Our writers analyse Saturday’s action as Martin Odegaard inspires Arsenal, Brentford deliver the surprise of the season and the alarm bells ring loudly for Everton…
Martin Odegaard tends not to attract as many plaudits as fellow Arsenal attackers Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus but it was indisputably his night at Molineux.
His two goals, struck in the space of 21 second-half minutes, ensured Arsenal capitalised on Manchester City’s defeat by Brentford and went five points clear at the top of the Premier League.
The win capped a remarkable start to the season and Odegaard’s contribution at Molineux underlines his importance to it. Arsenal’s playmaker has now added goals to his game. With six, he is in fact their top scorer in the Premier League. He only needs one more to match his total for the whole of the last campaign.
Mikel Arteta praised his captain for becoming “more ruthless in front of goal and having that edge to win matches” in his post-match interview with Sky Sports and it is certainly a welcome development given how much else he was already giving them.
As always, he could be seen knitting together Arsenal’s attacks, the 23-year-old instrumental in helping break Wolves down, while also working tirelessly off the ball, covering 11.3km, more than any of his team-mates, and frequently helping regain possession.
It was in the Wolves box, though, that he really made his presence felt, and showed just how much his game is evolving.
For his first goal, an instinctive run to meet Fabio Vieira’s cross in the six-yard box. For his second, a deft piece of control and a rifled finish made to look far easier than it was.
In many ways, he is the embodiment of this Arsenal side. Humble and effective. Young and improving. His thrilling evolution reflects that of the group as a whole. The future looks tantalisingly bright.
Toney responds with majestic masterclass
It was not just Ivan Toney’s two goals at Manchester City that might have left Gareth Southgate wondering if he had made the right decision not to take him to Qatar.
It was the way Toney played with a presence, almost a swagger up against the champions. In the very first minute he fancily flicked the ball into a team-mate. In the 97th, he flicked in the winner. From start to finish it was a statement performance.
The only thing Toney did wrong was not scoring a hat-trick, but he gave himself the best chance with all six of his shots on target. He had the most touches of the ball out of any Brentford player and played the most passes of their outfielders. This was a masterclass in leading the line, bullying a defence, in the backyard of possibly the best team in the world.
The focus was naturally on Erling Haaland’s return to the City line-up yet Toney stole the show. He will not be going to the World Cup with England, but he gave everyone a reminder of why he went mighty close to doing so.
Dejan Kulusevski is mobbed by team-mate Son
Tottenham have long been regarded, perhaps lazily, as a one-man team. When Harry Kane’s out, they have no chance, is the common perception.
That is no longer the case.
Well, perhaps Spurs are still a one-man team but that man is no longer specifically Kane. It’s Dejan Kulusevski.
He has now started seven Premier League games this season, Spurs are unbeaten in those matches, winning five and scoring on average 2.9 goals per 90 minutes. Without him in the starting XI, Spurs have lost four of those matches and the average goals per 90 drops to 1.4.
The flying Swede missed 10 games across all competitions after suffering a hamstring issue while on international duty in September. Spurs really missed him. He took just two minutes off the bench during his comeback to supply an assist for Kane in the 2-1 defeat to Liverpool last weekend – a game Spurs were unfortunate to lose. But he was fit to start against Leeds.
Boy did he deliver in what was a wacky 4-3 game involving two teams who had little stability in key areas of the pitch. Spurs carry such a greater sense of danger and directness with Kulusevski on the pitch. He only has one thought in his mind: go forward at pace and create, create, create. Against Leeds, he made 12 total dribbles over the 90 minutes – that’s a phenomenal number. No player has made more in a single game this season. From those dribbles he created four chances for his teammates – no player on the pitch created more and of course there was the all-important assist for the winning goal, scored by Rodrigo Bentancur.
That’s 13 assists since joining on January 31. When assessing his assists per-game ratio, his return is the best in the Premier League at an assist every 62 minutes – a ratio better than assist king Kevin De Bruyne’s. He’s that good.
Many fingers pointed towards Sadio Mane’s departure as one of the reasons Liverpool are not performing at the level of recent seasons this term.
A key figure in that argument was Mane’s replacement Darwin Nunez, who was not producing the numbers despite being an £85m arrival from Benfica.
But Nunez’s confident display against Southampton epitomises the confident forward the Uruguayan is now becoming. He now has seven goal contributions in his last seven Liverpool games in all competitions, six of those are goals.
He took both chances expertly against the Saints. The first was a confident first-time finish by adjusting his body to reach a difficult ball – symbolising how he is starting to adjust to life in Merseyside despite the challenges of a new country.
The second saw him take the ball from Mohamed Salah’s toes – a sign of his intentions to become Liverpool’s main man not just this season but in the future.
Now Mane is becoming a distant memory at Anfield and there is a new in-form player in Liverpool’s ranks. Nunez can now be a key figure at this World Cup coming up for Uruguay and should his confidence continue, he is capable of a similar impact for Liverpool in the second half of the season.
A ninth Premier League defeat of the season saw Southampton slip to 19th in the Premier League table but this one felt a little different. Nathan Jones left Anfield empty-handed but with plenty to build on.
He had only had one full training session with his new players following his appointment as Ralph Hasenhuttl’s successor on Thursday but his impact could be seen in their performance.
There was a change of system, the 49-year-old switching to a back three, the same formation he used at Luton Town, but most striking was the positivity and adventurousness of their play.
Southampton attacked Liverpool from the start, striking back immediately after Roberto Firmino’s opener through the excellent Che Adams and throwing bodies forward at every opportunity.
There were defensive issues in the first half, when Darwin Nunez’s double ultimately took the game away from them, but Southampton approached the second period with even more energy and intent, forcing a string of fine saves from Alisson.
The outcome may have been different had one of those opportunities found the net. A goal would have certainly made for a nervy finale inside Anfield. But nobody could accuse Saints of lacking courage and there was plenty of industry too.
According to Premier League tracking data, Southampton covered more ground than Liverpool (114km to 112km) and registered 157 high-intensity sprints to the hosts’ 129.
The World Cup break will give Jones time to put his stamp on the side, but even in defeat there were glimmers of encouragement about what their future might hold under the Welshman.
Ask any Evertonian, and they will tell you how regularly the club leave it until the final day of the January transfer window to complete the biggest chunk of their mid-season business.
But there can be no excuse this time. This time, it cannot pass by as a window remembered for the business that was not done.
This result peaks the anxiety among supporters. It is a squad weak on the ground and it is a group that looks jaded just 15 Premier League games into the season.
Lampard has worked through the thirds. He has a world-class goalkeeper behind a new centre-half pairing that look like they have been playing together for years. It is a defensive triangle to rival most top-half teams.
The new midfield three – Amadou Onana, Alex Iwobi and Idrissa Gueye – are combative, tireless and mobile – in stark contrast to the lightweight imitations of previous years. But it lacks goals.
That would not be such a problem if the front three were scoring, but that is Lampard’s next act.
He has stabilised his side’s core but both he and director of football Kevin Thelwell spent the run-up to the summer Deadline Day looking for difference-makers in the final third. Unusually, Lampard now has six weeks before business can officially be concluded to get ahead.
Ben Brereton Diaz, a name mentioned in the summer, has continued scoring at Blackburn, but their elevated position as Championship title challengers makes the Chile striker attainable but only at a premium.
Mohammed Kudus’ Champions League exploits and Cody Gakpo’s season in general with PSV prior to his World Cup call-up for the Netherlands mean the ship has sailed on those two targets.
The sprinkle of stardust on top should not wait until deep into January when significant strides can be made in these dormant World Cup weeks.
With Dominic Calvert-Lewin allowed to recover between now and Boxing Day, among others, the break has come at the right time for Everton. Now, Lampard has to put it to good use.
For the first time since the 2003/04 season, when they were relegated to the Championship, Wolves will be bottom of the Premier League at Christmas.
But there were reasons to be positive, despite Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to league leaders Arsenal, with the start of Julen Lopetegui’s era at Molineux imminent.
Introduced to the home fans before the game, Lopetegui took the acclaim during a lap of the pitch six years after Wolves first tried to appoint him.
It has been a long wait and the former Spain and Real Madrid manager will be expected to work wonders to beat the drop but will have to tackle the same problems as caretaker Steve Davis and Lage.
Lopetegui will need reinforcements in January – especially a striker – for Wolves to extend their top-flight stay to a sixth season.
He will have at least been encouraged by the hosts’ resilience, despite defeat, which will be desperately needed during the relegation battle to come.
If Marcelo Bielsa is to take over the reins at Bournemouth, he will inherit a player in Marcus Tavernier few in the Premier League can rival on present form. Even before Everton surrendered to a second meek collapse in a matter of days, the former Middlesbrough midfielder was already terrorising Vitalii Mykolenko.
The right flank was a constant outlet before a two-goal lead was established inside 25 minutes. Tavernier already looks well-suited to Bielsa’s infamous murderball.
The 23-year-old enjoyed a slice of good fortune in capitalising on Jordan Pickford’s error but he was alert to the loose ball, duly becoming the first ever Bournemouth player to both score and assist in back-to-back Premier League appearances.
Bournemouth interim boss Gary O’Neil said: “He’s been incredible. He’s got so much energy and he’s done loads of work on adding quality to the end of it. You’re now seeing improvements. I’m delighted for Tav as he’s a great lad and he’ll do whatever you ask him to do. I’m just pleased he’s now getting the reward for his hard work.”
O’Neil has done a superb job to stabilise Bournemouth after Scott Parker was sacked following the 9-0 defeat to Liverpool in August. If this is to prove his swansong, he saved his best performance until last.
The talk is that Bielsa is the external favourite to take over permanently at the Vitality Stadium – something O’Neil was at pains not to disclose despite praising the Argentine’s managerial capabilities.
Tavernier was the marquee summer signing when he arrived for £12.5m but it is proving to be a very shrewd piece of business that prospective new owner Bill Foley will certainly acknowledge as he seeks to enhance the club’s global appeal with a high-profile appointment.
What awaits O’Neil next remains uncertain, but his ability to coach the best out of Tavernier – and a group dismissed as not good enough by Parker – means he should not be short of options.
It’s been quite the turnaround for Leicester in the last few weeks. While James Maddison’s headline-grabbing form has earned him a World Cup place and Wout Faes’ introduction hugely improving the Foxes’ defence, it’s arguably Harvey Barnes who has been the underrated star of the recent revival.
Let’s start with a stat – Barnes has registered 18 Premier League goal involvements in 2022 (10 goals 8 assists), a figure bettered by only four other English players (Kane 34, Maddison 23, Toney 23, Saka 19).
Two of those 10 goals have come in the last two Premier League outings and they were similar in timing. Against Everton last weekend, Barnes scored in the 86th minute to seal a 2-0 win. At the London Stadium, it was a 78th-minute goal to again secure a 2-0 victory. Both goals were of top quality and the 24-year-old has now scored in all five of Leicester’s Premier League wins this season.
Barnes was the driving force behind Leicester’s attack and you could hear the West Ham groans every time he flew down the left wing. Barnes had the joint highest number of shots in the Leicester side (2), the most dribbles and was involved in the most duels (14).
He had a hand in the Foxes opener too, showing superb anticipation for Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s drive into space. It’s that kind of football intelligence that will further drive Leicester up the league.
With the World Cup just eight days away too, it’s hard not to foresee which players could be included at Euro 2024. If Barnes continues on his current trajectory, you would expect him to be challenging for a place.
For now though, he will have six weeks to rest, recover and work on his game to further improve ahead of a busy second half of the season.
It was another frustrating afternoon for West Ham. They lost a third successive Premier League game, which leaves them hovering perilously close to the relegation places heading into the World Cup break.
But it’s hard to see how they came away without finding the back of the net. The Hammers had 18 shots to Leicester’s nine and had the same number on target (6). The big difference though lies in the 2-0 scoreline – the Foxes were far more clinical.
On paper, West Ham have formidable attacking options, but they are just not firing. Jarrod Bowen, Gianluca Scamacca, Said Benrahma and Lucas Paqueta all missed chances, while Tomas Soucek had a goal ruled out for offside.
Let’s not forget Michail Antonio – who missed the game through illness – Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini are pretty handy in front of goal too. But West Ham have still scored the third-lowest number of goals in the Premier League this season.
David Moyes went some way to try and explain his side’s lack of cutting edge this season: “We’ve done a lot of good things, but we just can’t find a way of scoring goals at the moment. Whatever we do, we just can’t find a way.
“We’ve not got our set-pieces as good as we had or whatever it may be. We’ve had lots of situations like that, goals in open play not as regular as we’d hope. But not for the want of trying or not trying to get that to work.”
Moyes also said he would rather his side went into the World Cup break in good form. Not to question the thinking, but I would argue this has come at the perfect time for the Hammers.
They have had a jam-packed schedule, including qualifiers for the Europa Conference League, and recent results suggest the players need time to rest and recharge before another busy period of the season.
Although Moyes pointed out that he is ‘always working with the players’, the break will give them time to improve every area of their game and integrate new signings further into the squad. This will hopefully include their quality in front of goal.
Football is not a complicated game – if a couple of those 16 shots find the net, you are more than likely to take some points. Now, it’s time for West Ham to convert those into goals.
Nottingham Forest’s concerning start to the season after signing an extraordinary 23 players in the summer led to fears over Steve Cooper’s future, despite the manager hauling them off the bottom of the Championship and into the Premier League via the play-offs in a matter of months.
But the club displayed a rare show of faith in their under-fire manager by awarding him a new contract in the wake of their 4-0 defeat at Leicester.
While it would be a stretch to say Forest’s form has drastically improved since that dispiriting night at the King Power Stadium on October 3, there’s no doubt things have picked up for the East Midlanders.
Their upturn in form has not only coincided with Cooper’s new deal but also the decision by the manager to ditch his three-at-the-back formation in favour of a four-man defence.
Forest are unbeaten at the City Ground since the Welshman tweaked his tactics and have lost just two of the eight matches they have played since the defeat at Leicester.
Forest may remain in the relegation zone as the Premier League pauses for the World Cup but, thanks to home wins over Liverpool, Tottenham and now Palace in the last few weeks, Cooper and his players have started to turn around a season that threatened to be spiralling out of control.
Main man Zaha fails to show for Palace
Wilfried Zaha’s six goals and two assists in the Premier League this season have been worth 11 points for Crystal Palace, meaning only Erling Haaland (14) has earned more points for his side in the 2022/23 campaign.
Zaha has spent the best part of a decade fulfilling the role of Palace’s talisman, but his below-par performance embodied the tame manner in which the south Londoners entered the World Cup break at Nottingham Forest.
The Ivory Coast international marked his 30th birthday this week, but he entered his fourth decade in the worst way possible when he blew his chance to open the scoring for Palace from the penalty spot.
Things went from bad to worse for Patrick Vieira’s side when Morgan Gibbs-White scored but, despite having more than 30 minutes to respond, they ended the game with a non-penalty expected-goals total of just 0.33.
Even though they had less than a third of possession, it was Forest who conjured the majority of the chances. Meanwhile, Palace recorded a total of zero shots on target.
After entering the game with the opportunity to win three Premier League games for the first time since June 2020, Palace’s lack of consistency clearly frustrated Vieira when he spoke after the match and it was interesting to hear that he has already turned his mind to making signings in January.
Chelsea lack identity under Potter
Graham Potter is the first Chelsea manager to lose three consecutive Premier League games since Jose Mourinho in late 2015 – he incidentally lost his job the following month.
That’s not to say Potter is under a similar amount of pressure, he’s not, but it’s hard to decipher exactly what a Chelsea team looks like under the former Brighton boss.
Forwards as wing-backs, central midfielders as makeshift wingers – it all feels a little desperate. “Potter doesn’t know his best team,” Sky Sports’ Paul Merson said this week.
Performances are disjointed, helped little by a series of injuries to key players, but the lack of Plan B is stifling productivity. When Joe Willock struck a sumptuous opener, with over 20 minutes remaining, you felt as if the outcome was inevitable. Will Newcastle end up replacing Chelsea in Champions League competition next season? It’s a distinct possibility.
If the England vacancy did happen to open up after the winter World Cup in Qatar – with many suggesting that will be Gareth Southgate’s final hurrah at a major tournament – it will be Eddie Howe’s name touted as the most likely successor, not Potter’s.