West Ham lurch back into familiar failure
How very West Ham. The club’s owners twice gave Manuel Pellegrini an ultimatum that he must win his next match to avoid the sack, and twice saw their side win.
Those victories were followed by more abject performances, including miserable home defeat to an second-string Leicester City team. It’s almost as if allowing your club to get to the point of crisis before acting is the opposite of leadership.
To complete the sorry story, we now hear that West Ham are turning to David Moyes for the second time in three seasons. When Moyes left the club in May 2018, joint-chairman David Sullivan stressed that the club wanted to move in a different direction:
Eighteen months later, the club are prepared to display such an emphatic lack of imagination that they return to the one option they felt was so inappropriate.
How on earth can the only answer be Moyes, and the explanation be that he ‘knows the club’, given that he spent seven months there? What does that say about their inability to take the club forward?
Arsenal left to rue familiar issues
For 45 minutes, Arsenal supporters believed they had found a rapid redemption. Their team pressed high up the pitch and attacked in groups with and without the ball.
They blocked Chelsea’s passing lanes and forced turnovers in the final third. They scored from a clever set-piece routine and could have extended that lead. And then came the bad news.
Arsenal were at fault for the goals they conceded. Bernd Leno missed his punch to allow Jorginho to stab home and they backed off Tammy Abraham rather than attempting to stop his run at source.
But both mistakes were as a result of defending too deep and inviting the pressure that eventually told. Arsenal are not good enough to defend for long periods without conceding against anyone, and they dropped back even before half-time.
Mikel Arteta will focus on the positives.
This is a long-term project and it will take months to change the mood amongst a group of players that have been inflicted by the malaise that has engulfed this entire club over the past few years. In that first half, there was enough to hold on to. It’s just a shame that this season isalready a write-off.
Aston Villa now entering full-scale crisis
When Aston Villa bought 13 new players this summer, we gave them the benefit of the doubt that they were not ‘doing a Fulham’.
They had lost loan players and suffered a couple of key injuries, forcing Dean Smith’s hand.
By keeping the core of the promoted team, Villa hoped to retain the mood and avoid the Fulham-style unfamiliarity than can be easily unpicked in the Premier League.
But Villa are indeed falling into the same traps. They are unfortunate that Tyrone Mings and John McGinn have suffered injuries, but the truth is that they are too reliant on the individual brilliance of Jack Grealish and that none of the new outfield arrivals have thrived. Smith will have hoped to service Wesley and allow him to score 15-20 league goals.
The Brazilian currently has four, but his general play outside the penalty area has not been up to scratch.
The 3-0 defeat at Watford has caused a wound to open up, for it emphasises just how fragile Smith’s team are away from home. Four points from 30 on the road is the record of a relegated team. It has also been a historic problem for Villa.
Since February 2014, they have lost 76% of their Premier League away games.
Mourinho struggling to improve Tottenham’s defence
One of the tenets of Jose Mourinho’s management is an ability to immediately shore up his new team’s defence. Think back to Chelsea in 2004, who conceded one goal in their first eight league games.
So far at Tottenham, Mourinho has been unable to provide such defensive stability. Not only have his team kept one clean sheet in his ten matches in charge, they have conceded at least two goals in seven of those matches.
If anything, Tottenham have become more shambolic.
There are multiple explanations for this issue. Hugo Lloris is not perfect, but his return will surely give Tottenham’s defenders more confidence that Paulo Gazzaniga.
Serge Aurier’s lapses in concentration must be making Mourinho wince, while Jan Vertonghen is a better central defender than left-back. In front of them, the new manager has tried a number of different central midfield combinations but has still not come close to finding the right balance.
Mourinho has been fortunate that Tottenham have gained results beyond their performance level. They were highly fortunate to beat Wolves and were saved by VAR against Norwich.
The reality is that they will not break back into the top four unless they improve their defensive record.
Bournemouth dancing with danger after miserable run
Eddie Howe can rightly point to an injury crisis that has played havoc with Bournemouth’s season. Almost every member of his first-choice XI have missed matches, and plenty are still absent.
Players such as Dan Gosling, Jack Stacey, Junior Stanislas and Diego Rico have either been patient in waiting for their chance or been fine servants to Bournemouth, but they should not be first-choice options for a club with ambitions of finishing in the Premier League’s top half.
But that is not the only reason for Bournemouth’s slump. They are too flimsy, too easy too break down in midfield and their passing in the middle third of the pitch too often ruins the chance to create clear-cut opportunities in front of goal.
Last season’s high-performing front three of Josh King, Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson have all fallen off a cliff at the same time. The explanation for that must surely lie behind them.
Bournemouth are in a relegation battle because every team in the bottom half is in a relegation battle; the margins between success and failure promise to be narrower than usual.
They now face a run of gentler fixtures that may brush aside any suggestion of systemic issue. But for now, Howe is facing the toughest battle of his Premier League life. This is more than a brief run of poor form.