Premier League weekend awards: there’s no slowing Anthony Gordon

<span>Gordon, Salah and Guardiola</span><span>Composite: Guardian Picture Desk</span>
Gordon, Salah and GuardiolaComposite: Guardian Picture Desk

Letdown of the week

What do you get when you pair two of the best teams in the Premier League, both of whom usually play melodic, pass-and-move football? A 0-0 dud. Manchester City v Arsenal was not the Easter barnburner that was promised. Instead, we were treated to a scrappy game lacking real quality. When the independent regulator finally descends on English football, the first point of order should be barring managers at big clubs from starting four center-backs.

Arsenal will be happy with a point, though the game was there for the taking. City were ponderous with the ball and gave it away in their own half a handful of times in the first-half. This was a game tailor-made for a remodelled Arsenal side. They have blitzed opponents over the last three months, lapping the field with a plus-28 goal difference since the start of January. But whereas last season’s success was built on tippy-tappy creativity, this season Arsenal have been counterattacking and set-piece monsters. They haven’t been as ruthless in possession as a year ago, but the shift in approach has given them a stronger base against the league’s best. One clearcut opening, one well-worked set-piece, and Arsenal could have grabbed three points on Sunday.

For Mikel Arteta, a point, however frustrating, will do. But Pep Guardiola will be disappointed. City had plenty of the ball but lacked their typical cadence between the lines. Guardiola preaches patience, yet City’s buildup play bordered on the yawn-inducing against an Arsenal team unwilling to surrender openings. The most damning statistic: Erling Haaland finished with fewer passes and touches than Nathan Aké, who left the field with an injury in the 27th minute.

Goal of the week

In the context of the draw at the Etihad on Sunday, no goal was bigger this weekend than Mohamed Salah’s winner for Liverpool in their 2-1 win over Brighton.

This was Salah at his best, sliding into an opening in the box, the ball sticking like Velcro to his boot and then finishing first time on the swivel. “Sexy football to me this,” said curmudgeon-in-chief Roy Keane on Sky Sports. “Love watching that.”

Salah’s strike puts Liverpool two points clear at the top of the table with a favorable matchup against lowly Sheffield United on deck. Advantage Liverpool in the title race, for now.

Refereeing incident of the week

Let’s head to St James’ Park for the most contentious decision of the week: A foul from Kalvin Phillips on Anthony Gordon that led to a penalty in a thrilling 4-3 win for Newcastle against West Ham.

I mean, come on now. What are we doing here? Phillips tries to clear the ball. As he pulls his leg back, Gordon skulks through the backdoor. Phillips, blind to Gordon’s positioning, with his eye on the ball, swings his leg. Gordon makes contact with Phillips before the West Ham midfielder can clear the ball. Phillips swipes and the Newcastle forward tumbles down. Realistically, there’s nothing Phillips can do. His only option: let Gordon cut through him and pinch the ball.

Fear not, West Ham. The PGMOL will be on the phone with the customary apology on Monday.

Player of the week

A dodgy penalty call – or two, if you’re of the West Ham persuasion – should not detract from Anthony Gordon’s impact for Newcastle.

Some young players grow in increments. At the age of 23, Gordon has become the complete package in 12 months. Against West Ham, he was a one-man fast-break, turbo-charging Newcastle’s attack whenever they crossed the halfway line. He finished the day with six shots, an assist, three chances created and won two penalties; he was also sent off for a second yellow in the closing stages.

There is no slowing Gordon. He’s explosive when he cuts inside, and has developed as a playmaker. But it’s his first-step quickness that gives defenders fits. When Gordon starts revving up along the left touchline, defenders back away desperately. There’s no easy way to play him. Get tight, and Gordon has the feet to skip away and burn into open grass. Hold off, and it offers Gordon a free runway to drive at top speed.

Some players are 0-to-60 burners. Others make their hay in cramped corridors. The very best can blend both, zooming at top speed while maintaining grace with the ball. Gordon was a speed racer early in his career, driving, head down, into closed space. These days, he’s become craftier around the box. Speed still underpins everything, but he’s now thinking one step ahead, manipulating defenders – and sometimes officials. The results have been gaudy.

All told, Gordon ranks in the top third in the league in expected goals, the quality of chances he creates and the number of times he wins the ball back.

Stat of the week

How many more times can Manchester United produce a rudderless performance under Erik Ten Hag? It’s become vintage United to show a glimmer of life before thudding back to Earth. If it wasn’t so common, it would be baffling.

It was only one international break ago that United served up a come-from-behind classic against Liverpool in the FA Cup. But against Brentford in a 1-1 draw on Saturday, United gave in to their worst instincts: a vanishing midfield, a defensive line that sat too deep, wide players who were too isolated and Rasmus Højlund left along upfront to chase the ball by himself.

Ten Hag’s side took the lead against the run of play in the 96th minute, but let it slip almost immediately, conceding a 99th-minute equalizer courtesy of Kristoffer Ajer.

It could – and should – have been worse. “Brentford were better than we were today,” Ten Hag said postgame. “They showed more passion, desire, determination. There are always reasons. It’s mental. It’s psychological. I can’t tell. We should bring more.”

Across 100 minutes, United were awful. Brentford won the expected goals matchup 2.67 to 0.5 – and hit the woodwork four times. More concerning, though, are the figures further under the hood. Brentford finished with 85 touches in Manchester United’s box, the most by a team in any Premier League match in the last five seasons. And this was a Brentford side who have won only three of their last 18 games and were missing their usual starting back four.

Dig further and it’s even more disconcerting. No team has conceded more shots in 2024 than United. If you count only Premier League games, they have conceded 81 shots in their last three games. Not even Sheffield United have sunk to that level of ineptitude. It would be one thing if United were playing a free-flowing, kinetic style, generating as many chances as they concede. But United have been out-shot in 16 league games this season, including against the league’s relegation fodder.

United are eight points behind Spurs in fifth with nine games to play. Competing in next season’s Champions League looks like a distant hope.

Relegation subplot of the week

It’s an oddity of this season that the relegation battle may be decided in the courtroom rather than on the field. But on the pitch, Burnley picked up a crucial point with a 2-2 draw away at Chelsea.

Burnley were dealt a tough hand in the closing minutes of the first-half, with an iffy penalty call reducing them to 10 men.

It’s hard to know what Lorenz Assignon is supposed to do in this situation. It’s textbook defending. Mykhailo Mudryk didn’t gather the ball; it was there for the taking. Assignon didn’t leave his feet. He stood his ground. What should have a run-of-the-mill defensive duel wound up with Burnley conceding a penalty and losing a man for the rest of the game.

Vincent Kompany was irate with the decision – and was shown a red card for his troubles. Yet Burnley scrapped and fought through the second half despite Chelsea’s advantage, coming from behind twice to snag a result.

With the draw, Burnley are up to 18 points, four behind Luton in 18th place and Nottingham Forest in 17th. They face a decisive week, with games against Wolves and Everton. Given the difficulty of their remaining games, Kompany’s side will probably need to squeeze four points out of those fixtures.