Just another Arsenal humbling. Kevin de Bruyne’s brilliance is hardly newsworthy given his form during this and other seasons, but Arsenal seemed not to have noticed.
Their most obvious strategy seemed to be pressing high up the pitch and leaving the best midfielder in the country in 15 yards of space. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.
This is not on Freddie Ljungberg, who has been blocked from bringing in his own coaching staff and yet remains in charge while Arsenal fritter and fret over their next manager.
It’s not as if the club had months of Unai Emery’s decline to plan for a replacement to ensure a seamless transition.
How very Arsenal, a club that seems intent on failing to learn its lessons and waste season after season. Wait any longer to appoint a new manager and they will only fall further. The top four is now seven points and five places away.
Chelsea will buy but risk blocking blossoming youth
If there is one silver lining to Chelsea’s poor recent run, it is that buying players in the January transfer window becomes an easier sell to supporters.
Having enjoyed an excellent start to the season, Frank Lampard’s team have lost four of their last five league games. Previously the issue was a defensive vulnerability, but against Bournemouth they failed to score for the second time in three league games. They have scored more than once in one of their last five in the league.
The suspension of their transfer ban will allow Lampard to improve his squad, adding experience where appropriate.
They need a central defender and a first-choice left-back, and might well sell at least one of Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi to buy a striker to support Tammy Abraham. Abraham is one of a few young Chelsea players whose output has dipped over the last few weeks.
That’s an inevitable part of developing as a player, but it doesn’t help Chelsea much.
Lampard now faces an extremely difficult balance. He understandably wants to improve the squad to give Chelsea the best chance of holding onto their place in the top four. But he also knows that rapid investment would risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The reason Chelsea are in the top-four picture is through the success of the younger players.
Putting roadblocks in their way not only risks their continued progress, but also reduces the argument for Lampard’s own appointment.
Aston Villa are becoming too easy to brush aside
Aston Villa’s greatest strength is also their weakness. For the first two months of the season, John McGinn carried Villa forward in midfield. For the last two months, Jack Grealish has done the same.
But outside of this pair, too many of Dean Smith’s players have been guilty of allowing McGinn and Grealish to shoulder all responsibility. Promoted teams can only flourish if every player pulls their weight.
After beating Norwich and Brighton in October, Villa were edged out in defeats by Wolves and Liverpool.
They responded bytaking four points against Newcastle United and Manchester United. But since then Villa have become too easy to brush aside. Their defensive issues (one league clean sheet since September 16) are nothing new, but they have grown less able to protect their goal over the last few weeks.
Beating the teams around them may well be enough to survive the drop.
Aston Villa supporters hoped for comfortable consolidation in August, but Smith would have taken finishing 17th; survival is everything. But that only increases the pressure on Villa in those fixtures. Between now and New Year’s Day they face Southampton, Norwich, Watford, and Burnley.
The next three weeks may well decide the season.
Salah hitting his stride atthe perfect time
If Liverpool supporters had been granted three Christmas wishes last weekend, they would surely have been Champions League qualification, Jurgen Klopp committing his future to the club, and Mohamed Salah finding his best form again. Like just about everything else this season, every dream was realised.
It isn’t that Salah has been poor this season; no Liverpool player has. He has scored and assisted goals in all competitions at a perfectly acceptable rate. But Salah has been eclipsed by Sadio Mane, and susceptible to a lack of composure and tendency to lose possession running down blind alleys.
Not that it has hurt Liverpool’s march in Europe or at home.
In the last 10 days, with Klopp rotating to try and keep his players fresh, Salah has stepped up to carry Liverpool’s attack again. He scored and assisted against Bournemouth, finished supremely with his right foot against Red Bull Salzburg, and scored both of Liverpool’s goals against Watford.
Nothing can stop Liverpool now.
Southampton’s ‘one step forward, two more back’will not save them
Just as Southampton supporters dared to believe their team might have taken meaningful steps in the right direction, back comes their own incompetence to trip them up.
Last weekend they missed the chance to pull a rival into the relegation mire by losing to Newcastle. This weekend they did exactly the same against West Ham.
Southampton’s survival bid has been founded almost entirely on the form of Danny Ings — in their last nine league games his goals have been worth six points.
Southampton’s shot conversion rate is 8.6%, the second lowest in the division. Ings’ shot conversion rate is 24.3%. Of all Premier League players to have taken more than 20 shots, only Jamie Vardy and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang register higher.
But with Ings shackled and unlucky, Southampton were blunt. West Ham didn’t need to play close to their potential to win a mediocre match.Manuel Pellegrini will live to fight another day. Southampton, with Chelsea, Tottenham, and Leicester to play in their next five matches, are running out of ideas.