Plus: Saints making their mark under Ralph Hasenhuttl; why did Carlo Ancelotti play five central midfielders? Man City, unbeaten in seven games, are quietly building momentum; Under-par Liverpool find a way to win again, but is Jurgen Klopp worried about energy levels?

Arteta’s masterplan coming to fruition

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win over Manchester United in the Premier League

Less is more for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, and it’s working.

Arsenal have a wealth of speed and attacking talent in the final third, but increasingly their big performances are coming not from pace or clinical attacking play, but as a result of midfield dominance.

Simply, if you dominate the midfield, that much-criticised back line are troubled less. Rather than constantly back-tracking to deal with United’s own pacey attack, everything was in front of Arsenal’s defence at Old Trafford, meaning Rob Holding and Gabriel dominated.

    Man Utd 0-1 Arsenal – Match report and highlightsHow Man Utd and Arsenal lined up | Match stats

Thomas Partey led their midfield pressing charge on Sunday, but a special mention must go to Mohamed Elneny, who is becoming an Arteta favourite, for his disciplined, energetic display.

“It was almost like a Mourinho masterclass!” said Gary Neville. “It was like a boxer who’s just waiting, knowing eventually that the other guy will get desperate, he’ll floor him – and then shut up shop.”

To change the entire ethos of a club from easy-on-the-eye attacking football to a more solid, conservative approach takes some doing; every manager since Sir Alex Ferguson has found that out at Manchester United.

But the bottom line is: it is more likely to bring you results.
Gerard Brand

Diamonds don’t last forever

Gary Neville says Manchester United have more problems than solutions and their midfield balance remains a huge issue for the club

It’s the hope that kills you. The double-whammy context of United’s defeat to Arsenal was both that it was their third defeat at Old Trafford in a season just two months old and that it occurred just three days after they appeared to have found a viable way forward. Diamonds, they say, don’t last forever. At Man United, they don’t last longer than a week.

United were dominated and dismal against an Arsenal side fearing a third successive defeat. This was a chastening afternoon in every respect.

“There are a lot of problems with that squad and that team,” reflected Jamie Redknapp afterwards. And that was one of the more positive conclusions. “This team is nowhere near good enough,” said Roy Keane. “Ole will lose his job working with these players – that’s what is going to happen.”

Only, to paraphrase Gary Neville, some “tough decisions” might reverse the inevitable speculation about Solskjaer’s future. Where does Paul Pogba fit in? Does he fit in? The diamond has not worked, so Solskjaer has to conjure up an alternative. Easier said than done, of course, but this is the job. 100 games into his reign, Ole’s work starts now to secure another century. He needs to be brutal. He needs to be brave. He needs to be bold.

It may be the only way forward left.
Pete Gill

Bale’s back with a bang but Spurs quietly march on

Bale scores the winner as Spurs beat Brighton

Gareth Bale’s first goal since returning to Tottenham in the summer will grab the headlines, but quietly, Spurs’ improvement in the Premier League under Jose Mourinho continues.

Tottenham bounced back from Europa League disappointment and the win sees them move to 14 points. It means they end the day as high as second in the Premier League table for the first time since February 2019 under Mauricio Pochettino.

    Tottenham 2-1 Brighton – Match report and highlightsHow the teams lined up | Match stats

Spurs have now won four of their six Premier League games since their opening day defeat to Everton (D2), currently embarking on their joint-longest unbeaten run in the competition under Mourinho.

And like the win at Burnley last Monday, Spurs were far from their best against Brighton, but they found a way to win thanks to Bale. Promising signs for all concerned at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Oliver Yew

Premier League hits and misses: Mikel Arteta's ethos will bring Arsenal results, and what's wrong with Everton?

"They had periods when thery were better than us. The good thing for me is that when they equalised we had the reaction.

Jose Mourinho on Brighton

Saints keep marching on

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Southampton’s win against Aston Villa in the Premier League

The Saints are flying at present, helped by a run of recent wins that have seen them move up the table on the back of their best start to a Premier League campaign in six years.

    Aston Villa 3-4 Southampton – Match report and highlightsHow Villa and Southampton lined up | Match stats

Boosted no doubt by last weekend’s impressive 2-0 dismantling of then league leaders Everton at St Mary’s, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team arrived in the Midlands oozing with confidence and boy did it show.

Three up at half-time soon became 4-0 when Danny Ings curled home a beauty from the edge of the box just before the hour-mark at Villa Park and while the hosts did hit back with three late goals, the damage had already been done.

To emphasise just how well the south coast club are playing at present, only champions Liverpool (19), Man City (16) have won more league games this year than Southampton’s 13.
Richard Morgan

Everton’s lack of depth exposed

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Newcastle win over Everton in the Premier League

Too many cooks spoiling the broth sprung to mind when watching Everton play with five central midfielders against Newcastle. The free-flowing, interchanging model that had taken Carlo Ancelotti’s team to within touching distance of the top of the league was replaced with a malfunctioning formation.

    Newcastle 2-1 Everton – Match report and highlightsHow they lined lined up | Match statsJordan Pickford left on bench for Newcastle game

Of course, losing Richarlison and Lucas Digne to suspension and James Rodriguez and Seamus Coleman to injury made Ancelotti switch things to accommodate the best players at his disposal but Newcastle coped easily with their methodical passing play and lack of pace all over the pitch. Andre Gomes and Fabian Delph being the main culprits.

They had control but no penetration, especially in the wide areas where Jonjoe Kenny and Niels Nkounkou struggled to make anything happen.

Sky Sports pundit Tim Cahill agreed: “I think today’s game with the amount of midfielders on the pitch, I don’t think they got going into the game. I thought they were set up to wait for a set-play, try and steal a goal. It didn’t seem like there was enough urgency.”

A rethink is required from Ancelotti for the visit of Manchester United next weekend.
Lewis Jones

Ziyech making his mark

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Chelsea’s win against Burnley in the Premier League

After watching on the sidelines for the first few weeks of the season, Hakim Ziyech must have been itching to play his part in an exciting attacking shape for Frank Lampard. The 27-year-old summer signing has been eased into action and the patience regarding his availability in recovering from a knee injury looks to be paying off.

    Burnley 0-3 Chelsea – Match report and highlightsHow Burnley and Chelsea lined-up | Match stats

He gave the Chelsea fans a taste of his talents in the 4-0 win away at Krasnodar in the Champions League, netting his first goal for the club. At Turf Moor, he was an even greater threat and came away with a goal and an assist to his name.

Playing off the right but more centrally than he was deployed for Ajax, he rotated and linked well with Tammy Abraham and Timo Werner – as seen for his opening goal where he managed to wrong-foot Nick Pope with a clever finish.

Ziyech looked to be enjoying the role, which allowed Reece James to provide the width from full-back and capped his display when receiving a pass from James and playing in Werner for Chelsea’s third. With improvement to come and his confidence to increase, he’s an exciting prospect in this rapidly improving Chelsea side.
Lewis Jones

Limp Liverpool find a way… again

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool’s win over West Ham in the Premier League

Winning while playing badly: the sign of champions? That won’t cut it for Jurgen Klopp.

Liverpool once again limped over the line against West Ham, taking three points despite starting slowly at Anfield and looking below par for large chunks. But they won’t keep winning these games like this. They will drop points.

We can talk about defensive injuries for days – and yes, West Ham’s opener wasn’t pretty for Liverpool’s back line – but that didn’t feel like the main problem for Klopp’s side on Saturday.

Instead, it felt like a distinct lack of sharpness and energy throughout the team. Intriguingly, though not explicitly blaming his side of lacking character after the game, Klopp did make an excuse for why his side may not be showing the spirit that made them Premier League champions.

“The basis for all we do and did is the character of this group. I cannot convince them to fight if they are not fighters. That’s not possible.

    Liverpool 2-1 West Ham – Match report and highlightsPremier League table | Fixtures | ResultsHow Liverpool and West Ham lined up | Match stats

“If they are not ready to put all the desire in a game and show all the determination, I cannot convince them. It was always easy with this team to show them the right path and then that they follow it.

“It’s an incredibly difficult time. [For the] outside world 100 per cent, and for the boys as well. It’s really demanding the number of games we have to play. You can only fight when your body is ready.”

Few teams depend on intensity like Liverpool. Do they have enough quality to see them through when the energy drops a few notches, in this season of all seasons? Recent evidence suggests they can, but it may only last for so long.
Gerard Brand

Man City quietly building momentum

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester City’s win against Sheffield United in the Premier League

Much of the Man City focus in recent weeks has been on injury troubles, particularly up front, and is Pep Guardiola going back to Barcelona? Just for reference, he has no immediate plans.

There have also been draws against Leeds and West Ham, with some questioning City’s resilience and Guardiola making the worst start to a season in his coaching career.

But since losing 5-2 to Leicester in the second Premier League game of the season, they are unbeaten in all competitions – a run of seven games. In fact, their last two have been wins and clean sheets as central defenders Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte start to click.

    Sheff Utd 0-1 Man City – Match report and highlightsHow Sheff Utd and Man City lined-up | Match stats

On Saturday, they restricted Sheffield United to just one shot on target and three overall, had 65 per cent of possession and 18 shots. After the game, Guardiola was slightly frustrated that his side had not taken more of their chances, but some of that credit has to go to Aaron Ramsdale and John Egan, who made some superb stops and blocks between them.

With their unbeaten run and perhaps a long-needed centre-back solution, City are quietly building some momentum. With the Premier League table remaining congested and results increasingly hard to predict, you can never write off City for another title-challenge this season.

They have the talent and the experience and, after missing out on the Premier League title last season, something to prove.
Charlotte Marsh

Test of Blades’ steel after another defeat

Premier League hits and misses: Mikel Arteta's ethos will bring Arsenal results, and what's wrong with Everton?

Image:
A deflated Oli McBurnie and Sander Berge after Sheffield United suffer a sixth defeat in seven

These are hardly games that will shape Sheffield United’s season but after the promise of their performance at Liverpool last time out, frustration will linger following this defeat.

The 1-0 scoreline belied City’s dominance at a sodden Bramall Lane – certainly by half-time – and while Chris Wilder can justify a containment approach against the likes of Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne, the nagging disappointment was that here were so many flaws of their own making: the looseness in the unsurprisingly rare spells of possession, the stark lack of quality from familiarly promising positions out wide – only two crosses found a red and white shirt – and the propensity to go long too often to Oli McBurnie and Rhian Brewster.

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There is no doubt that injuries to Jack O’Connell and John Fleck have blunted the Blades’ attacking impetus down the left; diluted the DNA of overlaps and overloads that made them such an irresistible watch for so much of last season, but shapes and systems cannot account for cheap turnovers or errant decision-making.

The Blades boss spoke of “anxiety” in the 1-1 draw against Fulham and pointed again to a mini-crisis of confidence as a troubling run stretched to six defeats in seven.

Wilder has reluctantly turned back to a sports psychologist but is after some Sheffield steeliness from within. “What about the players showing that quality? They’ve obviously got it cause they’ve done it (last season). What about them showing that and being brave? They have to dig a little bit deeper.”

The Blades desperately need a break but, for now, this is a test of nerve.
Kate Burlaga

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