Quick Six: Top stories from the Premier League weekend

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1. ARSENAL GOES FIVE POINTS CLEAR AT THE TOP

Arsenal’s stars came through. Santi Carzola opened the scoring early, Mesut Özil had an assist, and Aaron Ramsey’s back to his September form.  As much as Arsenal’s 2013-14 has started as a story of redemption, it’s also about the difference a few special players can make. Özil’s addition, Ramsey’s improvement, Olivier Giroud’s contributions – they’ve all played vital parts in Arsenal’s rise.

It wasn’t a bad loss for Liverpool, but their 2-0 defeat at the Emirates showed the small but important gap between themselves and the title contenders. Like last year’s Arsenal, they’re probably three or four improvements away from competing at the top.

But consider the fact that Arsenal, a team generally thought the fourth or fifth best in England before round one, has already established itself as a title contender. Just over a quarter of the way through the season, Arsène Wenger’s team has convinced us has already proved us wrong. For the first time since Cesc Fábregas left London, Arsenal can reasonably be thought of as a title contender. Saturday’s performance was a reminder.

Thanks to Chelsea’s loss at Newcastle, the Gunners are five points clear at the top of the Premier League. That’s bigger than Bayern’s lead in Germany (one), Barcelona’s in Spain (one), Roma’s in Italy (three), and PSG’s in France (two). Expected to struggle to retain their Champions League spot, Arsenal now has the biggest lead among Europe’s top five leagues, a testament to how quickly things have come together.

2. NO DEFENSE FOR LETTING LLORIS PLAY-ON

If Hugo Lloris wasn’t out cold, he’d at least lost his sense of place and time after colliding with Romelu Lukaku. Late in Tottenham’s trip to Everton, the Spurs goalkeeper looked destined to be subbed out after his head made contact with the Belgian’s lower thigh, the Toffees forward’s speed nearly knocking Lloris out cold.

Shockingly, Lloris was allowed to play on. PST’s Kyle Bonn:

In allowing his player to run back onto the field, [Tottenham manager André Villas Boas] failed his players and proved that when it comes to head injuries, the Barclays Premier League lacks greatly in both the knowledge of head injuries and how to properly and safely deal with them.

I suppose I want to wait until we know a little bit more about Lloris’s state and the advice Villas-Boas was given, but I suspect I’ll be on Kyle’s side before too long. It’s hard to reconcile the decisions of Lloris, Villa-Boas, and potentially Spurs’ medical staff with common sense. Head injuries should be a proceed with caution scenario. It’s a shame this needs to be reiterated.

3. CHELSEA FLOPS, HAS MOURINHO FRUSTRATED

Before we start talking about the manager we can’t ignore, Alan Pardew deserves some credit. The Newcastle boss has seen his job speculated about since round one, and not without good reason. The Magpies’ blowout loss at Manchester City on the season’s opening Monday wasn’t their only disappointing performance of the season. On Saturday, however, the mildly embattled manager took three from one the league’s big boys, a 2-0 win over Chelsea seeing Newcastle put eight shots on goal to the Blues’ two.

His back line’s been thinned out by injury, and he still doesn’t have room for his most-skilled player (Hatem Ben Arfa), but after their upset victory, Newcastle’s in ninth place. Pardew’s recent tweaks deserve a lot of credit. On Saturday, his tactics played a big part in his team’s surprise result.

Coming out of the other technical area, José Mourinho was left lamenting the “”11 mistakes” he started at St. James Park. They’re strong words from a man still trying to get his squad to play to his vision, but after three months of performancse that’ve seen Chelsea fail to reach their title-threatening potential, perhaps it was time for a wake-up call. While losing at Newcastle isn’t the end of the world, being decidedly second best is unacceptable.

But we can overstate blips. What we should look for is a pattern. Absent a larger tendency toward these performances, there’s no good case to be made that Chelsea aren’t a very good team. They came into the match unbeaten in eight games. That doesn’t suddenly become irrelevant after one loss.

But this was their worst performance of the season. If there’s any time to ask what’s wrong, this is it.

4. WHAT NOW FOR JOE HART?

Manuel Pellegrini’s already confirmed Costel Pantilimon will start mid-week against CSKA Moscow. In fact, the Manchester City boss was practically fatalistic about his goalkeeping controversy after yesterday’s 7-0 win over visiting Norwich City. Asked about promoting Pantilimon past Joe Hart (and, implicitly, the possibility of Hart regaining the job), Pellegrini said, “It’s done and I am sure [Pantilimon] will do very well.”

So that’s that. Joe Hart’s now Manchester City’s No. 2, a move that was was long overdue. Yet while Manchester City pushes on (only six points back of Arsenal, despite an uneven start), the England national team’s left to wonder: What’s to come of their number one?

We’re a week away from another international break. Hart should get some time then, but come 2014, there’s only one break between January and the end of the European season.

If he sits on the bench for the better part of seven months, is Joe Hart starting in Brazil? Perhaps. It might come down to how convincing Fraser Forster is during the few truly high-level games Celtic plays each season.

5. ASMIR BEGOVIC: GOAL SCORER

Some things need neither analysis nor explanation:

The Stoke keeper’s score held up for 41 minutes before Jay Rodriguez equalized for Southampton. Come full time, the Bosnian international’s goal had given the Potters a valuable point over the sixth-place Saints.

It took wind, timing, the right bounces and some help from Artur Boruc, but what 100-yard goal doesn’t need a little luck? Every couple of years the planets align and we get a moment like this. Previously, it was Tim Howard. This weekend, it was Asmir Begovic.

6. CARDIFF THE KINGS OF WALES

Perhaps the action didn’t match the hype, but there’s so way it could. The occasion of the first Premier League South Wales Derby’s was always destined to overshadow what happened in the match, though defender Steven Caulker will always be remembered for having delivered the Bluebirds a historical three points.

PST’s Joseph Prince-Wright:

Of course the game winning-goal came had to come courtesy of a former Swansea player, as Caulker came back to haunt his former team who he played for in their debut Premier League season. But there were no over-zealous celebrations from the man Cardiff bought to the Welsh capital for $12 million this summer, as bedlam ensued around him.

Afterwards Caulker explained why.

“It was a different experience playing against them today,” Cardiff’s 21-year-old captain said. “I always enjoyed my time there, but now I’m a Bluebird and I’m focused on the win for us and even more buzzing to get the goal. I always respect the other teams that I played for and they [Swansea] took me in a couple of years ago. So there’s no hard feelings on my behalf at all.”

Manuel Pellegrini takes the reins at West Ham United

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West Ham United was said to be chasing Rafa Benitez, and instead got a manager with more recent big time success.

Manuel Pellegrini is the new boss at West Ham, returning to the league which saw him guide Manchester City to a Premier League title and two League Cups.

[ MORE: Man Utd after pair of mids ]

The 64-year-old Chilean is well-traveled, and most recently managed Hebei China Fortune. He was released from his contract with the Chinese Super League side last week.

Pellegrini has also led Villarreal, Real Madrid, and Malaga since arriving from South America in 2004.

From WHUFC.com:

“I think that West Ham had a difficult season last season and I hope that next season we are going to play football that will delight the fans. I always play attacking football and we must try to reach important targets in the season.

“Every time you have a meeting you have feelings about whether it was a good meeting or a bad meeting and I had the meeting with him, just talking about football and talking about West Ham.  We agreed on a lot of things he wants for this Club in the way I think a football club must be managed, so we have a lot of common ideas.”

Pellegrini is missing more than a few elements to play the way he’d like to play, and his arrival could spell the end for long-time players like Mark Noble. It could also be a boon for Pablo Zabaleta as the former Man City pair is reunited in London.

West Ham has spent freely in recent years, and Pellegrini’s status could help it land a breed of player unavailable to Sam Allardyce, Slaven Bilic, and David Moyes.

Transfer rumors: Man Utd after pair of midfielders; Liverpool eyes Lascelles

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The transfer rumors continue as players hope to have their futures sorted ahead of next month’s World Cup.

Manchester United is being linked with a pair of big money midfielders.

[ MORE: Brighton nabs World Cup defender ]

Anderson Talisca, 24, could be leaving Besiktas to join United following a $47 million offer, according to Metro. His 14 goals were fourth in the Turkish Super Lig and his seven assists tied for the team lead. He scored four more times in eight UEFA Champions League matches.

And then there’s highly-sought box-to-box midfielder Jean Michael Seri of Nice, linked with United as well as Manchester City. Club president Jean-Pierre Rivere hinted that the 26-year-old would certainly be headed somewhere this offseason.

Mika Seri is … a very good player who has brought a lot to the club and can legitimately have that desire to go and play abroad.”

— Liverpool could really strengthen its center back situation by buying captain Jamaal Lascelles from Newcastle United, though the hinted fee of $19 million seems low for an integral part of the Magpies’ back line (especially given that English players usually net higher fees on account of being English).

And Lascelles has said Newcastle “is the right club for me at the right time. We have a huge fanbase, an amazing manager, and this club is massive. It has so much history.”

The Chronicle also said Liverpool is also looking at Burnley star center back James Tarkowski, and that Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez has his eye on 19-year-old Sevilla mid Alejandro Viedma.

— A wild rumor out of Diario Gol says Alvaro Morata is set to fight for his starting role at Chelsea and is encouraging Real Madrid buddy Marco Asensio to join him at Stamford Bridge. The report says Asensio would be an important part of any Chelsea sale of Eden Hazard.

— Cardiff City is said to be signing Hamburg striker Sven Schipplock when his Hamburg contract expires in June. He did not score for HSV last season.

Brighton adds Nigerian World Cup defender from Mainz

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Brighton and Hove Albion has added some depth to their center back pairing of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy.

Leon Balogun has arrived from Mainz, the 28-year-old Nigerian heading to the World Cup and then hitting the Amex Stadium on a free transfer.

[ MORE: Zidane praises Ronaldo ]

Mainz avoided relegation by three points this season, and Balogun played in 14 matches. He had been with the Bundesliga outfit since 2015, and has 16 caps.

Balogun has also spent time at left and right back.

Ezequiel Schelotto just finished his first season as a Brighton right back, playing 28 times, but also moved up the right side. Bruno played plenty there as well, but is 37 years old.

Gaetan Bong and Markus Suttner split time at left back. All four of the players will be with the Gulls next season.

Brighton already had a top-half defense in terms of goals allowed. This should only help that.

Xabi Alonso: Liverpool-Real to be “such a special game”

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Xabi Alonso is part of a unique brand of footballer to have played with both Liverpool and Real Madrid.

The retired 36-year-old spent five seasons with each team, winning a UEFA Champions League with both, and now will watch his alma maters tangle for a UCL crown on Saturday.

[ MORE: Zidane praises Ronaldo ]

Alonso said he’s just rooting for “an unbelievable game to watch,” and seems like he’ll be happy either way.

“I have feelings for both clubs. I was lucky enough to win this trophy with both clubs so for me it’s difficult to pick one and I will be happy whatever happens, that’s for sure. For Liverpool, for Madrid [they are in] different circumstances, but it’s such a special game.”

The Spanish legend also seemed a bit torn as to whether Real’s experience or Liverpool’s newbie excitement could tilt the scales:

“For the Real Madrid guys, it’s the opposite. They have played so many finals in the last few years, so they can manage the situation better. Later it’s just 90 minutes for both sides, whatever happens. But the build-up is different.

“For sure it’s good to have that experience. But it’s good as well to have that excitement, that hunger, but you need to control as well the over-relaxation and the over-motivation.

“You need to find the right point of activation for the game. That’s not difficult because you know what it means to play in a Champions League final and you don’t have many chances during your whole career, and that’s one of the key psychological sides of this game. And the emotional side is almost as good as the football side.”

Maybe it’s simply playing both sides of the fence, and there’s no shame in that, but it does seem a hard match to choose. Both have been wildly inconsistent in league play as well as the group stage, but have been quite good in the knockout rounds.

It’s hard to pick against Real, but that’s why they play the games.