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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Guardian sport

Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s action

Making waves this weekend (left to right): Villa’s Leon Bailey; Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard; and Luton midfielder Ross Barkley.
Making waves this weekend (left to right): Villa’s Leon Bailey; Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard; and Luton midfielder Ross Barkley. Composite: Guardian Picture Desk

Saka and Martinelli shoulder burden

The critics were lining up to skewer “same old Arsenal” as Kai Havertz – No 9 for the day – was denied by Alisson after being sent through on goal. The Gunners had misfired in this same fixture in the FA Cup, undone by late Liverpool counterattacks. Havertz never looked confident but he was bailed out by Bukayo Saka, alert in turning home the rebound. Gabriel Martinelli did something similar to pounce on a rare misstep by the Liverpool defence later on. And thus a theme of last season was evoked; the productivity of Arsenal attackers who are not out-and-out strikers. Last season, Saka, Martinelli and Martin Ødegaard scored 44 goals between them. This season, the trio had just 15 going into this game. Arsenal are challengers for sure, but those three must provide the bulk of the goals for that to be sustained. Dominic Booth

Wolves gain from Neto’s dazzling return

Chelsea could not get close to Pedro Neto at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. The winger had the strength to hold off his markers and the footwork to wriggle out of some tight situations. Back from injury, this was Neto unleashed. He tore Chelsea to shreds. Mauricio Pochettino’s side were incapable of stopping him from targeting Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell down their left. Neto kept getting away from Chilwell, who left space behind him for the winger to attack, and that meant he kept getting chances to pull Silva away from centre-back. “He was close to not starting,” Gary O’Neil said, mindful of the need to protect his best player. “Thankfully he felt good.” Thankfully for Wolves, though not for Chelsea. The Portuguese created his side’s second goal with a burst down the right and made the third after beating Silva. With Matheus Cunha also running riot in scoring a hat-trick, Chelsea were obliterated. Jacob Steinberg

Wolves trio Pedro Neto (right), Matheus Cunha (left) and José Sa all lay claim to the match ball.
Wolves trio Pedro Neto (right), Matheus Cunha (left) and José Sa all lay claim to the match ball. Photograph: Jack Thomas/Wolves/Getty Images

Højlund keeps firing for United

What a way to turn 21 for Rasmus Højlund. He scored for a fourth consecutive game in all competitions, with the 11th goal of his nascent Manchester United career the finest yet. When Casemiro stabbed the ball forward the Dane had to pivot to create space and fire an arrow into Alphonse Areola’s right-hand corner. He did, to continue his upward trajectory. As the ecstatic striker said afterwards: “I got my [birthday] present in the morning and now I got an even bigger one, so I am happy.” Højlund’s first league goal was only registered on Boxing Day. “I have always believed, it has been about getting the rhythm going. You get one goal, two and a bit of momentum and start linking up with the players. I also worked a lot on myself, I looked at my game, what I could improve. I have developed a lot since I’ve been here.” Jamie Jackson

Fan frustrations eclipsed by thriller

Newcastle’s 4-4 draw at home to Luton was absolutely crazy but utterly brilliant. As Luton’s manager, Rob Edwards, said afterwards: “It was a game I’ll never forget.” Dan Burn certainly won’t forget his torment at the feet of the visiting right winger, Chiedozie Ogbene, as Ross Barkley rolled back the years to shine in Edwards’ midfield. The only shame was that the action eclipsed a campaign by fan group Wor Flags, protesting against fan-unfriendly kick-off times shifted at broadcasters’ behest. “TV before fans,” declared one banner at St James’ Park while others highlighted Newcastle’s recent evening starts at Aston Villa, Liverpool and Fulham, plus an impending 8pm kick-off at Arsenal. The reverse fixture at Kenilworth Road is Newcastle’s only 3pm Saturday away game so far this season, a situation that often makes it impossible for away fans to get home by public transport. The situation makes a mockery of the Green Football Weekend, an initiative designed to encourage fans to avoid cars and planes. Given that Premier League players routinely fly to games, a certain hypocrisy seems evident. Louise Taylor

Newcastle fans hold up banners in protest at late kick-off times.
Newcastle fans hold up banners in protest at late kick-off times. Photograph: George Wood/Getty Images

Derby win a springboard for Seagulls?

Pascal Gross is hoping Brighton’s historic win over arch-rivals Crystal Palace can be the springboard for Roberto De Zerbi’s side to make it another memorable season at the Amex Stadium. The German was instrumental in the 4-1 thrashing of Roy Hodgson’s injury-hit side as Brighton ended their goalscoring drought in fine style – a result that kept them within touching distance of the top six. Having also made it through to the FA Cup fifth round and the last 16 of the Europa League, it will be a busy few months. “It is unbelievable,” said Gross, who is also aiming to be part of Germany’s Euro 2024 squad in his homeland. “It is very positive that we are still in three competitions. We will play a lot of games in the next four months. We need to enjoy it as we have worked hard to be in this situation.” Ed Aarons

Physical approach pays off for Toffees

Sean Dyche insisted it was simply Everton’s prowess at set-pieces, not the result of a deliberate strategy to target the Tottenham goalkeeper, Guglielmo Vicario, that produced two equalisers for the team with the joint-highest tally of set-piece goals this season. Along with the argument he was wrongly booked for protesting Michael Oliver’s refusal to award Beto a non-existent penalty, the Everton manager’s claims cut no ice. Vicario’s vulnerability under pressure – and a lack of protection from his own defenders – was consistently exploited. Everton are not alone in that regard, but set-pieces were not the only defensive issue on a frustrating afternoon for Ange Postecoglou. Ashley Young, impressing on Everton’s right wing at the age of 38, was more forthcoming on the home side’s tactics. “Tottenham are a good side and they want to play out from the back,” Young said. “But when you get in their faces, you can win the ball back. We found that we could do that in high positions and when you do that, you get chances.” Andy Hunter

Jarrad Branthwaite shakes off Spurs defenders before scoring Everton’s late equaliser.
Jarrad Branthwaite shakes off Spurs defenders before scoring Everton’s late equaliser. Photograph: Tony McArdle/Everton FC/Getty Images

Emirates errors show title pressure is on

It’s February, Manchester City have all their superstar players fit again and the pressure of a genuine title-race game started to tell at the Emirates. Yet nobody could have predicted the size and scale of the two defensive errors, nor the identity of the culprits. It was deep into first half-stoppage time when Luis Díaz’s persistence paid off and they somehow cooked up an equaliser, although it owed far more to reckless Arsenal defending. The same went for Gabriel Martinelli’s goal to make it 2-1 when Liverpool got themselves in an almighty tangle. William Saliba and Virgil van Dijk are considered by many to be the Premier League’s best two central defenders, but it seems even they are not immune to this division’s pressure-cooker environment. It remains to be seen whether City will rise once more but Pep Guardiola’s defence erring in such fashion is hard to imagine. Dominic Booth

Estève brings composure to Clarets

Burnley’s recruitment has been their biggest problem since returning to the Premier League. The squad is bloated, filled with players with great promise but without the capabilities to make an immediate impact. The defence has been a major issue. On Saturday Maxime Estève, signed on loan from Montpellier, made his Burnley debut and looked like the centre-back they have been missing. The 21-year-old was hostile to strikers, composed on the ball and disciplined after coming on at the break. “Aggressive, [on the] front foot, wants to win every duel, good left foot, very fast, so it’s a good starting point,” Vincent Kompany said. “We are very fortunate to be able to recruit him. These kind of players can also decide to go somewhere else – he’s a Burnley player now, he is willing to put it all on the line for us and that’s the player we need.” Will Unwin

Maxime Estève up against Fulham’s Armando Broja.
Maxime Estève impressed up against another deadline-day signing, Fulham’s on-loan Armando Broja. Photograph: Ryan Browne/Shutterstock

Bailey makes case as Villa’s spark

Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey is a prime example of the benefit of patience. His 2021 arrival from Bayer Leverkusen was accompanied by a reputation for thrilling fans. Bailey’s home debut saw him come on, score a belter, and leave again due to injury. It was a frustratingly brief glimpse at what the future might hold. That future has finally arrived. Having upped Villa’s tempo when introduced during the midweek defeat to Newcastle, Bailey dictated it at Bramall Lane on Saturday night. A fine goal was reward for another excellent performance. The winger was like an unstoppable electric current, a voltage way beyond what United’s defence could safely handle. This season, just 1,015 league minutes have brought Bailey seven goals and six assists. Vital to Villa’s Champions League aspirations? You could say that. Sam Dalling

Absent Arter divides opinion

One of the more amusing takeaways from Bournemouth’s forgettable draw with Nottingham Forest was the Harry Arter-based slanging match in the stands. Bournemouth’s supporters cheered his name to irk the away fans, who were not quite so fulsome in their praise. Arter, who is out of contract at the end of the season, triggered a contract extension after Forest’s promotion to the top flight. As a result, Forest are saddled with his reported £40,000 per week wages. Arter represents arguably Bournemouth’s best value-for-money signing in their history, starring in their rise to the Premier League after joining from Woking for just £4,000 but for Forest, who signed him in 2020, he amounts to a white elephant. It is more than three years since he last pulled on a Forest shirt and his last league appearance came for Forest’s neighbours, Notts County, against Dover Athletic, in a non-league fixture in May 2022. Ben Fisher

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Liverpool 23 30 51
2 Arsenal 23 25 49
3 Man City 21 27 46
4 Aston Villa 23 19 46
5 Tottenham Hotspur 23 14 44
6 Man Utd 23 -1 38
7 West Ham 23 0 36
8 Brighton 23 4 35
9 Newcastle 23 11 33
10 Wolverhampton 23 0 32
11 Chelsea 23 -1 31
12 AFC Bournemouth 22 -11 27
13 Fulham 23 -8 26
14 Crystal Palace 23 -14 24
15 Brentford 21 -5 22
16 Nottm Forest 23 -13 21
17 Luton 22 -10 20
18 Everton 23 -4 19
19 Burnley 23 -23 13
20 Sheff Utd 23 -40 10
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