1. Clueless defending shows Arsenal’s problems at the back remain
It’s surprising to thing that, an hour before kick-off at Anfield, the issue was the composition of Arsene Wenger’s side attack. It remains to be seen Arsene Wenger benched his record signing Alexandre Lacazette for a match of the magnitude of a trip to Liverpool, especially when the Frenchman had one actual goal and one controversially disallowed strike in his first two games. But by end of a 4-0 mauling, the Gunners had fare greater problems. It was hard to argue a centre-forward, even one who is a much better finisher than Danny Welbeck, would have made a decisive difference.
The north London club were hammered. They were humiliated. The Gunners were shambolic, lacking both organization and spirit. It reflected badly on Arsenal’s back three that all of Liverpool’s front three scored. This was a sign of failed tactics that he swapped to a back four for the second half.
Yet the problems showed up somewhere else. The midfield did not shield the Gunners. Jurgen Klopp’s men overran Arsenal in predictable fashion. And while issues relate to both personnel and structure, it feels weird that the rumours linking Shkodran Mustafi out of the Emirates clubs is true at a time when the Gunners need quality defenders. Arsenal conceded 44 league goals last season, the most of the top six. They have already conceded eight goals in just three league matches. Both numbers are far too high and the spring switch to a 3-4-2-1 formation has not certainly helped the club in any way.
2. Everton’s weakness was exposed again by Chelsea this time
Ronaldo Koeman’s Everton has gone from one extreme to another. On Monday, Koeman extended his unbeaten record against Pep Guardiola. Six days later, the aggregate score in his meeting with Antonio Conte’s side as Everton manager extended to 10-0, and not in the Toffees’ favour. If Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over his side could have been more emphatic, it represented the Blues second successive win against high-quality opposition, providing a fine response to the champions’ opening defeat to Burnley.
Chelsea produced their first dominant performances of the season in a win over Everton at Stamford Bridge.
Yet while the scorelines have been one-sided, the Toffees may feel themselves unfortunate and not just because they were in Europa League action in Croatia three days earlier. When Everton lost 5-0 at Stamford Bridge last season, they were without the suspended Idrissa Gueye. When they were beaten 3-0 at Goodison Park in April, they missed the injured Morgan Schneiderlin. And for Sunday’s rematch, the Frenchman was on suspension. Since his January arrival, the Merseyside have possessed one of the best pairs of defensive midfielders in the division. However, they have been unable to field both players against Chelsea. And those game have showed how important they are.
3. United stage another late, great show
Manchester United have been known for their ineffaceable luck with late goals, and not just because of the 1999 Champions League final. The Red Devils have been evidence of attacking intent, signs of their relentlessness, proof United have had substitutes desperate to make a late impact. Not in recent years, however. The Old Trafford club only scored 12 league goals in the final quarter of an hour of league matches last season, whereas Everton got 22 and Arsenal 23. Looking back to Louis van Gaal’s final season in charge and the Red Devils netted nine goals in the last 15 minutes. To put it another way, that was five fewer than Sunderland.
But three games into the current season, Jose Mourinho’s side already have six goals scored in or after the 80th minute. Four goals from substitutes, including Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini’s decisive strikes against Leicester City on Saturday. Once again, the Red Devils have strength in depth. That clinical touch is giving them a fine goal difference. It will produce extra points, too.
4. Sullen Guardiola needs to accept there is no conspiracy against City
Three games are a small sample size but Manchester City have not been on the right end of many decisions so far this season. Kyle Walker was booked for the second time resulting into a Red card for backing into Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Raheem Sterling was dismissed at Bournemouth for celebrating a late winner.
The Cherries’ Nathan Ake ought to have been booked for a red for a first-half foul on Gabriel Jesus when he was the last man, but was only given a yellow card. Equally, the City’s boss Pep Guardiola, by referencing Walker’s dismissal in answering question about Sterling, appears to be developing a persecution complex. Continually mentioning how much possession his side have, as he did last season, as if it should spare them red cards is a poor argument.
All bar one of last season’s sending-off were justified. This year’s are a different case but, from referee Bobby Madley’s point of view, it looked as if Walker had elbowed Calvert-Lewin, though an assistant referee or the fourth official should have advised him otherwise.
It is an unlikely point how much former Liverpool man Sterling went into the crowd and how much they encroached on to the pitch to come to him, but referee Mike Dean thought he was applying the law, albeit a law few agree with. Punishment exceeds crime, with Sterling suspended for September’s game with Liverpool, but Guardiola’s sulky overreaction hardly helps City.
5. Bilic and De Boer lead sack race
There are different ways of flying out of the blocks. Manchester United have done so in the title race, Slaven Bilic and Frank de Boer in the sack race. West Ham and Crystal Palace are both pointless, even if their problems are rather different. Palace are toothless, one of only two teams without a goal. The Hammers are shambolic, with much the most goals (10) conceded. They can at least argue in mitigation that they have had to play their first three games away from home whereas Palace have contrived to lose home games to less talented teams, in Huddersfield and Swansea.
But Bilic spent heavily on proven Premier League players whereas De Boer has been trying to use Sam Allardyce’s charges, but with a radical shift in style of football. It is an understatement that it isn’t working. If neither capital club picks up by the next international break, the Premier League may have its first managerial casualty of the season.