Premier League hits and misses: Mikel Arteta's Arsenal job in threat, could Ferran Torres solve striker woes?

Pointless Arsenal leave Arteta fearing for his job

The numbers do not make pretty reading if you are an Arsenal fan following Saturday’s abject 5-0 defeat at Man City.

Sure, no one was really expecting anything other than another routine City win over the Gunners, especially given their dreadful start to the campaign and the fact the champions had won their last eight Premier League games in a row against them heading into Saturday’s meeting at the Etihad.

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But even so, this was a particularly dispiriting display from Mikel Arteta’s team, who looked vulnerable at the back, overrun in midfield and failed to muster a single shot on target in the entire game to leave the Spaniard fighting for his job after three straight losses without a goal.

Another reckless red card for his experienced midfielder Granit Xhaka clearly did not help Arteta’s cause, but 20 months on from taking over at the Emirates and Arsenal are pointless in the Premier League and as far away from returning to their glory days as when he took over.


Arteta insisted he believed he was still right for the job, even though he admitted everyone at the club needed to “look in the mirror”. Pep Guardiola certainly gave his protege his public backing.

But this is Arsenal’s worst start to a season in 67 years and the pressure is mounting.
Richard Morgan

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Kane? Ronaldo? Torres!

Pep Guardiola has made the point of times plenty before and while Arsenal were woeful opposition on an afternoon Manchester City swaggered in the sunshine, his players underlined it emphatically here after all the transfer drama: no striker, no sweat.

City would not offer the kind of money for Harry Kane to make Tottenham talk, nor were they wholly convinced about what appeared in the end an agent-fuelled fling with Cristiano Ronaldo.

But being without a traditional centre-forward, given Sergio Aguero’s injury woes, did them no harm for the most part last season and while Pep Guardiola insisted the club must keep striving for improvement, they have been able to smash a British transfer record.

Jack Grealish, as he is so wont to do, dinked this way and that before setting up Jesus. The Brazilian was impressive himself on the right flank. Ilkay Gundogan had freedom to roam.

But Ferran Torres, picked as a central striker again, starred, showing the sort of instinct and movement in behind that had Guardiola drawing comparisons with one of the most wily operators around.

“In this position, he makes a movement like the best strikers in behind; his movement is similar to Jamie Vardy,” Guardiola purred of Torres. “He is very young. Manchester City did a great job buying him for a great price.”

No Kane, no Ronaldo, but Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden to return – and a fascinating Torres-Jesus axis that now has chance to develop.
Kate Burlaga

Gray gives Everton new-found direction

The signing of Demarai Gray is the bargain buy of the summer transfer window at £1.7m, half a million less than what was then a British record fee the club spent on Tony Cottee in 1988. Everton’s fine start to the season can in part be explained by how efficient they have been on transitions. This is a far more productive team than the one Carlo Ancelotti deserted back in June.

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Last season, they were comfortable in possession but they weren’t creating too many chances, but it’s almost been the reverse this time around. With Gray joined by Andros Townsend on a free transfer, there is a new direct approach that has transformed the Toffees into one of the most potent counter-attacking outfits in the division.

At Brighton on Saturday, Gray scored in consecutive Premier League appearances for the first time since December 2017, when he did so for Leicester against Burnley and Newcastle. Where his maiden strike wasn’t enough to secure all three points at Leeds last weekend, it provided the springboard for a victory that was richly deserved this time around.

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Benitez said of Gray’s vibrant display: “It’s true he played well. He’s working hard in the training sessions and I’m pleased because he’s improving. He’s got more confidence and he’s always pushing to play. It’s nice having players who always want to be on the pitch and the way they train to make sure the manager selects them.”

These are still early days and Gray has never managed to record more than five goal involvements in a season. But having failed to make an impact at Bayer Leverkusen, the winger is determined to make up for lost time.
Ben Grounds

Some hope for Palace after character-filled comeback

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At 3.45pm on Saturday, 1-0 down at West Ham and without a single shot of their own to speak of, the pressure was already rising on Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira

The Eagles have undergone a summer of turmoil, finally waving goodbye to a number of their ageing squad, but failing to replace most. Once again, three of their bench were youth players at the London Stadium, but there was still little time for excuses given the easy ride they had given the Hammers in the opening 45 minutes.

Palace have not always stuck by their bosses in the past – remember Frank De Boer’s ill-fated stint in 2017? Halfway through what looked another tough afternoon, comparisons were ready to be drawn to his record-short 77-day spell at Selhurst Park.

For all the coaching courses, tactics boards and philosophical jargon of management, the one thing Vieira could not give to his players during that half-time break was confidence.

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The Eagles’ first shot on target of the day turned into their first goal of the season. Their second pegged West Ham back onto level terms only 102 seconds after the hosts had retaken the lead. You don’t get moments like that without showing character.

“Games like today give us confidence and give us belief,” said a relieved Vieira after full-time, perhaps only disappointed that Marc Guehi’s late miss denied his side all three points in the end. “I think we have to realise the changes going on at our football club.”

Fate has not played Vieira a kind hand. Palace are not ready-made for success, and are weaker than during the era of Roy Hodgson, whose mid-table finishes were seen in some quarters as overachievements.

Perhaps this is a turning point, Vieira will certainly hope so. Two wonderful goals have buried memories of Palace’s dreadful opening hour at the London Stadium.

More poor performances, like the dismal defeat to a second-strong Watford in the Carabao Cup in midweek, will bring them straight back to the surface.
Ron Walker

Brentford’s show of dexterity encouraging

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Many Premier League newcomers will employ an unapologetic style – usually the one that got them up. It’s often bold, or it can be negative.

But not for the first time in their first three games, Brentford showed they can do it both ways, opening the game up in the first half and keeping watertight in the second.

In Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo, they have two real outlets if they do need to place a shell around their goal and go longer – Toney’s presence in particular is apparent, getting involved in a team-high 17 duels and a match-high 10 aerial clashes in Saturday’s draw at Villa.

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Rico Henry and Sergi Canos also have the engines to push high and wide when attacking but do the defensive work when needed. Both noticeably held back after half-time.

Thomas Frank felt the only thing missing was their quality and composure in the final third, but sitting in the top half and with just one goal conceded all season, the early signs are encouraging.

This Premier League season will bring plenty of nasty surprises for Brentford, and Frank is aware of that, but the fact they’ve shown variation to their game suggests they will be amenable rather than naïve.
Gerard Brand

Saint-Maximin so important to Newcastle

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Newcastle were tepid in the first half in their draw against Southampton and were lucky not to go a goal down had Moussa Djenepo not missed from point-blank range. Steve Bruce agreed and said “the first half wasn’t good enough. I accept that.”

But he was also right to say they were far better in the second. A large part of that was down to the pace and unpredictable nature of Allan Saint-Maximin.

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Saint-Maximin was the shining light for Newcastle with his goal and assist capping off a fine individual display. His forward partnership with Wilson was a constant threat to a frail Southampton backline.

The 24-year-old sprinted towards the home supporters when he scored what looked to be the winner in the 90th minute and it was clear for all to see just how much he is adored by the club’s passionate fanbase.

Going forward, Steve Bruce will surely be looking for ways to get the Frenchman more involved in the game. Against Southampton, Newcastle’s 5-3-2 formation – which saw them have only 35 per cent possession and concede 22 attempts on goal at home – made it difficult for Bruce’s side to get forward as regularly as he will have wanted them to.

Perhaps a formation adjustment may help get their star player more involved because it was once again evident on Saturday that he is the club’s prized asset.

James Kilpatrick

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