looks at the five biggest takeaways from the weekend’s action.
It was never meant to be like this. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s role at Manchester United was made perfectly clear to him: Rid the club of the dark mood that had haunted Jose Mourinho’s final weeks in charge.
That would allow the permanent replacement to start with a clean slate in the summer, rather than having to spend time carrying out his own spring clean.
But Solskjaer is going above and beyond. So emphatic is the transformation in Manchester United’s mood that it has provoked a startling run of results.
Romelu Lukaku spoke after the victory at Arsenal about the new manager’s hands-on approach, ensuring that players know how important they are even if they aren’t starting every match.
Suddenly, a squad that seemed painfully low on in-form options has competition for places. Lukaku and Sanchez both made telling contributions against Arsenal.
But Solskjaer’s astonishing impact could have a knock-on effect. Continue winning matches and making tactical tweaks that have such a positive effect, and Woodward must surely consider altering his plan to appoint a new manager in the summer. Make a list of five things United will want from their next guy — how many of them has Solskjaer failed to achieve already?
Unai Emery must wonder if he’s been given a hospital pass. The task of taking Arsenal out of the Arsene Wenger era and back into the light looked tough enough anyway, but Emery is also paying for the mistakes made by the club long before his appointment.
The money has run dry. While Emery’s peers are lavishly spending to improve their teams, the Arsenal boss is left rubbing two damp sticks together and hoping to create a roaring fire.
And then there’s the defensive injury crisis. Hector Bellerin is out for the season. Rob Holding is out for the season. Laurent Koscielny has just come back from long-term injury and is now out with a facial injury.
Shkodran Mustafi is not fit for purpose. Sokratis sustained an ankle injury against United. Emery simply doesn’t have the options left.
Emery’s biggest issue is the struggle to manage expectations. When a struggling club appoint a new manager, fans expect a quick turnaround. Already the grumbling has started, with some supporters and media unhappy at the lack of progress at the Emirates.
But Emery is not a magician. He is trying to compete with clubs who have far stronger squads and managers with much bigger budgets, and attempting to do all that with a group of players who became disillusioned with life under the previous manager. It’s a tough task.
We should have been talking about the result. Shrewsbury Town of League One were minutes way from recording a memorable victory over Wolves of the Premier League. They sat back on their two-goal lead, inevitable but still ill-advised. Wolves were rescued by a header from Matt Doherty in added time.
Instead, off-field problems deserve to take the headlines. You would be forgiven for overlooking Shrewsbury vs Wolves as a local rivalry, but this derby of opportunity produced unsavoury scenes during and after the match.
Supporters from both teams were surrounded by police during the game after objects were thrown and fans rushed to the front of the stands and refused to move.
After the game, worse happened. With away supporters not held back in the stands, as is usual practice, they clashed near to the stadium in street fights that saw fans run across traffic to get involved. It wasn’t hard to conclude that some had pounced upon any opportunity to find trouble.
The replay time will presumably attract an even greater police presence.
If most Premier League managers prefer to play weakened teams in cup matches they are expected to win with ease, Pep Guardiola opts for the opposite approach. Few would have expected Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, Kyle Walker, Ederson, John Stones, and Bernardo Silva to all start against Burnley, particularly given Manchester City have a midweek Premier League game.
But there is method in Guardiola’s apparent madness.
Last season, City won matches before they had even begun. Their goalscoring record decreed that opposition managers were merely keen to limit the scoreline.
It is this psychological advantage that City lost during their sketch run in December, and Guardiola wants to restore it.
The plan is simple. Pick a strong team in every game, score early goals to put the result beyond doubt and then play the last third of the match at half-pace.
Players avoid many of the effects of fatigue, and City send out a message to forthcoming opponents that they are in rude health again.
Of course Newcastle United lost. In 12 seasons under Mike Ashley, they have fallen at the first or second hurdle in this competition every time. Supporters vented their anger at full-time and well they might. Their beloved club is barely trying to be the best it can be, let alone win trophies.
Manager Rafa Benitez will come in for some stick from predictable quarters this week, but has been left with little choice.
Newcastle are deep in a relegation battle, and his squad is paper-thin. A loan move for Jordan Lukaku fell through on Friday, either over a failed medical or salary demands depending on who you believe.
Even if it was the right decision, this is the club that has cried wolf to its supporters so many times that nobody should believe them.
If Newcastle’s incompetent hierarchy fail to land anyone in the next week, the chances of Benitez staying on beyond the summer will surely be extinguished.
Then the supporters might finally opt for outright mutiny. Right now, there’s nothing to believe in.