There were plenty of reasons to appoint Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The short-term change in mood following Jose Mourinho’s departure really did lift supporters off their knees and players out of their gloom. But quite why United felt it necessary to confirm his announcement before the end of the season is unclear, given that everything was going so well before then. His permanent appointment has coincided with another dismal run of performances.
It sounds faintly ludicrous given how long he has been in the job, but Solskjaer is already fighting a tide of shifting opinion. With Mauricio Pochettino leading Tottenham into the Champions League semi-finals, the comparison with Solskjaer is suddenly deeply unflattering. Have United gone for the helpful distraction rather than necessary reset that Pochettino — or any other manager with successful high-level experience — might have provided?
But United don’t need any comparisons with Tottenham and Pochettino to look bad at the moment; the performance at Everton was truly appalling. They lacked invention, fight, and rhythm, and if we expected a second-half response it never came. That makes it five consecutive away defeats. Lose to Manchester City on Wednesday, and their chances of making the top four should be over. And then the investigation really might start.
But if Solskjaer’s suitability for the job will now be called into question, his players must also show far more fight. Jose Mourinho deserved to lose his job and played a significant role in this mess, but he was right to question the heart of some players. And they know who they are.
Nobody wants to be unnecessarily cruel to a player who is trying his best, but this is the sharp end of competitive sport not a child’s sports day after which everyone gets a prize. Shkodran Mustafi is at the heart of most defensive calamities at Arsenal. He is their most expensive defender and one of their most experienced.
For the first goal, Mustafi allowed Christian Benteke five yards of space from a simple free-kick cross into the box, and watched the Belgian score his first goal in 358 days. For the second, Mustafi dallied and delayed and allowed Wilfried Zaha to skip past him and finish. For the third, he was involved in another collective set-piece mess. Unai Emery must find a way to move him from centre stage this summer.
That said, Emery played his own role in Arsenal’s downfall on Sunday and the missed opportunity to put one foot in next season’s Champions League. Picking a second string defence and central midfield sent a message of complacency that Palace picked up on and exploited for their own gain. There was no excuse for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Lucas Torreira and Alex Iwobi not starting the match.
Defeats for Tottenham and Manchester United mean that Arsenal have not ceded much ground in the race for third or fourth, but Emery knows that Arsenal have been poor away from home and knows too that Wolves have an incentive to beat them in midweek and respond to their latest setback. This is not the time of the season for backward steps.
He is desperate to improve and he’s happy to play whenever and wherever to make his manager happy. Is it any wonder that Rafael Benitez loves Ayoze Perez?
Perez can look forward to being a forgotten answer in a long list of Premier League quiz questions (Spanish hat-trick scorers in the Premier League, hat-trick scorers 2018/19 etc), but he has also now reached double figures for league goals for the first time in England and peaked just when Newcastle needed him most.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) April 20, 2019
Look at the statistics to see why Benitez is such a fan. Add together the number of tackles and interceptions made in the Premier League this season, and Perez ranks first by some distance of all attacking players. He has made 36 more than anyone else.
We should never apologise for demanding that Phil Foden plays regular football. If this crop of wonderful young English players are to make the grade and flourish as we know they can, they must play between the ages of 18 and 21. You cannot doubt Foden’s confidence. He has signed a new long-term contract at Manchester City because he believes he can break into the first team and stay there. Pep Guardiola will hope to make those wishes come true, but his first priority is to win trophies. In that pursuit, and when the margins are so tight, there is no room for favouritism or misplaced loyalty.
Wolves and Nuno Espirito Santo have earned plenty of deserved praise this season for how they have attacked the Premier League following promotion, but their manager will be irked by this current run of form.
Wolves’ home form had been almost exemplary, winning seven of their last eight in all competitions. That had covered for a wretched run away from home. Wolves have played Burnley, Huddersfield, Burnley, Watford and Southampton away from Molineux since early February and failed to win any of them.
But on Saturday, it was at home that Wolves slipped up. Fail to beat Arsenal on Wednesday, and their hold on seventh place will have slipped. Add in FA Cup disappointment, and Nuno will be desperate for some good news before the end of the season.