Potters ease the pressure on Hughes

It was a list that should have embarrassed Stoke City’s manager: West Ham, Stevenage, Sunderland, Hull, Swansea, Watford, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough, and Southampton.

Those were the only clubs that Hughes’ side had beaten in all competitions over the last 16 months. You can now add Arsenal.

This was more than just three points for Hughes, however much he refuted that suggestion in his post-match interview.

It took him from favourite to fifth favourite to be the first Premier League manager to leave his post this season.

Stoke’s display over the course of 90 minutes was evidence that the Welshman can still inspire his players to be greater than the sum of their parts.

Stoke rode their luck, of course. A lead was gained thanks to the individual excellence of Jese Rodriguez and preserved thanks to a collective resolve that thwarted an Arsenal team who registered their highest possession in a league game since the 2003/04 campaign. Darren Fletcher, Kurt Zouma, and Jack Butland were magnificent, giving Stoke the solid spine so vital when holding on under pressure.

“The crowd wanted to make a statement along with the team,” said Hughes. “They were fed up of criticism and they wanted it.”

Like it or not, victories are the only way to prevent such criticism. Hughes has bought himself a merited and extended stay of execution.

The ‘consistency’ debate ill roll on…

...and you can understand why. Gary Cahill’s tackle against Burnley was reckless enough to make his subsequent red card perfectly reasonable, and Chelsea lost the game as a direct result of his stupidity. Yet Cahill’s challenge was nothing in comparison with the fouls committed by Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen at Wembley yesterday. Both were only shown yellow cards, much to Antonio Conte’s chagrin.

This is why managers get angry. How can two different elite officials, working according to the same set of guidelines, judge these incidents so differently, particularly when they make such a demonstrable difference to the outcome of important matches? The argument for Video Assisted Refereeing grows once more.

Brighton’s front line not up to the task

Brighton’s supporters have endured too much historical pain to let away defeats in the Premier League get them down, but Chris Hughton will not care to be patronised. A trip to Leicester should have been a realistic attempt to establish themselves, but it passed by far too easily for the manager’s liking.

Hughton spoke in June and insisted that most of the club’s business would probably be done late in the transfer window, but Brighton have already signed seven players. Watching the club’s front three at the King Power Stadium, they need plenty more.

Glenn Murray looks like the archetypal Championship centre forward who will struggle to make the step up, while neither Jamie Murphy nor Solly March got any change out of Danny Simpson or Christian Fuchs. Pascal Gross, playing as a No. 10, failed to create a single chance or have a shot.

Anthony Knockaert will soon be fit enough to start and Kenneth Zohore may arrive from Cardiff City, but Brighton certainly need an attacking start. They were only the fifth top scorers in the Championship last season; Premier League defences are far less accommodating.

No defending the indefensible

“I was not convinced by our central defence today.” Arsene Wenger had plenty of censure to share between Arsenal’s finishing and the alleged incompetence of the officials, but his strongest criticism was saved for the defenders he believed were “too sluggish”.

If the accusation is valid, Wenger must accept his own share of the blame. His back five at the Bet365 Stadium consisted of a right-back at left wing-back, last week’s left wing-back at right wing-back and two natural left-backs in central defence.

Is it any wonder they might have looked a little uncertain?

It all feels a little too clever for its own good, an exercise in crowbarring Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain into the first team to keep him sweet before the end of the transfer window.

Hector Bellerin on the right and Sead Kolasinac on the left with either Per Mertesacker or Rob Holding — neither of whom were used against Stoke — taking his place in central defence would feel a lot less like square pegs crammed into round holes.

Hernandez the poacher

All 37 of Javier Hernandez’s Premier League goals before Saturday were scored from inside the penalty area, and Nos. 38 and 39 only rubberstamped his reputation as the Premier League’s ultimate poacher. Two chances were spilled by Fraser Forster — one after an excellent save — but the Mexican was there within less than a second each time to stab home emphatically. If only Hernandez’s fellow new arrivals at West Ham were as responsive, Slaven Bilic might not be worried for his job security.


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