Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend's action

Guardian sport on 30 November 2020

1) Not much has changed for Arsenal under Arteta

Mikel Arteta has been the Arsenal manager for just under a year, and though some things have improved under him – attitude, intensity, FA Cup tally – it’s still not clear what the plan is, especially going forward. And while it is important to emphasise how much Thomas Partey is being missed, the feeling persists that it really doesn’t have to be like this. When Arteta was appointed, he was gifted half a season of minimal expectations, meaning he could experiment in order to find the personnel and formation best able to execute his ideals. But though he did brilliantly to win a trophy, he settled on very little, so his current position is not dissimilar to the one in which he began – except now, he is under pressure. Maybe it is time to give Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock extended runs because really, how much worse – and more tedious – could things get? Daniel Harris

Match report: Arsenal 1-2 Wolves

2) Klopp would be wise to pick his battles

A point was actually a decent result for Liverpool in a strange, cut-and-shut season, and with second- and third-string players at centre-back, right-back and central midfield. Not that you’d know it listening to Jürgen Klopp. He has backed himself into an unhelpful corner, prattling on about workloads, carping at fellow managers and assuming victimhood in a pointless battle with the same people – broadcasters – who gave him the money to fund his team in the first place. Player welfare is of vital importance, of course. But many outside the football bubble will struggle to understand the constant harping, at a time when everyone is stretched and very few of us have a weekly TV spot to broadcast our professional woes. One thing is certain: talking endlessly about how tired you are, making it an unwinnable personal crusade, is unlikely to help Klopp’s players. Barney Ronay

• Match report: Brighton 1-1 Liverpool

3) Lampard is let down by his forwards

Frank Lampard could safely predict the strategy that José Mourinho would employ. He would have been aware that it was his forwards’ job to find a way through an opponent dug in to defend deeply. That was where Chelsea fell short, particularly in a second half where Tottenham invited them on. Even Olivier Giroud, Lampard’s midweek Red Adair at Rennes, could not find a late goal when coming on for the disappointing Tammy Abraham. Timo Werner also laboured aside from an early offside goal, and Hakim Ziyech was regularly crowded out. Lampard might console himself that his team did not fall into the same traps that did for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City the previous week. But having improved Chelsea’s defending – something his critics said was beyond his ken – Lampard is yet to marry it with the attacking quality required for the crucial matches that can make or break a title challenge. John Brewin

• Match report: Chelsea 0-0 Tottenham

Tammy Abraham was not at his best as Chelsea’s forward line failed to fire.
Tammy Abraham was not at his best as Chelsea’s forward line failed to fire. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

4) Palace must dispel one-man-team theory

As Roy Hodgson acknowledged, Crystal Palace’s propensity not to win when Wilfried Zaha is absent must be embarrassing for the rest of his squad. Successive defeats against Burnley and Newcastle since the Ivory Coast forward was sidelined after testing positive for Covid-19 extended the unwanted run. Hodgson’s side have now picked up six points from a possible 51 without their talisman since September 2016. “I would be very frustrated with [that] if I was one of the other outfield players, to have it told to me all the time that the only way you ever win a game is if Wilf plays. But unfortunately, we can’t deny the fact,” said the Palace manager. “Somewhere along the line we’re going to have to learn to accept that he isn’t going to be able to get us out of a hole every game.” Ed Aarons

• Match report: Crystal Palace 0-2 Newcastle

5) Ancelotti’s rearguard are letting the side down

There can be consolation in some defeats – even in the social media age – and any appraisal of Everton’s performance against Leeds must acknowledge their contribution to a hugely entertaining game in which a man-marking job on James Rodríguez could not completely nullify his excellence and a fractional offside denied him a stunning goal. That said, Everton’s defending continues to undermine Carlo Ancelotti’s attempts to build a team of substance. Against Leeds – who were through on Jordan Pickford’s goal in the first minute and had 23 attempts – there were the mitigating factors of injuries to Lucas Digne and Séamus Coleman. But Everton have been exposed as a defensive unit regularly – they have not kept a league clean sheetsince the opening-day victory at Tottenham – and Ancelotti’s concern was clear even as he praised Saturday’s overall display. “Every one of us has to put in more work, character, spirit and sacrifice to win more points,” he admitted. Andy Hunter

• Match report: Everton 0-1 Leeds

Jordan Pickford was kept busy as Everton’s defence struggled to deal with Leeds attacks.
Jordan Pickford was kept busy as Everton’s defence struggled to deal with Leeds attacks. Photograph: Jon Super/AFP/Getty Images

6) Festive season will define City’s campaign

Pep Guardiola has Manchester City in rude health following yet another 5-0 defeat of Burnley, with a look at the fixture list suggesting a defining period of the season is about to start. Champions League games against Porto and Marseille are academic as City have already qualified and Fulham on Saturday appears a gimme, but the trip to Manchester United on 12 December will be a big test; City’s neighbours beat them home and away in the league last season. Yet with West Brom, Southampton, Newcastle and Everton the other league foes before a trip to Chelsea on 2 January, City have a chance to put together a run that would send a message to Liverpool and other title contenders. Conversely, if points are not racked up in these games, City will have surely illustrated they are not the real deal after all. Jamie Jackson

7) Benson provides spark of hope for beaten Burnley

There were few positives for Sean Dyche to take from Burnley’s latest drubbing at the Etihad but he did sing the praises of Josh Benson after the game. Picked up by Burnley after being released from Arsenal, Saturday’s game marked a bittersweet occasion for the 20-year-old midfielder, who spent much of a Premier League debut he will never forget battling gamely as Manchester City ran amok. Benson did look composed on the ball on the rare occasions Burnley had it, and will get other chances to showcase his broad passing range against less exalted opposition. “A real tough debut, we must not forget that,” said Dyche. “He did himself no harm at all. He conducted himself really well today. In the buildup he didn’t look edgy, he looked calm and I was impressed.” Barry Glendenning

• Match report: Manchester City 5-0 Burnley

8) Van de Beek battles his way into Solskjær’s plans

One of the more arresting sights during the first half at St Mary’s was how closely Manchester United’s coaching staff were instructing Donny van de Beek from the touchline, particularly with regard to his defensive positioning. As a relatively new part of the system, Van de Beek is clearly still finding his feet; perhaps this explains why his introduction has been so gradual. In contrast to the roaming brief enjoyed by Bruno Fernandes, he seems to have a fairly well-defined role on the left of midfield: building play when United have the ball, pressing the opposition right-back when they don’t. After the game, Van de Beek posted a picture of his left foot online: his toes bandaged and stitched, his ankle alarmingly swollen. We already knew about his vision, touch and economical passing, but perhaps his tenacity and resilience have been underrated. Jonathan Liew

• Match report: Southampton 2-3 Manchester United

Conor Gallagher celebrates after scoring what proved to be the winner for West Brom.
Conor Gallagher celebrates after scoring what proved to be the winner for West Brom. Photograph: Lyndsey Parnaby/AP

9) Classy Gallagher is exceeding expectations

Slaven Bilic knew he was getting a good player when he persuaded Chelsea to let Conor Gallagher go to West Brom on loan. But he did not know exactly how good the midfielder is. His quality has become clearer this season and he highlighted it by scoring his first goal against Sheffield United to give West Brom their first league win. “I expected him to be full of energy, enthusiasm and motivation… but for a 20-year-old guy to be that reliable and have the game management to make proper decisions and to basically be so consistent is not normal,” said Bilic. “He is doing all the dirty work and managing the game but then he’s got quality as well and that, for a young boy, is not usual. I’ve seen it before with great players and he reminds me of them.” Paul Doyle

• Match report: West Brom 1-0 Sheffield United

10) Leeds Orta be grateful for their director of football

Their curious maroon shirt – with a “modern tonal front pattern design” – aside, Leeds were extremely impressive against Everton and now sit comfortably in mid-table, with plenty of scope for improvement. Most of the credit for this will go to Marcelo Bielsa, but the contribution of his director of football, Victor Orta, should not be underestimated. It was Orta who suggested Bielsa as manager, pitched him the club and now finds the players he needs. Illan Meslier was kicking around in Ligue 2 before Leeds came calling and cost just £5m; Mateusz Klich cost just £3m and regularly stands out in the Premier League. Raphinha, scorer of Saturday’s winning goal, was persuaded to choose Elland Road over the Champions League with Rennes. Leeds are doing a lot of the right things; Orta is a lot of the reason why. Daniel Harris

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Tottenham Hotspur 10 12 21
2 Liverpool 10 5 21
3 Chelsea 10 12 19
4 Leicester 9 6 18
5 Southampton 10 3 17
6 Wolverhampton 10 0 17
7 Everton 10 2 16
8 Man Utd 9 0 16
9 Aston Villa 8 8 15
10 Man City 9 4 15
11 West Ham 9 5 14
12 Leeds 10 -2 14
13 Newcastle 10 -3 14
14 Arsenal 10 -2 13
15 Crystal Palace 10 -3 13
16 Brighton 10 -2 10
17 West Brom 10 -11 6
18 Burnley 9 -13 5
19 Fulham 9 -9 4
20 Sheff Utd 10 -12 1

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