Claude Puel

Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Emery’s use of attackers may be his Arsenal downfall

Leave a comment

When the Premier League season began, many joked that Arsenal was built to try and outscore teams 3-2 each week over 38 weeks.

It was a nod to the Gunners’ extraordinary attacking prowess and limited defensive additions. Arsenal had signed three defenders in the summer, one who wouldn’t arrive until the following season (William Saliba*) and another who would miss some time with injury (Kieran Tierney).

The third was David Luiz.

So it isn’t surprising that the Gunners are still allowing goals. It is surprising that they are not scoring more, and perhaps a bit stunning that the expected goals table says that Unai Emery‘s men aren’t even hard luck victims.

Arsenal has scored 16 goals and allowed 15 through 11 match days, but the xG table says the North London outfit has actually finished a bit better their chances and been worse on the other end (15 xG for, 17 xGA).

Luiz has made several head scratching errors to go with his wonderful long passes and forays forward. He’s a player capable of both the ethereal and the tragic, not unlike Granit Xhaka, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that a move across London.

There are plenty of reasons to be upset with the defense, of course, and it’s one thing if that anger is put at the board instead of Emery. The league-worst 7.7 interceptions per game points a bit to the tactics, but there’s no question the Gunners have made mistakes above field level even if the Laurent Koscielny exit to Bordeaux caught them by surprise.

But what should be damning is what Emery has been unable to do with an unbelievable batch of attackers. Given Nicolas Pepe to go with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the tactician has not been able to find a way to play them together. Breakout teens Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka were both used over unused sub Pepe on Saturday despite the Ivorian not playing in the midweek League Cup loss to Liverpool.

Don’t get us wrong, both players are exciting pieces for the future, but the decision is so short-sighted (let alone that Emery put on Saka for Lucas Torreira with a one-goal lead and 17 minutes to play. Perhaps coincidental but no surprise tha it was 1-1 three minutes later).

Some if not many have argued that Pepe has been a disappointment since arriving in a mega money deal from Ligue 1, and the 24-year-old’s three goals and three assists in exactly 800 minutes in all competitions certainly aren’t eye-popping from a player who scored 22 and 11 in 3300 at Lille last season.

Yet Pepe is capable of the sensational, as evidenced by his pair of free kick goals in 15 minutes off the bench in the Europa League on Oct. 15. He’s third in the PL in successful dribbles (34) and is the 19th ranked player by SofaScore and 24th in WhoScored’s ratings. That’s the best of any Arsenal player, with Aubameyang 38th and 62nd according to both sites, respectively.

And stats say Pepe has been somewhat unlucky in PL play to boot, with one actual goal to go with 3 expected goals. His xG plus xA per contest is below only Lacazette and level with Aubameyang.

Arsenal is ninth in the PL in key passes, with 12.9 per game. Pepe’s 1.7 are behind only Mesut Ozil, whose sample size is two matches.

Look at this pass from Pepe to Lacazette between three bodies to set up Arsenal’s first goal in its memorable North London Derby comeback. It’s just one example, sure, and all players need time to integrate to a new league and culture, but not using a healthy Pepe for 180 minutes should never happen even with the five-pack of attackers.

*A silver lining for Arsenal fans: Saint-Etienne boss Claude Puel is furious with his club for selling the 18-year-old Saliba, calling him the “best player” on the team. He’s coming, eventually, even if Real Madrid are reportedly trying to find a way to hijack the sale/loan.

Season Review: Man United, Wolves, Everton, Leicester, West Ham

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We’re into the top half of the Premier League now, as we continue to review all 20 teams’ campaigns after the 2018-19 season came to a close on Sunday.

[ REVIEW: Huddersfield, Fulham, Cardiff, Brighton, Saints ]

The group of clubs that finished between 10th and sixth spans a massive gulf in preseason predictions: from supposed title challengers Manchester United, to newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers.

[ REVIEW: Burnley, Bournemouth, Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Watford ]

West Ham United

Finishing position/points total: 10th / 52 points
High point: Handing London rivals Tottenham Hotspur their first defeat at their brand new stadium.
Low point
: Losing four straight to start the season, after spending big in the summer transfer window and hiring Manuel Pellegrini.

Our opinion: Given what West Ham have actually achieved this decade, they finished right where they should. Given what they spent last summer, they underachieved. That is almost certainly a product of the constant turnover taking place in east London.
Star player
: Felipe Anderson
Most memorable goal
: Declan Rice‘s first goal for West Ham was a big one: the winner against Arsenal.

Manager grade: Manuel Pellegrini: C
Hopes for next season
: As ever, West Ham fans will be dreaming of cracking the top-six, as unrealistic and difficult as that is. More realistically, they should be battling Everton and Wolves for the title of “best of the rest.”


Leicester City

Finishing position/points total: 9th / 52 points
High point: Winning five of their first six games after Brendan Rodgers was named new manager in late February.
Low point
: Six games without a win (five losses) to begin 2019. Claude Puel didn’t survive the skid.

Our opinion: Right around mid-table is where Leicester should aim to be season after season. Only to nitpick, to do so without the gigantic swings between highs and lows (15 wins and 16 losses, with just 7 draws) should be the attainable target moving forward.
Star player
: Youri Tielemans
Most memorable goal
: Demarai Gray scored perhaps the most emotional game of the PL season: Leicester’s first, and the winner against Cardiff City, following the tragic death of chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

Manager grade: Brendan Rodgers: Incomplete
Hopes for next season
: If Rodgers views Leicester as a long-term project for himself, he should look to continue the youth movement currently taking place at the King Power Stadium and build a squad that could push for top-six on their best day a year or two down the road.


Everton

Finishing position/points total: 8th / 54 points
High point: Beating Chelsea, West Ham and Arsenal in successive games, without conceding a single goal in the process (March 17 to April 7).
Low point
: Losing to Liverpool, on that goal.

Our opinion: Marco Silva is clearly the most talented and ambitious manager Everton have had in a long time, and that’ll show through even more so after a second summer of transfers to build a squad that better fits his style (e.g., younger, more mobile defenders).
Star player
: Gylfi Sigurdsson
Most memorable goal
: Sigurdsson’s long-range was the pick of the litter in the Toffees’ 4-0 rout of Man United.

Manager grade: Marco Silva: B-
Hopes for next season
: Of all the sides in the top-10, Everton are probably best positioned to mount a challenge on the top-six, given not only the talent up and down their squad, but also the experience at very high levels in the game. Most likely, though, they’ll be seventh or eighth again.


Wolverhampton Wanderers

Finishing position/points total: 7th / 57 points
High point: Other than being back in the PL? How about wins over Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal, all in your first season back in the PL? No wonder Wolves landed seventh.
Low point
: Huddersfield Town finished bottom of the league — with just 16 points, 10 adrift of 19th place. Six of those 16 points (37.5 percent) came against Wolves, as they did the double over Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side.

Our opinion: Wolves were one of the PL’s most active and aggressive clubs during last summer’s transfer window; they also happened to be some of the best buyers, as Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota, Joao Moutinho and Jonny were rock-solid figures in the first team. That’s a very strong foundation upon which to build.
Star player
: Raul Jimenez
Most memorable goal
: Jimenez’s outside-the-foot cross to Jota, and Jota’s ball back to Jimenez for the finish, was the clincher against Cardiff and delightful to watch.

Manager grade: Nuno Espirito Santo: A
Hopes for next season
: Should they wind up in the Europa League next season (Manchester City would have to beat Watford in the FA Cup final), Wolves will have multiple rounds of qualify to wade through before even reaching the group stage. They would be best suited not having to deal with such a fixture list.


Manchester United

Finishing position/points total: 6th / 66 points
High point
: The lengthy honeymoon period (12 games unbeaten, including 10 wins) for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s interim appointment after Jose Mourinho was fired.
Low point
: The remainder of the season cratering (just two wins from their final eight games, including four defeats) after Solskjaer was named permanent manager on March 28.

Our opinion: This is a club in desperate need of a massive overhaul, from top to bottom: perhaps beginning with the owners, to the club executives, to the technical decision makers, perhaps the manager as well, and the first-team squad.
Star player
: Marcus Rashford
Most memorable goal
: Another goal conceded by Cardiff. Anthony Martial and Co., kicked off the Solskjaer era in dazzling fashion.

Manager grade: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: C
Hopes for next season
: Let’s say Man United hit on every one of their signings this summer — we’re guessing $200 million’s worth of them — which includes a new backline, a deep-lying midfielder, an attacking midfielder and at least one winger. They could finish in the top-four.

Top Premier League storylines for Week 37

2 Comments

The race for the Premier League title looks set to go all the way down to the wire, with plenty of drama still to play out. Week 37 may be lacking in Big Six matchups but there are still plenty of intriguing matchups to watch, which we’ll look at below.

[MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks]

Can Rafa Benitez stop Liverpool?
Newcastle v. Liverpool, 2:45 p.m. ET, Saturday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

The title hopes are out of its control, but Liverpool must continue to win its final two remaining league games to keep any hope of winning its first Premier League crown. Standing in its way this week is former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, who still maintains property in the area and reportedly still holds fond feelings for the club. Will Benitez put the final nail in the coffin for Liverpool’s Premier League hopes, or have his team let Liverpool come away with a massive away victory, keeping the pressure on Manchester City. Once again, Man City plays after Liverpool, so they’ll know that a win will either seal the title or just put them back on top by one point.


Brendan Rogers rematch with Manchester City
Manchester City v. Leicester City, 3 p.m. ET, Monday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

If Newcastle presents a challenge for Liverpool, the similarly, Leicester City, even at the Etihad Stadium, is a challenge for Pep Guardiola and Man City. Brendan Rodgers‘ side is coming off a rousing 3-0 win over Arsenal, though the Gunners were quite poor defensively. Youri Tielemans has been terrific and Jamie Vardy has come to life under Rodgers after struggling to find regular playing time under Claude Puel. Manchester City though has won 12 straight games in the Premier League, and are making their own luck, winning by some of the finest margins – 29 millimeters worth of space in its last game.

Wolves can lock down seventh place
Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Fulham, 10 a.m. ET, Saturday, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

The race for seventh place has been a wild one in the last few weeks. However, finally, after Wolves win last weekend at Watford, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side can put itself in position to play in Europe next season, one year after coming up from the Championship. With a Wolves win over Fulham, the club will secure the seventh position and should Watford lose in the FA Cup final, Wolves will be heading to the UEFA Europa League.

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 34

Leave a comment

We’re one week away from all Premier League clubs sitting on equal footing in terms of matches played, and may then have a true tale of favor in the battles for 17th place, seventh, and first.

[ MORE: Klopp on Messi match-up ]

But until then, we power rank.


20. Huddersfield Town — It’s a slow death followed by a long funeral procession, this one.
Last week: 20
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

19. Fulham — Showed enough quality to comfortably beat Everton, but how many players will stay at Craven Cottage through relegation?
Last week: 19
Season high: 11
Season low: 20

18. Cardiff City — The defeat of Brighton combined with the Seagulls’ diving form has Neil Warnock‘s men dreaming of safety; In a season with so many setbacks and the tragedy of Emiliano Sala, a place in the top flight for 2019-20 would be an immense achievement.
Last week: 18
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

17. Brighton and Hove Albion — What’s happened here? Points are going to be hard to come by the rest of the way, and Chris Hughton‘s men are in real trouble.
Last week: 17
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

16. Bournemouth — Had to feel good to hang five on Brighton, but the Cherries feel like they’ve hit their heights. Will Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson last the summer?
Last week: 16
Season high: 6
Season low: 14

15. Newcastle United — Rafa Benitez deserves a raise and a real transfer budget. At almost any other club, he’d get both without a debate. But…
Last week: 14
Season high: 11
Season low: 19

14. Southampton — Ralph Hasenhuttl admits that Saints have to be a developmental club, but he’s getting a heck of a lot of performance from such a unit.
Last week: 15
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

13. Crystal Palace — Nearly managed another notable result against Man City.
Last week: 12
Season high: 6
Season low: 17

12. West Ham United — Badly need a summer of rest and rejuvenation. Next season should be a legit Top Seven campaign.
Last week: 11
Season high: 6
Season low: 20

11. Burnley *New season high* The Clarets safety again underscores the import of Sean Dyche as a tiny club continues to grow in stability. 
Last week: 13
Season high: 11
Season low: 20

10. Leicester City — Losing to Newcastle at the King Power Stadium is a reminder that the style may look a little different under Brendan Rodgers, but it’s no surprise to many that simply changing managers won’t turn the Foxes back into a top contender. Wake us when you see a result Claude Puel was incapable of delivering. Remember: Puel helped Leicester beat Chelsea and Man City.
Last week: 9
Season high: 7
Season low: 13

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

9. Wolves — 
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

8. Everton
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 15

7. Watford — Performed admirably with 10 men against Arsenal, but it’s also hilarious the hoops people are jumping through the excuse Troy Deeney‘s shot at Lucas Torreira.
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

6. Manchester United — A win at Goodison would sure soothe the nerves of those wondering about that full-time appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Last week: 7
Season high: 3
Season low: 14

5. Chelsea — The Blues have a weekend to recover from Thursday’s Europa League second leg versus Slavia Prague before meeting in-form Burnley at Stamford Bridge.
Last week: 3
Season high: 1
Season low: 7

4. Arsenal — Navigating Napoli with some early certainly would be huge given two league matches by Wednesday.
Last week: 5
Season high: 2
Season low: 9

3. Spurs — Forget that Spurs advanced in the Champions League on aggregate: Can Mauricio Pochettino‘s men put in a better defensive shift versus Man City than the 4-3 loss at midweek when the two sides renew acquaintances in Manchester?
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 8

2. Liverpool — The dream of a double more impressive than Man City’s is very real.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

  1. Manchester City — How does one rebound from Wednesday? Just how? Still the top dog in our rankings, but only just because getting six points from six against Spurs and Manchester United in under a week is a massive ask.
    Last week: 1
    Season high: 1
    Season low: 3

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 33

Leave a comment

Who has the momentum heading into the final five (or six) matches of the Premier League season?

Let’s revisit our power rankings for a proper evaluation (as proper as power rankings can be, of course).

[ PL PREVIEW: Leicester v. Newcastle ]

It’s been a while since we last ranked ’em up and down, so look out for swings.

20. Huddersfield Town — Four points since the start of December.
Last week: 20
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

19. Fulham — Three points in 2019.
Last week: 19
Season high: 11
Season low: 20

18. Cardiff City — Wins away to Burnley and Brighton and absolutely necessary if the Bluebirds are to put legitimate pressure on anyone currently outside the relegation picture.
Last week: 17
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

17. Brighton and Hove Albion — A huge few days ahead for Chris Hughton‘s Seagulls, with Bournemouth and Cardiff City on the dial. A pair of losses would have them firmly in the mix to go down.
Last week: 14
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

16. Bournemouth **New season low**The Cherries have now lost consecutive matches on six separate occasions this season.
Last week: 13
Season high: 6
Season low: 14

15. Southampton — Five points above the drop and improving with a strong Wolves visiting this weekend.
Last week: 16
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

14. Newcastle United — The Crystal Palace loss stings, as safety could’ve felt assured even with a point.
Last week: 11
Season high: 11
Season low: 19

13. Burnley — Sean Dyche has done it again.
Last week: 18
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

12. Crystal Palace — Same as above, but substitute Roy Hodgson‘s name.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 17

11. West Ham United — Manuel Pellegrini is fine to feel aggrieved with the club’s injuries during his first spell in charge, but we bet he’d accept another season like it if Felipe Anderson stays in London.
Last week: 9
Season high: 6
Season low: 20

10. Watford — Will the remarkable FA Cup comeback drive Watford toward a 7th place finish?
Last week: 7
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

9. Leicester City — Brendan Rodgers can’t be blamed for an easy start to life as Foxes boss, something probably planned in the timing of Claude Puel‘s firing anyway, but the tests are coming very soon. Now in seventh, can he guide them through a gauntlet?
Last week: 10
Season high: 7
Season low: 13

8. Everton — Marco Silva‘s men very much delivering on investment and promise and just may deliver a Europa League spot.
Last week: 12
Season high: 5
Season low: 15

7. Manchester United — Moral victories won’t be feeling too positive across a fierce run-in.
Last week: 4
Season high: 3
Season low: 14

6. Wolves — The Burnley loss and FA Cup exit sting, but Nuno Espirito Santo has Manchester United’s number.
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

5. Arsenal — League speed bumps (away to Watford, home to Palace) surround tough UEL fixtures versus Napoli.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 9

4. Tottenham Hotspur — Things are again looking up for Spurs in both leagues — Premier and Champions — as their new building bays for more wins and some silverware.
Last week: 6
Season high: 2
Season low: 8

3. Chelsea — How long will success-driving Eden Hazard stay? And could the Blues handle life without him, given their mercurial seasons with him?
Last week: 5
Season high: 1
Season low: 7

2. Liverpool — The schedule looks better than Man City’s but their rivals remain in the driver’s seat.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

  1. Man City — This week’s visit to Palace is the easiest fixture for the next few weeks, and it isn’t easy!
    Last week: 1
    Season high: 1
    Season low: 3