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?

NYCFC grabs five away goals in CONCACAF Champions League debut

CONCACAF Champions League
Photo by EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP via Getty Images
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New York City FC took a 5-3 advantage over San Carlos in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal on Thursday at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto in Costa Rica.

Heber converted a second-half penalty to complete a hat trick for Ronny Deila’s side — that’s gonna take some getting used to — with Alexander Callens and Alexandru Mitrita scoring NYCFC’s fourth and fifth goals.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Jorman Aguilar, Marcos Mena,and Omar Browne scored for the Costa Rican hosts with two assists arriving via Randy Chirino.

San Carlos visits Red Bull Arena for the second leg on Wednesday.

The hosts pulled within a goal with 11 minutes to play, but Mitrita buried a rebound of a saved Maxi Moralez penalty kick.

The 28-year-old Heber scored 15 goals and three assists in just 22 appearances last season after arriving from HNK Rijeka in Croatia’s top tier.

2020 National Soccer Hall of Fame candidates announced

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Candidates for the 2020 National Soccer Hall of Fame have been announced and we’ll certainly tell you about all of the new batch of possible members, we’re also going to ask a huge question of the voters.

How is Steve Cherundolo not already in this thing?

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Last year’s class included a mere two people  — Abby Wambach and Sunil Gulati — and there hasn’t been a class of more than four since 2011.

Cherundolo made 423 career appearances for German side Hannover 96, even captaining the side for four seasons. He earned 86 caps with the United States men’s national team and was a member of three World Cup squads.

He simply has to be in the next group, as few others on the list have more deserving shouts over him (Perhaps Carlos Bocanegra and Jeff Cunningham).

Only one first-time finalist, Hope Solo, could rival Cherundolo’s record, and we wonder if the voters will look past her tumultuous off-field life and outspoken stance against the federation. Robbie Rogers will also certainly collect votes for an outstanding career which saw him become the first openly gay player in MLS.

First-time finalists (Full list of candidates)

Brad Davis
Whitney Engen
Herculez Gomez
Clarence Goodson
Hope Solo
Mike Magee
Carlos Ruiz
Nat Borchers
Conor Casey
Justin Mapp
Jamison Olave
Robbie Rogers
Jen Buczkowski
Kelly Smith

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool, Spurs in UCL; Man City’s response

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap the crucial Champions League results this week focusing on Liverpool’s 1-0 loss at Atletico Madrid (0:50), Tottenham falling 1-0 at home to RB Leipzig (11:45) and another impressive performance by Erling Haaland in Dortmund’s win over PSG (24:55).

The chaps also discuss Manchester City’s 2-0 victory against West Ham and share their thoughts on Pep Guardiola‘s first comments about City’s UEFA ban (27:55). The gents wrap up the pod review the Europa League results for Manchester United (42:50), Arsenal (48:00), and Wolves (51:55).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 26

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We’re nearing the time of the Premier League season where the club power rankings reach a sense of finality, with little movement as relegated sides and contenders latch onto their table footing.

It makes sense, of course, as many sides have now met each other twice, the litmus tests less important than the proof in the pudding.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Norwich City — The moral victories aren’t very rewarding anymore, the little errors causing more significant pain. Credit to Alisson for scooping up a weak pass, but this week’s pain was self-inflicted despite a very decent performance.
Last week: 20
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 1-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

19. West Ham United — David Moyes‘ men are now winless in eight since clobbering Bournemouth, and a trip to Anfield is next. And the Irons don’t even get the bonus of being rested while Liverpool played at midweek.
Last week: 19
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-0 at Man City
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Monday at Liverpool

18. Watford — Suddenly winless in five with Manchester United and Liverpool next.
Last week: 16
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Brighton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

17. Brighton and Hove Albion — Three draws and one loss in a four-match run that demanded at least two wins.
Last week: 18
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Watford
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

16. Crystal Palace — The Eagles have one goal through three matches since the 2-2 draw with Man City and will be hoping to break their skid versus plucky Newcastle.
Last week: 14
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Newcastle United

15. Bournemouth — A trip to Burnley demands a result given Chelsea and Liverpool follow.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

14. Aston Villa — A tricky trip to St. Mary’s before the League Cup Final; What are the chances Villa clinches Europa League but heads down to the Championship?
Last week: 17
Season high: 6
Season low: 19
Last match: Lost 3-2 v. Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Saints

13. Newcastle United — The Magpies were very good in the first 45 minutes at Arsenal but fell apart in the second frame. They need to start stacking a couple of wins for comfort, as Steve Bruce‘s men finish with three of five against Spurs, Man City, and Liverpool (two of whom will be looking for revenge).
Last week: 12
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 4-0 at Arsenal
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Crystal Palace

12. Southampton — What the heck happened against Burnley?
Last week: 10
Season high: 7
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Aston Villa

11. Burnley — The Clarets have taken 10 of 12 points, the only setback a draw with Arsenal, and are firmly in the Europa League discussion despite approaching historically bad numbers in passing.
Last week: 12
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

10. Manchester United — For one Monday, Harry Maguire was an incredibly lucky man on an incredibly fortunate team. At least Bruno Fernandes looks dynamite.
Last week: 11
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-0 at Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Watford

9. Wolves — Still wouldn’t want to see them on the schedule, but Wolves hopes for the Champions League are based in the UEL.
Last week: 6
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Leicester City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Norwich City

8. Arsenal — The defense appears solid under Mikel Arteta, though his old pals Everton will present the stiffest test in some time.
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 13
Last match: Won 4-0 v. Newcastle
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton

7. Chelsea — Holds a 1-2-2 record in league play since Christian Pulisic was injured.
Last week: 7
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Manchester United
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Spurs

6. Sheffield United — The Premier League’s Papillon.
Last week: 5
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Bournemouth
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Brighton

5. Everton — Carlo Ancelotti has the Toffees humming toward Europa League… and possibly better.
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

4. Leicester City — Still on track for the top four, but haven’t looked UCL caliber in weeks.
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Wolves
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Man City

3. Spurs — Losing Kane and Son will probably cost them in their chase to rejoin the UCL, but we wouldn’t rule out Jose Mourinho. Still: Chelsea, Wolves, and Manchester United are three of the next four PL opponents.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 3-2 at Aston Villa
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

2. Manchester City — Ban or not, they are finishing second… unless Leicester finds its very best against a UCL-obsessed City on Saturday.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Won 2-0 v. West Ham
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City

1. Liverpool — Poor, poor West Ham.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 1-0 at Norwich City
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Monday v. West Ham