The Premier League returned with a bang on Monday, on Boxing Day, after going dark for six weeks during the 2022 World Cup break.
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Leaders Arsenal picked up right where they left off, as they extended their lead to eight points (for the time being) over defending champions Manchester City. Liverpool started the second half of the season much better than they began the first, and Newcastle United made it very clear they’re not falling away from the top-four race anytime soon.
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Here’s a look at 10 things that stood out (as matchweek 17 continues on Tuesday and Wednesday), as our writers Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Andy Edwards (AE), and Nicholas Mendola (NM) share their observations from across the most recent PL games.
10 things we learned in the Premier League: Week 15
1. Saka, Martinelli and Odegaard can lead Arsenal attack sans Jesus: Everybody was concerned when Gabriel Jesus went down with an extended injury which needs surgery. The Brazilian forward watched on excitedly from the stands with his hood pulled up and Arsenal proved they might just be able to cope without their star summer signing who has made such a big difference. Jesus hasn’t been prolific since he arrived at Arsenal but he has been the glue which holds together their rhythmic attack. In his absence Eddie Nketiah will play as the center forward and can finish chances and make similar runs in-behind. But it is down to Saka, Martinelli and Odegaard to keep their flowing attack going and they did a very good job of it against West Ham as they were patient, precise and clinical. This display proved there is hope for Arsenal over the next few months while Jesus is out but their upcoming games against Brighton, Newcastle and Tottenham will be much bigger tests. (JPW)
2. The good, and the bad, of Liverpool (Aston Villa 1-3 Liverpool): Liverpool remains a handful going forward with serious warts at the back. Andy Robertson set the Premier League record for assists from a defender when he combined with Trent Alexander-Arnold to produce a scintillating Mohamed Salah opener, and Salah turned provider with a smart pass to Virgil van Dijk at the back post of a jumbled set piece. But Emery’s charges changed the game at the break, and Liverpool was under serious pressure and folded for two Ollie Watkins concessions. Fortunately for the Reds, the first of the bunch was pulled back for a close offside. The score line says a two-goal win but Liverpool held just 53 percent possession and a 16-12 advantage in shots. (NM)
3. First half woes continue for Spurs (Brentford 2-2 Tottenham): You could be forgiven for thinking this was a Tottenham game from before the World Cup. In their last five games in the Premier League they have trailed at half time of all of them. Yes, Antonio Conte was missing Hugo Lloris, Rodrigo Bentancur, Richarlison and Cristian Romero for this game due to the World Cup exploits, plus a lot of their players played key roles at the tournament, but this is more about Spurs’ playing identity. They are so slow to start games and they give opponents so many chances to score and sit back so deep. They have the quality in attack to dig them out of a hole and Harry Kane and Co. continue to do this time and time again. Spurs have to upgrade their defense at full back and at center back to give themselves the confidence to play further up the pitch and make the most of their obvious attacking talents. If they can’t do that this January, they can kiss goodbye to a top four finish. (JPW)
4. Newcastle the real deal way ahead of schedule (Leicester 0-3 Newcastle): The Magpies came out of their prolonged break without a single sign that their early-season success could be a mirage. Newcastle was missing Alexander Isak, Callum Wilson, and Jonjo Shelvey, and also started the game with Allan Saint-Maximin on the bench. Not a problem. Newcastle’s spine of Bruno Guimaraes, Fabian Schar, and Sven Botman were imperious and Chris Wood buried his penalty in place of Wilson and Isak. The wings were electric as Newcastle rang up a 1.81-0.54 expected goal advantage and kept Leicester without a real dangerous chance.Speaking of wings, Kieran Trippier remains in superb form. He set up a goal, won the ball when needed, and delivered bomb after bomb into the box. (NM)
5. Everton their own worst enemies… again (Everton 1-2 Wolves): Everton had a handful of opportunities to reclaim the lead and the three points as they more than doubled Wolves’ xG output (1.58-0.72), but Jose Sa made five saves to keep things level and set the stage for what was to come in the 5th minute of stoppage time. Adama Traore sped down the right flank as three of his teammates flooded the goalmouth. Rayan Ait-Nouri was the last of them to enter the penalty area, but he’s the one to whom the ball fell, and the 21-year-old left back hammered it past Jordan Pickford to send the away fans into raptures and give new manager Julen Lopetegui a winning debut. (AE)
6. Huge job for Jones to keep Saints up (Southampton 1-3 Brighton): If we didn’t know it already, we learned that Southampton are in big trouble. A combination of poor defensive mistakes, slack finishing and just a general lack of confidence on the ball led to a heavy defeat at home to Brighton. The first home PL game of the Nathan Jones era went terribly for the new Saints boss and he needs to find an identity for this team. Southampton need a very fast start to the January transfer window and you would hope they’ve been doing lots of work behind-the-scenes over the last few months to recruit better players. Right now, that is the only way Saints are going to stay up this season. They need fresh talent. Fast. The current crop of players (many of whom are extremely young) have had too many chances and just aren’t good enough individually or as a group. (JPW)
7. Fulham a force in first season back in PL (Crystal Palace 0-3 Fulham): The victory sends Fulham (22 points) up to 8th in the Premier League table, level on points with Liverpool for the time being (the Cottagers have played two more games currently). Palace (19 points), meanwhile, remain in 11th where they began Boxing Day. Mitrovic, typically the scorer, set up De Cordova Reid, typically the assister, for the opening goal in the 31st minute, and then things got (much) worse (very) quickly for Crystal Palace as Tyrick Mitchell was shown a red card for stamping his studs on Kenny Tete’s shin in the 34th. Palace went from 10 to nine men in the 57th minute, when James Tomkins was shown a second yellow card for elbowing Mitrovic as he sprinted in on goal. Tim Ream lashed the ball past Vicente Guaita from a corner kick in the 71st minute. Mitrovic made it 3-0 with a close-range redirect from Willian’s volley in the 80th minute, giving him 10 PL goals this season (4th-most – Haaland, Kane and Toney). (AE)