exploited, showing the usual defensive weakness at Arsenal. Then there was Mustafi’s equaliser to rescue a point. It was a heartening comeback, but it only won a point. There was a Mesut Ozil assist, but Mustafi was one of the players at fault for conceding a poor first goal.
The last goal of the game managed to keep Arsenal alive, along with the race for the Champions League spots. Had Arsenal lost, Wenger would have found his position close to untenable. It was the most important goal, and at the same time, a goal that decides nothing.
Playing for a move to Real Madrid… Wilfried Zaha
After a war of words with the charisma void that is Gareth Southgate, Wilfried Zaha needed an impressive performance to stick the knife in further. He had previously scored a brilliant goal for the Ivory Coast, as he left behind a minor international team to instead play for one who definitely wanted him, and where he might actually win something.
Against Chelsea, he showed much of what he has failed to do consistently. His goal was a neat piece of footwork, calmness and strength, and his part in Christian Benteke’s came from an accurate pass in the build-up. Zaha has been able to produce all this before, but as he has matured he can do it all more often throughout a game, and then the season.
Crystal Palace Fan View: Zaha leaves Palace’s fate in the club’s hands
A move to Real Madrid might be a touch too soon, obviously, but he has shown the kind of talent that led to his move to Manchester United. Another step up seems merited. If Palace stay up much of it will be his doing, and if they go down it will not be him to blame.
Best goal of the weekend… Wilfred Ndidi
When you’re a manager, you cannot openly lack confidence. Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola are the other managers to have done it, and none of them are known for giving in to outside pressure. Craig Shakespeare shares a record with them, that they all won their first four games. After the Stoke match, he said, “To be mentioned in the same breath as them, it makes me very proud.”
There’s something vulture-like about a number two who takes over from his previous boss, but there’s no point being too upset – that is just how football works. Shakespeare’s appointment has also worked, this team believes in itself again and has arrested its poor form. It was a fleeting moment, but Wilfred Ndidi’s exceptional goal, outside the box and rifled into the top near corner, recalled the brash confidence of Leicester last season. There is plenty of work to do, as Leicester will probably lose Riyad Mahrez in the summer, and new players will be bought too. Ndidi’s performances of late have shown that they can be optimistic again.
Surprise of the weekend… Jose Mourinho turns on his players
Mourinho has been the happy one, the content one, the special one and, most recently, the calm one. Last week he had explained in an interview that he was no longer consumed after defeats, and he was no longer so combative. He recognised that the old ways that had brought him success had also brought him failure, and that there was a more constructive way to manage and live his life. It remains to be seen if he will be as effective a manager, but he is likely to be able to focus more enegy on the pitch than in disciplinary hearings, at least.
However, after the goalless draw against West Brom, he made it clear he was disappointed with his front line. He praised the ‘keeper, defenders, and holding midfielders, implying that those ahead had failed. He is not wrong to be frustrated – save for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juan Mata, United’s attack has not done enough.
But, and it is too early to say with certainty, this is a risk. Mourinho lost his Chelsea players when, amongst other things, he started goading his players in public. There was more to it than that, but players can be a sensitive bunch. Mourinho is correct to have lost his patience, but he might have shot his new reputation by losing it so publicly.
Disappointing weekend for… the NHS
Seamus Coleman had his leg broken by a stupid and reckless block-tackle from Wales and Swansea player Neil Taylor. Similar challenges had come before with similar consequences, but for the most part they end up with a wince and a lucky escape. Taylor has received plenty of criticism from across the country, and fair enough, but there is no point pretending it isn’t an endemic problem. As was said earlier this week, we are all this sort of player.
This weekend, Ross Barkley introduced his studs onto Dejan Lovren’s standing leg. On Sunday, Jesus Navas went in studs-up on Nacho Monreal. In both cases, the players were booked, the nebulous concepts of an early tackle and a derby atmosphere being invoked as reasons for leniency. We cannot be surprised when these tackles keep happening, and players keep having their legs broken, if the referees simply won’t punish players. Similarly, players as a collective will only have themselves to blame if they allow their peers and team-mates to carry on so carelessly. There will always be contact, and there will always be freak accidents – so there there is no need for the game as a whole to ignore what can be prevented.