“I think you’ve got to look at the situation and ask: ‘How many top teams in the Premier League and elsewhere could he get in?’ And you’d have to say them all – and that speaks volumes about the type of player he is.”
This is pretty true, aside from Man City. And you’d have to give Ramsey a shot of making his presence felt there as well.
Emery is trying to forge a new identity for Arsenal, and Ramsey’s had his fair share of injury issues, but allowing Ramsey to walk does seem a bit silly.
We have a three-team tie atop the Premier League table, some giants struggling and minnows over-performing.
Considering all of that, the staff at Pro Soccer Talk got together to have a little chat about the key storylines in the PL in the opening months of the 2018-19 campaign. Feel free to get involved and answer the questions in the comments section below.
Eight weeks in, three teams sit atop the Premier League table level on points. Who has impressed you most so far: Liverpool, Man City or Chelsea?
JPW: At the moment I’m going with Chelsea. I still think Man City and Liverpool will be the top two, but the way Chelsea have settled under Maurizio Sarri (who only arrived in mid July) has been astonishing. Of course, it helps when Eden Hazard is in the form of his life, but Chelsea are close to being the most aesthetically pleasing team, just behind City, to watch in the Premier League. Fantastic start and they’ve played Arsenal and Liverpool, but big tests are coming up.
Dan Karell: I’m going to go with Chelsea as well. Sarri’s somewhat “late” arrival, just a few weeks before the start of the season, put the team behind the eight ball, but Eden Hazard has responded to the new manager and is truly living up to his potential as one of the world’s best players. Man City and Liverpool’s starts have been impressive, but in a way, it was expected. The scoreless draw on Sunday was that of two teams who respected each other too much to be too risky.
Nick Mendola: That’s a tricky one. Chelsea of course came out of the gates slowly with a new manager but has looked as consistent as Man City. I mention those two because when firing Liverpool has looked sensational and a cut above even last season’s champions. That said, that’s been a function and a flaw of the Reds under Jurgen Klopp, and Man City has to be considered the most impressive considering that, even with a tame schedule, they’ve done it without Kevin De Bruyne and with several players still finding their paths.
Kyle Bonn: Manchester City has still impressed me the most. As Nick said, Liverpool is the most fun, but they still have too many highs and lows. City remains consistent, and impressively so. Chelsea is there, but I’m still not convinced Sarri’s re-positioning of N’Golo Kante is the right move long term.
Should Jose Mourinho remain in charge at Manchester United? And here’s the key question: can he turn things around?
JPW: I think he should stay in charge. At least until the January transfer window. If United can hang in and around the top four until early 2019, getting in key defensive reinforcements will be key to how successful this season will be. I think Mourinho has caused his own problems, for sure, but his players are clearly under-performing and there’s only so much you can do as a coach. Not being backed in the summer transfer window clearly upset Mourinho and changes are need at the top of the pyramid if United will get back to challenging for titles each season. Ed Woodward has a lot to answer for and will likely back Mourinho in the January transfer window. The key thing Mourinho needs to do is to let the shackles come off his team. They aren’t a very good defensive team but they can hurt opponents going forward. His style as a coach is often too pragmatic, which is okay away from home against top six opponents. But against lesser teams they need to take games by the scruff of the neck early on. Things change very quickly in this game.
Mendola: Pretty convinced that Mourinho’s job hinges on how he looks against Ronaldo/Juventus in the Champions League and the derby. The whole mess is not entirely his fault but it’s going to rest on his shoulders due to his disposition. In that sense it is of his doing. A side by side comparison of Mou at Man Utd and Klopp at Liverpool doesn’t separate the two by much, but Klopp gets the PR side. He put on Mane and Firmino on blast after losing to Napoli and few cared. Mourinho took a swipe at McTominay and Rashford after a win over Newcastle and took some abuse. Yes the latter two are from the island, but you get the idea.
Karell: I really think it’s only a matter of when, not if, Jose Mourinho is sacked at Man United. He’s lost the senior members of the dressing room and I heard a great point about him in the past, he always had senior or talented players willing to carry the team for him and push the teammates on to work harder. He had that at Chelsea with John Terry and Frank Lampard, had it at Porto with Carvalho and Deco, and at Inter with Eto’o, Zanetti and Wesley Sneijder. But things haven’t been the same for Mourinho since he had a falling out with Pepe and Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid, and then again at Chelsea he lost the dressing room. Man United can surely play better than they’ve been playing, and kind of like Arsene Wenger‘s last few years at Arsenal, there’s this air of uncertainty over Man United that keeps everyone wondering when the other shoe will drop. I would be shocked if Mourinho makes it to the end of the season.
Bonn: I’m firmly convinced Mourinho is tearing down Manchester United more than he is building them up. Even if they experience a temporary return to form, he is not the man to take this team forward. The locker room is a mess, and there is no cohesion at all. Paul Pogba’s a world class player, and just like I’m not convinced Kante is being used properly at Chelsea, a manager’s job is to get the most out of their best players, and moving them to uncomfortable positions doesn’t accomplish that. Mourinho needs to be replaced at Manchester United. I predicted before the season he’ll be the first PL manager fired, and I’m sticking to that.
And what about the teams in north London. Both are just two points off the top spot. Spurs have struggled, Arsenal is surging. Who finishes higher in the table this season?
JPW: It is going to be very tight between these two. Spurs’ eventual move to a new stadium may give them a slight edge towards the end of the season, but there’s no doubt Arsenal is ahead of where we thought they’d be at this stage of the season. Unai Emery is on a long winning spree against teams they should be beating, but I think if Arsenal played Man City and Chelsea now, instead of in the first two games of the season, they would give a much better account of themselves and maybe nick a few points. Spurs’ squad has been stretched and they’ve yet to hit top form, but they’ve had their joint best-ever start to a season in terms of the points tally. Pochettino isn’t happy, but another top four finish would be a great season given the distractions of playing at Wembley again and not signing a single player in the summer. I think Spurs may just pip Arsenal, but I’m not sure if that will be to finish in the top four. Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City are guaranteed, then it’s Man United, Arsenal and Tottenham fighting for fourth. The top four race will be a really tight one this season and if Aubameyang and Lacazette can keep scoring plenty of goals, Arsenal could surprise everyone.
Bonn: I still believe Tottenham is most equipped to handle the full season and will finish higher, but Spurs’ defense has to be sorted out sooner rather than later. The most recent league results don’t tell us much, with clean sheets over Cardiff and Huddersfield Town. The injuries will subside and Eriksen will return, so I’m not terribly worried about the attack. Arsenal looks solid under Emery’s leadership, and the Aubameyang/Lacazette partnership is one the club will look back on fondly, but this season, Spurs will win out.
Karell: Regarding North London (is Watford not part of this convo!? Haha), I agree with Bonn. Tottenham has the talent and has proven it can finish high in the Premier League table, but the injuries to key starters have taken a toll. Meanwhile, Arsenal has taken care of business against less talented sides but is 0-2 against teams that finished in the top six last season (defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City to open the season). We won’t know until December, when Arsenal plays Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United in a 30-day span whether Arsenal is truly back in the top-four picture.
Which players and/or team has surprised you the most so far this season?
JPW: I’m going with Bournemouth. I didn’t see this coming at all but the belief those players have in their manager and in each other will carry them a long way and young David Brooks looks like yet another bargain buy from Eddie Howe. King, Wilson, Fraser and Brooks are ripping teams apart and they’re sticking steadfast to their high-pressing philosophy. I seriously believe they can “do a Burnley” and finish in the European spot. And the player that has surprised me the most has to be Jorginho. I knew he was good, but I didn’t think he would be this good in the Premier League. He has totally reinvented the way this entire Chelsea team plays and I wonder if that would have been the case had he gone to Man City. Probably not. Smart move from him to stick with Sarri and lead Chelsea’s title charge.
Bonn: I’m with Joe in that Jorginho has impressed mightily this season. It’s so so difficult to come into this league and make an immediate impact like Jorginho has (just ask Naby Keita), and he has done so well, everyone has forgotten Sarri pushed the best defensive midfielder in the world to a new role to make room. It’s quite an achievement, and a big reason why Chelsea is where it is. As for impressive teams, mine has to be Wolverhampton. It was obvious during the Championship last season that they had staying power, but to come out and look this impressive has been a joy to watch. They not only look like they can fight for their lives, but they truly look like they belong, even in matches against the big dogs. Nuno is a manager with no fear and it trickles down to the rest of the group.
Mendola: I’m most surprised by Bournemouth, though I’m opt for Wolves and in particular Raul Jimenez. The 27-year-old is a hold-up man more than a finisher, but he does the job so well (El Tri’s answer to Olivier Giroud). Nuno Espírito Santo has marshaled his unit into a remarkably smooth transition into the Premier League, and I was wrong to doubt it.
Any teams, star players or new signings who have been totally disappointing so far?
JPW: I’ve been disappointed with Mohamed Salah. I know, I know. It was always going to be tough to replicate his form from last season but he just seems to be getting very frustrated with himself when he misses chances. There is so much expectation on his shoulders and given the offensive struggles of Mane and Firmino, the pressure will only increase in the coming months. I’ve also been a little disappointed with Tottenham, as has their manager Mauricio Pochettino. Somehow they’re only two points off the top but they haven’t played well at all.
Bonn: I’ve been quite disappointed by Harry Kane to this point. Tottenham has been dealing with a number of key injuries, but the one that could hurt them the most is the one they insist isn’t an issue. It’s quite clear Kane’s ankle is not 100 percent, and he has failed to prove as dangerous as he has been in previous seasons. His shooting numbers are wildly lacking, and the goals have fallen off as well. Kane is a player Spurs need to have any kind of success not just this season but beyond as well, and his poor form has to turn around for Spurs’ season to be anything worthwhile.
And which teams are you worried about in terms of the relegation battle?
JPW: Cardiff City and Huddersfield were the preseason favorites to go down and I haven’t seen much to change my view on that. Both teams struggle to score goals and that is always a recipe for disaster. Fulham and Newcastle also seem very susceptible to going on long runs without a win which can erode confidence quickly. Southampton will also be down there again after their failure to strengthen their team substantially over the summer. The main plus for teams in the relegation battle this season: both Cardiff and Huddersfield are quite bad and will likely occupy two of the three spots.
Mendola: The relegation battle will have a smaller tent this year. Cardiff and Huddersfield need massive reinforcements in January, and Newcastle has to hope its relenting fixture list leads to a number of wins before Boxing Day. Southampton and Burnley also represent concerns.
Bonn: I’m slightly worried about Fulham this year with regards to the drop. Slavisa Jokanovic has been praised for sticking to his guns even with the knowledge that his playing style might not translate to immediate success in the top flight, but it is bordering on stubbornness now. The team is not talented enough defensively to play that way sustainably, and a number of the reinforcements brought in this summer have been massive disappointments – I’ll mention Alfie Mawson and Calum Chambers by name, as the two have just been terrible. As there was last season in the Championship, there will be improvement as the season progresses for Jokanovic’s group, but will it be enough? With the poor matchups against better teams, Fulham has little room for error against sides they should be beating, and every slip against bottom-half teams leave them closer and closer to danger.
No, the club hasn’t faced a monster since its 0-2 start to the season and yes, Fulham is as poor a defense as you’ll find, but it’s difficult to take anything away from a humming Gunners attack.
And Emery is feeling good with a hold on a Top Four spot heading into the international break.
“I believe in us, we believe in our process but also we must keep taking confidence. I think we are in the first competition in the war. It is very difficult but we must prepare, continue improving and show big commitment.”
By the way, Aaron Ramsey scored the best goal. No shame on the others, but his finish combined with the build-up is magnificent.
Following Lucas Vietto’s missed chance in the opening moments of the match, it was all Arsenal for the wealth of the opening half. Alexandre Lacazette moved USMNT defender Tim Ream to create a yard of space and belt past Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli.
Andre Schurrle struck on the counter attack to cancel out Lacazette’s close range opener, as Fulham and Arsenal are locked at 1 thanks to magic from the London clubs’ respective German and French stars.
Bettinelli made an outstanding save when Hector Bellerin hammered a knuckling shot toward the far post to open the second half.
Lacazette made Bellerin’s offer a bonafide warning sign, shooting off a bounce that may’ve took the slightest of touches off Ream’s foot outstretched before bounding past a diving Bettinelli.
And then Ramsey.
Bellerin’s cute flick helped the ball move from the right wing to the left wing, where Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang clipped a cross to the top of the box. Ramsey swept his back leg behind him to spin the ball inside the far post.
The riot continued with ease, Aubameyang making the most of interplay between Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Bellerin to settle the ball with class before ripping a shot beyond Bettinelli.
Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures consists of three games featuring four of the six sides with top-four aspirations, including the big one: the one we’ve all been waiting for since they met in the Champions League quarterfinals in April, Liverpool versus Manchester City.
Arsenal seek their sixth straight PL win on Sunday when Unai Emery and Co., make the short trip south to the River Thames and head west until they float up to Craven Cottage. Emery has settled in quickly — and quietly — since back-to-back defeats to Man City and Chelsea to begin his first season at the Emirates Stadium. While they’ve managed more than a handful of goals en route to five straight wins, it’s the defensive record (just four goals conceded, including back-to-back clean sheets against Everton and Watford) which has given the Gunners a foundation to build upon. Just two points separate Arsenal from fourth-place Chelsea.
Down at the other end of the table — 17th place, to be exact — Fulham are winless in their last four league games and have just five points to show for their first seven outings after spending more than $130 million this summer after winning promotion from the Championship. Injuries have been a key cause the Cottagers’ early-season struggles, as manager Slavisa Jokanovic has already used nine different defenders in PL play. American defender Tim Ream returned last weekend after missing the start of the season with a back injury and should do his part to stabilize a side that has conceded 16 goals in seven games.
Southampton vs. Chelsea — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
The good news for Chelsea: they’re still unbeaten to start the PL season. The slightly-less-great news: it’s been three weeks since they last won a PL game and they’re in danger of falling away from the leading pack, which presently consists of Liverpool and Man City. The Blues have won six straight games against Southampton (all competitions), including the FA Cup semifinal in April.
“We have lost two points in both our last two (league) games, so obviously we want to get three points as much as we can,” defender Cesar Azpilicueta said this week. “We weren’t able to in the last two games so we need to improve because every time we go onto the pitch, we want to win.”
Southampton, on the other hand, currently sit 16th in the midst of a three-game winless skid, including back-to-back defeats to Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers. It’s been 205 minutes since Saints last scored a goal in PL play, and they have a bottom-five offensive record this season (six goals in seven games). Mark Hughes will be desperately hoping that edging past Everton on penalty kicks in the EFL Cup third round on Tuesday gives his side a much needed boost with the busy winter period not so far away now.
Liverpool vs. Manchester City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
The last time Man City visited Anfield, they conceded three times in the game’s opening half-hour on their way to a 3-0 first-leg defeat, and a disheartening exit from the Champions League. The visit before that, Pep Guardiola‘s side conceded four times — including a three-goal barrage that lasted just nine minutes — as they watched their 22-game unbeaten start to the season vanish at Anfield. It’s been more than 15 years since City last beat Liverpool on Merseyside, as they’ve lost 11 times at Anfield since May 3, 2003.
Guardiola has not yet revealed whether or not Kevin De Bruyne (knee) will return after two months on the sidelines, though City have managed just fine — thus far — without their play-making genius. A run of four straight wins (by a combined score of 12-1) have vaulted City back ahead of Liverpool for the top spot in the table, thanks to the Reds’ 1-1 draw with Chelsea last weekend. Jurgen Klopp‘s side was perfect up until its trip to Stamford Bridge.
Klopp was very quick to downplay his side’s recent success against City, knowing his side is in for another colossal battle on Sunday.
“We won the last three games against City — twice in the Champions League and once in the league. After none of these games do you go into the dressing room and think, ‘Now we’ve got it, now we know how to beat Manchester City.’
“There is no real way; there isn’t one thing you have to do so you can beat them. That’s not there. You need a fantastic football team — which I have, thank God — with an outstanding character, ready for being really brave, ready for making mistakes in a very difficult game against an outstanding opponent.”