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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Guardian sport

FA Cup third round: 10 talking points from the weekend’s action

Liam Manning, Armando Broja and Billy Gilmour.
Liam Manning, Armando Broja and Billy Gilmour. Composite: Guardian Picture Desk

Arteta must find solutions soon

Every Premier League manager is under pressure and every Arsenal manager is under pressure but if results don’t improve and quickly, Mikel Arteta will soon be experiencing an intensified version of pressure. Though he has done a decent job over the last few seasons, he has been afforded money and now has a player he likes in every position along with various alternatives, making success no longer a bonus but a necessity. However, opponents now have a better handle on how to stop his team, shutting down their wide attackers to force play infield where only Martin Ødegaard can reliably create, and they also lack the kind of reliable goalscorer able to redeem poor performances – or, as happened against Liverpool, ensure good ones do not go unrewarded. A new striker might help, but Arteta must also tweak his side’s style, and fast, to prevent the season – and perhaps his players’ buy-in – running away from him. Daniel Harris

Sunderland slide on and off the pitch

It’s been a sobering few days for Sunderland. They were outplayed by Newcastle, their possession-oriented approach exposed badly by a team adept at pressing and a lack of pace or height in forward areas leaving them with no alternative strategy. But the distance they still have to go off the pitch was also exposed, the naïve decision to redecorate the Black Cats Bar with Newcastle slogans just the latest example of fans feeling the new leadership is neglecting them and their views. Nobody doubts Kyril Louis-Dreyfus inherited a mess, and under his ownership the club has been promoted and hovers on the fringes of the playoffs with the financial situation much improved. But the decline of the Stadium of Light has continued. The North Stand roof leaks, very few hand dryers in the toilets work and the whole place is in need of a spruce (and that’s before you get to the lack of functioning screens and intermittent wifi in the press-box). What should be an asset has begun to look shabby. Jonathan Wilson

Gilmour fulfilling his potential

Roberto De Zerbi namechecked Jan Paul van Hecke and Billy Gilmour as two of Brighton’s best players. The latter struggled to get minutes in the early part of last season and his move from Chelsea looked like it might not have worked out. At Stoke he was a steady presence in midfield against a tough Championship opponent, keeping things ticking as Brighton took their time to get into the swing of things. He repeatedly found clever passes to break the lines and maintained discipline as the likes of Van Hecke sprinted beyond him to join attacks. João Pedro is taking the headlines but there are a number of Brighton players consistently improving under De Zerbi’s gaze. Gilmour has already played more games this season than last and is set to be a key man for Scotland at the Euros – he is ready to take centre stage. Will Unwin

De Bruyne’s return a huge boost

The return of Kevin De Bruyne from the 57th minute against Huddersfield was highly welcome. City have missed him, even if they are within striking distance at the top of the Premier League. While Rodri has assumed leadership of the team, nobody, not even among City’s all-conquering squad, can match the Belgian’s qualities as the creative director and inspiration of the team. His auburn hair has grown longer than last season, the body a little bulkier. Last season, De Bruyne sacrificed himself for the cause, later admitting he had played with a snapped hamstring. In his absence, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva have shown off their qualities, but neither offers De Bruyne’s direct, all-action style. Nor do they have quite the same telepathic link with Erlng Haaland, another recent absentee. He is 32 now, when frequent injuries can hamper even the finest players. City fans will know to appreciate him while he’s still around. John Brewin

Broja’s body language is key

Armando Broja took Mauricio Pochettino’s constructive criticism on board after Chelsea’s win over Preston. Pochettino was happy with the striker’s excellent goal but believes he needs to smile more. “Like the gaffer says, I can get my body language more positive,” Broja said. “I am a bit harsh on myself at times. The manager is just trying to take that weight off my shoulders. I’m trying to take that advice on board because he has been helping me every day. I just need to smile more and be a bit more positive.” Opening the scoring with a fine header was reason for cheer. Broja wants to build momentum after returning from a serious knee injury. “When you go on a run where you are not scoring much you can get a bit down,” he added. “It’s not the greatest feeling but to get a goal in a game like this makes up for it.” Jacob Steinberg

Little sympathy for Nuno complaints

Nuno Espírito Santo would do away with FA Cup replays. “I think it should be finished on the day,” Nottingham Forest’s head coach said. Had Forest beaten opposition two tiers below them, they would have had a fortnight’s rest before their league trip to Brentford. Now plans must be redrawn. Nuno’s thoughts are shared by many Premier League peers, among them Mikel Arteta and Jürgen Klopp. Unsurprisingly, though, there is little sympathy from those further down the food chain. “This is our 35th game of the season,” said the Blackpool head coach, Neil Critchley. “The Premier League teams haven’t played that. They get international breaks; they get time off. We don’t get that. Get on with it. Look at the resources, the finances, the facilities, the staffing – we don’t have that. Tough. Let’s get on with it. It’s football. Let’s play.” Many FA Cup traditionalists will agree wholeheartedly. Sam Dalling

Ruthless Villa heed their lessons

It feels remarkable to say it, both in historical and present context, but Matty Cash’s late winner for Aston Villa at Middlesbrough took them through to the FA Cup fourth round for the first time since 2016. Last year’s embarrassment against Stevenage was just the tip of an infuriating iceberg for the eight-times winners – Unai Emery admitted afterwards that his squad had talked about the 2023 giantkilling a few times in the days leading up to the trip to Teesside – and if one team was going to put the hoodoo to bed, it was the current vintage on a weekend off from electrifying the Premier League. “It’s a trophy, and it’s prestige,” said Emery, indicating that the FA Cup was a target if not a priority. “We’re going to try. We won’t refuse the possibility to try something.” Andy Brassell

Manning burnishes reputation

Liam Manning has been talked about for some time as one of the country’s most promising young managers and the 38-year-old, a former manager of West Ham’s Under-23 side, gave a taste of his style on his return to east London. After a tentative start Bristol City were ambitious, slick and inventive, causing serious problems with their overloads out wide and rotations in the middle. It remains to be seen whether Manning, whose players clearly heeded his half-time call for bravery, can lead the Robins into the top six of a typically madcap second tier in which five points separate sixth spot from 14th, and there is certainly the sense they require more cutting edge. But Tommy Conway’s wonderfully worked equaliser seemed a sign of things to come and if Manning is backed, then perhaps he is the man to turbo-charge a club that routinely falls short of its considerable potential. Nick Ames

Hoedt unhappy despite Hornets’ win

Before their game against Chesterfield, Dean Whitehead, Watford’s assistant head coach and a member of the Stoke side that reached the final in 2011, spoke to the team about the FA Cup, its so-called magic and its capacity for upsets (there being no survivors of Watford’s own run to the final in 2019). Wesley Hoedt, their captain, also spoke, emphasising the need to match their opponents’ workrate. “That’s something I think we didn’t do in the first half and it’s something we need to have a look at because it’s not acceptable,” he said later. “It was just way too slow from the whole team. We were just strolling around instead of sprinting and doing the things we should do. I really emphasised before the game, and also the gaffer did it, that we can’t be lazy and slow-starting.” Watford got away with it, coming back from a goal down to beat their excellent and excellently supported opponents in stoppage time, but will not often win when exposing so many of what Hoedt termed “little details that annoy the shit out of me”. Simon Burnton

Ain’t no sunshine for Blades

“Time is of an essence for us,” said Chris Wilder, happy his Blades squad had been able to enjoy a “winning feeling” at Gillingham before refocusing on the Premier League relegation battle. But where many clubs will be spending their January breaks to in warm-weather climes, Dubai can wait.
Wilder’s squad will be staying in South Yorkshire. “We’ve got loads of work to do,” he said, and plans to use the time to reinstall his ideas back into the club he returned to on 5 December. “This is just a normal working week, and we’ll work right through the next two weeks; we haven’t had time to work with the players,” he continued. At Priestfields, James McAtee – on loan from Manchester City – was outstanding, his swagger reminiscent of Cole Palmer . “He’s got a bit about him,” said Wilder. “A Manchester boy, a Salford boy, he’s not a shy boy and he backs it up.” John Brewin

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