Quick Six: Top Stories from the Premier League weekend

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1. WITH ARSENAL, REASONS FOR DOUBT THINNING OUT

It’s not just that Arsenal’s winning. It’s how they’re winning. Though the Premier League’s leaders are merely second in their league both goals scored and goal difference, there’s an element of control to their game that transcends those rankings. We’ve seen it during their not-so-glamorous (but still good) performances against Tottenham and Swansea, and now we’ve seen it when they really click it into gear: their 4-1 win over Norwich City.

[MORE: Arsenal 4-1 Norwich City – Teamwork and class on display for Gunners.]

Granted, it was only Norwich, who have struggled to seven points through their first eight matches, but against that type of competition, Arsenal gave the type of performance you want to see from a title-contenders. They got an early goal from Jack Wilshere, and after making it to halftime without building on their dominance, scored early in the second half. After Norwich delivered them a wake-up call that halved their lead, the Gunners pulled away. Come full time, it was 4-1.

It was Arsenal’s largest win of the season, and along with a still-missing victory over another top-of-the-table power, it was one of the pieces missing from their title-contending résumé. We still need to see them knock off a Manchester City or Chelsea (or Liverpool, for that matter), but we also need to know they won’t get nickle-and-dimed by the bottom of the table. When they play a bad team, they need to treat them like a bad team. They need to put them beyond the reach of a late penalty, random corner, or other variables that sees better sides pulled back by lessers. They need to dominate.

Arsenal showed they may have moved beyond, and while there are still questions about their title-contending case, the doubts are diminishing. The Gunners continue to improve.

2. ARISE SIR ANDROS, THIS WEEK’S NEXT-LATEST STAR

When Gareth Bale left for Real Madrid, it was assumed Erik Lamela would be the man to pick up (some of) the slack, the 21-year-old Argentine’s $41 million price reflecting talent that produced 15 goals from wide in last year’s Serie A. Instead it was Gylfi Sigurdsson, once thought surpluse, who filled the immediate void. Now, carrying over his international form, Andros Townsend is setting up on the other side, giving Spurs the direct option their attack desperately lacked while sputtering through the start of the season.

By direct option, we don’t mean hitting long balls down the right for Townsend to run onto, though given the England international’s current confidence level, that would probably work. Instead, what we mean is an option that allows Tottenham to go directly at a defense, try to win a one-on-one battle, and score a goal without having to relying on them tapping their way through a slowly manipulated seam. Only 22 and seeing his first regular action with Spurs, Townsend gives André Villas-Boas something that can work when tactics and approach don’t.

He’s nowhere close to Aaron Ramsey’s level, but like the Arsenal midfielder, he has a chance to be one of the season’s breakout stars. Add Ross Barkley to that list, potentially Adnan Januzaj, Ravel Morrison (of course) and keep in mind the likes of Dejan Lovren, even if he’s a bit older. Regardless, there’s a group of players exerting themselves early, impacts on the Premier League – a selection of talents few were touting as impact players two months ago. Barkley led the pack at the onset. Then it was Zanuzaj’s turn.

This week, it’s Townsend. Who knows who’s next, but odds are, more players will fill the void the previous generation’s left behind. Townend’s just our latest treat.

3. CHELSEA’S SPECIAL DISTRATION

Sometimes you wonder if we like the spectacle more than the competition. Case in point: After Chelsea’s win on Saturday, more people were talking about José Mourinho than his team’s lopsided result. You’d think like Arsenal’s, a 4-1 win would be something to trumpet, and it was, but when your manager is Mourinho, the broader press is always going to dwell on the Special One.

[MORE: Chelsea 4-1 Cardiff – Hazard double leads Blues.]

They should be dwelling on Eden Hazard, the Belgian international having the type of influence fans hoped to see on a regular basis when he was lured from Lille last year. Though Cardiff’s poor defending (goalkeeping lumped in) played a huge part in the result, Hazard had a hand in each goal,  his most clever contribution being the off-the-ball run that prevented Kévin Theóphil-Catherine from being in position to close down Oscar ahead of his goal.

Perhaps more encouraging than Hazard, however, was Samuel Eto’o, who played a part in two goals before coming off. His first contribution was controversial, with Cardiff still seeking an explanation why he was allowed to poke the ball away while David Marshall attempted to bounce it. (Why? Why not. Don’t bounce the ball, man.) But like Hazard, the important thing isn’t so much the how as the how many. Eto’o’s involvement’s increasing, giving fans reason to think he may yet fill their void up top.

But all of that was overshadowed by Mourinho, who (in getting sent off) put himself at the center of attention. Of course, he’s not the one that writes the articles or produces the television segments, but he is the one who sokes it all in. This is all part of the package you get when you toss him the keys.

It’s annoying, if you look at it through your grandfather’s monocle, but the act mostly ends up being helpful (even if it bit him during his last days at Real Madrid). Contrary to popular assumption, most athletes don’t want microphones in their faces all day. Mourinho lures them away, but not so much that the attention-seekers can’t find an attentive lens. During the lulls in the season, this ends up being a good thing, as Mourinho can deflect attention while the team focuses on their jobs.

On weekends like this, though, he might detract from a 4-1 win, if only a little.

4. DAVID MOYES: THE ANTI-FERGUSON

Supporters will complain it’s unfair to compare David Moyes to his predecessor, but he signed up for the job. Whomever followed Alex Ferguson was destined to jump the icon’s shadow, and given United’s coming off a title-winning season, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect the Red Devils to persist near the top of the table. It’s not like the team thinned out when Fergie went to his stables.

All this needs to be reiterated because some will see Saturday’s result as acceptable in some broader, charitable sense, and those bleeding hearts may be right. One point from Southampton may not only be a decent result but eventually be cast in the greater context of Moyes’ success story. The middling results that have characterized the start of this season could be the momentary transition between two successful bosses.

[MORE: Manchester United 1-1 Southampton: Saints snare deserved draw.]

But with Saints snatching a late equalizer at Old Trafford, it’s impossible to ignore another point of contrast. Alex Ferguson’s teams were famous for those results – the last minute, little stabs that ripped results from their opponent’s hearts. Manchester United are the ones that are supposed to be snatching late equalizers, not their opponents.

Maybe those days are gone. Maybe it’s just the Manchester United of Ferguson that could defy the odds. Moyes’s Devils are already proving much more human.

5. GARETH BARRY AND MORE THIN MARGINS

The Manchester City loanee had his most-influential game of the year, if you go by Hull City manager Steve Bruce’s reaction to his performance. The no-longer-Tigers boss couldn’t help but note Barry’s involvement screening the first goal (though not from the offside position Bruce suggests), taking out one of his attackers with a tackle, and then going over the ball on another challenge that could have been a sending off.

“The one on Danny Graham is bad enough,” Bruce said, alluding to the tackle that forced the Hull City attacker out after 17 minutes. “That is worthy of a yellow card. But the challenge on Aluko is absolutely horrific. It is over the top of the ball.”

Aluko played on, eventually scoring the equalizer, but Bruce’s complaints highlight just how close the margins of a soccer game can be. If Barry gets a yellow early, he’s hindered for the rest of the match. If he sees a second yellow or straight red on the Aluko challenge, Hull are in a much better place to take a result out of Goodison. And if Kevin Mirallas’s opener is waved off, the linesman making the same mistake Bruce made? Well, goals change matches.

Everton pulled this one out, a late goal from Steven Pienaar leaving the Toffees eighth, the result further illustrating those thin margins. Hull didn’t have enough to distinguish themselves from Everton and left empty-handed, one late goal costing them a point. And from Everton’s point of view, they needed the official’s benevolence (rightly or wrongly given) to maintain their chance to hold off one of the league’s more limited sides.

That’s why Arsenal’s win was so telling. That’s why Everton’s win, despite their record, prompts questions, although with their 4-1-3, they’re the type of questions Toffees should be happy to entertain.

6. BIPOLARISM IN THE ENGLISH NORTH EAST: A NEWCASTLE UNITED STORY

After their draw with Liverpool, Newcastle sits 10th in the Premier League, a remarkable status for a team that’s looked Championship-caliber at multiple points this season. Manchester City routed them in their opener, Everton went up three on them at Goodison, and the Magpies managed to lose at home to Hull. You’d likely get better results from Burnley, Queens Park Rangers, or Leicester City.

[MORE: Newcastle 2-2 Liverpool: 10-man Magpies hold Reds.]

But that poor quality hasn’t carried over into Newcastle’s other games, where a 3-0-2 record has fueled their rise to mediocrity. Along the way they’ve won at Villa and Cardiff while managing a point while down a man to the Liverpool. Even after considering the quality of their opposition, these are still incredibly schizophrenic results.

On Sunday they played 50 minutes without the recarded Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa only to see his replacement, Paul Dummett restore the lead the Frenchman relinquished. Though Daniel Sturridge would later build on Steven Gerrard’s conversion, bringing Liverpool back to 2-2, Newcastle held on for a point few saw them getting at kickoff. The underdogs, down a man, salvaged a result.

For Liverpool, it’s still worth waiting until Lucas Leiva returns before passing judgment (they’re also missing Philippe Coutinho from a formation where he’ll be a focal point), but for Newcastle, uncertainty lingers. While the unexpected point was nice to get, does that resourcefulness hint this team shouldn’t be losing to the likes of Hull? Or, should these results be seen as the exception to the rule?

Antonio Conte admits he misses Italy, plans to return home

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This is not exactly what Chelsea’s fans will want to hear on a Monday morning after a resounding 4-0 win at Stoke as the Blues moved up to third in the Premier League table.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Antonio Conte, who delivered the Premier League title in his first season in charge of the Blues, and his first season in England, in 2016-17, has been speaking of his desire to return to his homeland.

Conte, 48, spoke to Italian radio station RadioUno about his experience in the Premier League and left the door wide-open for a return to Serie A in the coming months as he admitted he misses Italy.

“I miss it, that’s beyond doubt,” Conte said. “Italy is my homeland, so once I have had some good experiences, formative experiences, important and life-changing experiences, I’ll be back. I don’t know when but that’s the aim.

“It’s always difficult to predict the future. Us managers have the most precarious job of all. Today you’re working, tomorrow you’re out. I want to succeed, to finish one project and make the right decision about the next. This experience has given me so much, has improved me so much, but perhaps in the future I won’t be a manager. Perhaps I’ll work as a director of football. I don’t know.”

Conte has been linked with the managers job at Inter Milan and with comments like this, those links will not go away.

Adding further fuel to the fire was his decision to only signed an improved contract over the summer rather than extending his stay at Stamford Bridge. Conte’s current deal is due to expire at the end of the 2018-19 season.

After a tough summer and a tough start to the season which saw a feud with Diego Costa dominate the talk surrounding Chelsea, a loss to Arsenal in the Community Shield, an opening day defeat at home to Burnley, plus some questionable dealings in the transfer market, the pressure was piling on Conte.

His team have responded with five wins in their next six games in all competitions and are right up there with the early pacesetters in the Premier League.

That said, the fact that Conte was under any pressure whatsoever was a joke considering what he had achieved last season when nobody expected Chelsea to seriously challenge for the title. Therein lies why he could want out when his current deal at Chelsea is up, or maybe even sooner than that.

In situations like this I often think about what Eric Cantona did: leave before anybody else expects you to and you’ll go out, and remain, a hero.

Mourinho escapes ban after sending off

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Jose Mourinho will face no further action from the English Football Association after he was sent off at Southampton on Saturday.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Towards the end of United’s 1-0 win — which keeps them unbeaten and in second-place in the standings — Mourinho encroached slightly onto the pitch (we are talking half a yard here) and referee Craig Pawson sent him to the stands after being called over by fourth official Mike Jones who pulled Mourinho back into his technical area.

Mourinho, in true fashion, then delayed his sending off by shaking the hands of every member of Southampton’s coaching staff before he took his place in the stands for the final few seconds of the game.

After being sent off nine times in his career for various discrepancies over the years, Mourinho is no stranger to having the FA’s rule book thrown at him.

However there is an argument out there, and a credible one, that due to his high profile and history of misdemeanors Mourinho is treated rather differently than most managers.

In his long list of previous incidents where he has stepped out of line, stepping slightly over the touchline at Southampton was incredibly minor.

Common sense has prevailed.

MLS Snapshot: POR carve up 9-man ORL, keep pace with VAN, SKC

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The game in 100 words (or less): All of a sudden, the Western Conference has sprung to life as the 2017 regular season winds down — Vancouver Whitecaps, winners of five of their last seven games (unbeaten); Portland Timbers, winners of four of their last six following Sunday’s 3-0 victory over 10-man nine-man Orlando City SC at Providence Park; Sporting Kansas City, losers of just two of their last 15 games; Seattle Sounders, who had their 13-game unbeaten run snapped on Saturday; and Real Salt Lake, winners of four of their last five. With fewer than a handful of games remaining, Vancouver’s lead on Portland and Sporting KC remains one point after all three sides won this weekend; RSL and Seattle are separated by just three points, three points back of second and third. As for Saturday’s game, Diego Valeri is now a top-two candidate for MVP after scoring two more goals (his 19th and 20th, to go with 9 assists) against 10-man Orlando.

[ MORE: TFC’s Shield celebration delayed | RSL end Seattle’s run at 13 ]

Three moments that mattered

15′ — Valeri extends his streak, makes it 1-0 — The last time Valeri failed to score in a game, the date was July 23.

29′ — Mattocks taps it home after Asprilla’s cross — Huge credit to Diego Chara for the through ball to spring Dairon Asprilla into acres of space. The ball to Mattocks was simple, and he got it right.

59′ — Valeri gets no. 20, makes it 3-0 — Joe Bendik managed to deny Mattocks’ initial effort, but Valeri followed up when everyone in white had already quit on the play.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Diego Valeri

Goalscorers: Valeri (15′ – PK, 59′), Mattocks (29′)

The 2 Robbies: City Sparkle, Chelsea Shine, Liverpool Hold On

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe take a look at some of the weekend’s biggest storylines, including Liverpool’s thrilling victory over Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur’s frantic win away to West Ham United and Manchester City’s demolition of Crystal Palace.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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