1. Goals aplenty, but it’s the goalkeepers who deserve credit
22 goals were scored on Saturday to make for great entertainment and some attention-grabbing score lines; Bournemouth’s 6-1 victory over Hull City coming to mind. However, there were some truly heroic displays by the goalkeepers, making them well-deserving of recognition.
We start with Maarten Stekelenburg, the Everton keeper who had recently come under heavy criticism from compatriot Wim van Hanegem, who labelled Stekelenburg’s inclusion into the Dutch national team as ‘nonsense’. There was no doubting the Dutchman’s performance against Manchester City, though, as he provided two brilliant penalty saves that ended up substantial for Everton to hold onto a point.
The first was a save to his left side from playmaker Kevin De Bruyne in the first half, after Phil Jagielka carelessly stuck out a leg to bring David Silva down in the area. Jagielka gave another penalty away in the second half, this time rash and ill-timed with his challenge on Sergio Aguero, and the City talisman would step up to the plate to try to give City an equalizer following Lukaku’s opener. It was more of the same as Stekelenburg saved to his left once again, and with seven saves overall, he is undoubtedly the man of the match.
Credit is also due towards West Brom’s Ben Foster, the English goalkeeper who made the same number of saves to hold onto a draw against Tottenham in a hard-fought battle. Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke can be added to the list of failed penalty takers this weekend, although his was not a result of West Ham goalkeeper Adrian, but rather his own wayward finishing. West Ham recorded a 1-0 win as Slaven Bilic’s men look to get their season back on track.
2. Nacer Chadli providing the cutting edge for West Brom
Tony Pulis’ men currently hold the second-best defensive record in the league from the teams who have played eight games so far, with just eight goals conceded. Their problems lie at the other end of the pitch, with Pulis’ deep, compact block and direct style isolating his forwards from the rest of the side. It is for this reason they have only scored nine goals, with four of those arriving in one game when they hammered West Ham 4-2 in September.
The 13 million pound signing of Nacer Chadli from Tottenham has added a proven goal-sneak to their ranks, one with pace and creativity, something The Baggies often struggle to provide. Spur’s transfer decisions came back to haunt them on Saturday when Chadli smashed home a near-post strike past his former teammate Hugo Lloris, but the Belgian refused to celebrate the moment. His most prolific spell with Tottenham was an 11 league goal-return in the 2014/15 season, and with four goals already from five starts, he is well on his way to replicating that feat and helping West Brom’s pursuit of a top-ten finish.
3. Premonitions for the likes of Hull and Sunderland proving true
Pre-season expectations for Hull City were generally bleak, many expecting them to go straight down following a number of off-field complications, and the 6-1 drubbing from Bournemouth could be symbolic for that trail of thought. They were simply ripped apart, offering no solutions to a rampant Bournemouth side who doubled them for shots at goal and shots on target. Hull unsurprisingly hold the worst defensive record in the league, with 20 goals conceded from eight games, and sit just one point above the relegation spots.
Stoke vs Sunderland was the battle between the league’s two winless sides, and it was Stoke who grabbed the three points to relieve them of that unwanted statistic. Joe Allen has proven a revelation for Stoke by scoring four goals this campaign, double the league goals he scored for Liverpool last season and equal with the total he managed for them across four seasons. For Sunderland, it’s more misery as they still await their first victory of the season as November approaches. They sit bottom of the league with two draws and six losses, David Moyes perhaps beginning to understand the gravity of the situation he is in.
4. Leicester a shadow of the team they were last season
The manner in which Leicester have been dismissed by the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and now Chelsea is reflective of their persistence to play basically identical to the style that won them the title last year. The side is leaking goals in areas that were previously rock solid while not offering a whole lot going forward. Jamie Vardy and Ahmed Musa looked to be on a different wavelength as the Chelsea back three of Cahill-Luiz-Azpilicueta nullified their attacking threat with ease.
Claudio Ranieri opted to start the game with Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani on the bench, probably as a result of their recent travels away for international duty with Algeria. This does keep them fresh for Leicester’s mid-week Champions League clash with FC Kobenhavn, a game where victory would put them in pole position for qualification to the knockout phase. Their European form looks more like the Leicester of old, and Ranieri appears keen to pursue a solid run in that competition while a modest, respectable finish in the league should be enough to keep fans content after last season’s dream run.
5. Arsenal and Chelsea show why they should be considered title challengers
As poor as Leicester were, it was a dominant display from Antonio Conte’s men. The switch to the back three for the last two games seems to be working for Chelsea, and their fan base are surely happy to see long-time player but rarely utilized Victor Moses finding a spot in the side at right wing-back.
More important for them is the form of Eden Hazard, who recently expressed his enjoyment about his new role in the side. He can now operate from more central starting positions, closer to Diego Costa to have a bigger influence over matches rather than out on the left flank. Pundits were always wondering about how long it would take for Conte to start using a back three, or five depending on how you look at it, and it appears to be the formation he will be going forward with.
Meanwhile, Arsenal recorded their sixth straight victory in all competitions by holding on to a 3-2 victory at home to Swansea. Theo Walcott continued his purple patch by scoring twice, while Mesut Ozil produced a moment of immense quality to volley past Lukasz Fabianski.
The win didn’t come without heart-in-mouth moments for Gunners fans, though, as Granit Xhaka produced two calamitous moments. The first saw him carelessly give possession away on the edge of his own area to the dangerous Gylfi Sigurdsson, who pounced upon the opportunity with a left-foot curler to halve Arsenal’s lead. The second was a clear hacking down of Modou Barrow after the Swansea man had gotten passed him, however the decision by the official to show a straight red card proved a contentious one.
Red card or not, the fact that Arsenal held onto the result is a sign of their progression as they now sit on equal points with league leaders Manchester City. Their next two games, against Middlesbrough and Sunderland, should find no reasons as to why they can’t gain six points, but it’s two huge clashes in November where we will find more answers to questions on Arsenal’s title credentials: first at home to Tottenham on the 6th and away to Manchester United on the 19th.