On transfer deadline day, a North London club, whose fans were reeling from previous activity, signed a creative midfielder from one of the traditionally great clubs of European football and on his debut, he appeared to be the key to them progressing to the next level. No, not Mesut Özil’s impressive first start for Arsenal – I will get onto that in a moment – but Christian Eriksen’s arrival at White Hart Lane. The Danish 21-year-old – who was brought in from Ajax for £11.8m the day after Tottenham had lost to the Gunners and then sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid – had almost been an afterthought for me among the other new arrivals, with the impressive stature of Étienne Capoue and Paulinho in the centre of midfield; the reputation of Erik Lamela; and the goal scoring record of Roberto Soldado being far more eye-catching. Also, the few times I had seen Eriksen play before – for Denmark in Euro 2012 and for Ajax in a couple of Champions League matches – I had been unimpressed; he clearly had talent but seemed unable to translate that into game performance.
However, my opinion was quickly changed when, ten minutes into his first appearance in a Spurs shirt, Eriksen picked up the ball on the edge of Norwich’s penalty area, ran towards goal, cut back to nutmeg a defender and again to give himself some space for a shot. Although that effort ended up being towards the keeper, the ball spilled out and gave an opportunity to Soldado, who should great improvisation to attempt a backheel that hit the post and the whole move showed great promise from Tottenham’s new look squad. In the 28th minute, the Spanish striker laid off a pass from Danny Rose – who has been impressive in the left-back role following a season on loan at Sunderland – to Eriksen, who played a perfectly measured through ball, without even needing to look, into the path of the Gylfi Sigurdsson inside the area and he found the net for Spurs’ first league goal of the season from open play. In the second half, the Dane once again was the conductor for Tottenham’s second, picking up the ball on the edge of the box and finding Paulinho in space on the right, giving the Brazilian the time and space to cross the ball in to Sigurdsson at the far post to double the lead. Withdrawn after 70 minutes, Eriksen had a very impressive debut that suggest that he might be the missing link between controlling the game and creating great goal scoring chances – an important trait given that Tottenham no longer have Bale in the team to single-handedly win matches with impressive shots from distance. The other thing of note for the Waffles in their win over Norwich – which gives them three wins and a defeat from their first four games – was the relentlessness the players showed – Andre Villas-Boas appears to have formed the team into a close group who want victory over all else and the effort displayed from all of the players, but particularly new arrivals Eriksen, Paulinho and Soldado, suggests that if their style clicks alongside the work rate, this will be a very enjoyable Tottenham team to be supporting.
Arsenal can be equally happy (as I will be unhappy) with the business they did in the final hours of the transfer window, since Özil – who was a known quantity as one of the very best players in the world, given his performances for Germany in the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championships and consistent displays for Real Madrid and Werder Bremen at the club level – immediately settled into the team and looks like being a bargain buy, even at a cost of £42.5m. In the 11th minute, the German gained his first Premiership assist, setting up Olivier Giroud for the Gunners’ opening goal away at Sunderland, and he would have had more if Theo Walcott had been able to take two golden chances after Özil had played him in. (In fact, Walcott’s finishing was so bad that, in his honor, I will not even manage to complete this senten…) There was still an element of fortune to Arsenal’s win; after Aaron Ramsey’s excellent finish had given them the lead back – which they had lost when Craig Gardner converted a penalty – Jozy Altidore was fouled by Bacary Sagna on the edge of the box, but the American striker carried on and slid the ball just over the line. However, referee Martin Atkinson had already blown for a free-kick instead of allowing the advantage to develop and the set piece came to nothing, a decision that cost Sunderland, as five minutes later they were 3-1 down when Ramsey claimed his second goal of the game.
When the only signing that Arsene Wenger spent money on this summer was for an attacking midfielder – an area that Arsenal already had good players in, notably Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, and Mikel Arteta – some pundits criticized the purchase saying that what they really needed was a defensive midfielder, a striker, or central defender. However, the main characteristic of Wenger’s teams during his reign have been clever, intricate passing that creates lots of chances for their attackers and, in Özil, they now have one of the top ball players in the world who will slot in seamlessly to that style of play. Adding a tough-tackling centre back or midfielder would not have transformed this Arsenal team into the hard men of Stoke City under Tony Pulis – or even the Gunners under George Graham – they simply would have gotten a little better in an area of weakness. Instead, they have accentuated the positives in their squad and their attacking threat now makes them serious contenders on all fronts this season – as well as currently sitting second in the league, Arsenal also made a strong start in the Champions League group stage, securing an impressive 2-1 away win – their 10th consecutive success on their travels – against Marseille on Wednesday, with the in-form Aaron Ramsey scoring his sixth in six games and Walcott getting off the mark for the season.
Both Arsenal and Tottenham – who are level on points and goal difference, with the red half of North London ahead only on goals scored – trail Liverpool in the early Premiership table, but Brendan Rodgers’ men did lose their 100% record with a 2-2 draw against his old club, Swansea on Monday night. It was the Jonjo Shelvey show at the Liberty Stadium as the midfielder – who moved from Anfield to South Wales over the summer for a fee of £5.2m – was involved in all four goals. Shelvey’s night had started well – a ball dropped to him on the edge of the Liverpool box and, despite an initial miscue, he was able to take it on and at his third attempt – the second having been blocked – the Swansea midfielder found the back of the net. However, within a minute he had helped level the score as his careless backpass put Daniel Sturridge through and the England striker racked up his fourth goal in the opening four Premiership fixtures; before another misplaced pass by Shelvey went to Victor Moses, who netted on his debut for the Reds. In the second half, Shelvey was involved in a spat with his former teammate, Lucas, which saw both players booked; then it was his cushioned header that put Michu threw for his first league goal of the season and the strike the earned Swansea a share of the points.
The rest of the top six in the Premiership is rounded out by the teams that finished in the top three places last year, with Manchester City sitting in fourth after they were held to a goalless draw away at Stoke, who are managed by their former boss, Mark Hughes. The reigning champions Manchester United secured their first home win of the season by beating promoted side Crystal Palace 2-0, with Robin Van Persie scoring a penalty and Wayne Rooney getting the other directly from a free-kick. Chelsea have now gone four games without a victory in all competitions after they were beaten 1-0 at Goodison Park by Everton last Saturday and then suffered a 2-1 home defeat by Basel in the Champions League on Wednesday night. Elsewhere, West Brom scored their first goal of the 2013/14 Premiership game in the final minute of their match at Fulham to earn a 1-1 draw; Aston Villa havenot gained a single point since their win on the opening day at Arsenal and last Saturday were beaten 2-1 at home by Newcastle; Southampton and West Ham played out a forgettable 0-0 draw last Sunday; and two teams promoted from the Championship last May, Hull and Cardiff, shared the spoils at the KC Stadium with the final score 1-1.
In the other European action involving British teams this week, the two Manchester clubs both got off to winning starts in their Champions League groups, with City beating Victor Plzen 3-0 in the Czech Republic, and United recording a 4-2 success at home against Bayer Leverkusen, but Celtic fell to a 2-0 defeat away at AC Milan. In the Europa League, Christian Eriksen again showed his worth for Spurs with a beautiful 25 yard goal against Tromsø, after he came on as a substitute to replace the injured Mousa Dembélé, which added to two from Jermain Defoe to give Villas-Boas’ men a good result from their first group match. Swansea matched that 3-0 scoreline, but they were away for their game against Valencia, who had a man sent off inside the first 10 minutes; and Championship side Wigan, who are in the competition having won the FA Cup last May, earned a point with a goalless draw away at the Belgian side, Zulte-Waregem.
The highlight of the Premiership fixtures this weekend sees a contest between the two most recent winners of the league title, as Manchester City play host to their more illustrious neighbors, United, with both needing a victory to ensure they do not fall too far behind in the early stages of the season. Tottenham have a tough trip to Cardiff to contend with and will be up against their former centre back, Steven Caulker; Arsenal entertain Stoke; top-of-the-table Liverpool have a home match against Southampton, which also represents the final game of Luis Suarez’s suspension; and Everton travel to east London to take on West Ham. Crystal Palace will try to record back-to-back victories at Selhurst park when they take on Swansea, who have been in Spain for that Europa League encounter this week; the bottom two meet at the Hawthorns, as West Brom face Sunderland; Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa team have an away fixture against his old club, Norwich; Newcastle host Hull; and there is a south-west London derby between Chelsea and Fulham. In midweek, there is League Cup action and the highlight of the third round ties see Liverpool take on Manchester United; Spurs travel to Aston Villa; and a repeat of last season’s FA Cup final, as Manchester City take on Wigan.
Last week, 6-4; Season 23-17
Home team listed first
Norwich vs Aston Villa – Away win
Liverpool vs Southampton – Home win
Newcastle vs Hull City Amur Tigers – Home win
West Brom vs Sunderland – Away win
West Ham vs Everton – Draw
Chelsea vs Fulham – Home win
Arsenal vs Stoke – Home win
Crystal Palace vs Swansea – Away win
Cardiff vs Tottenham Hotspur Waffles – Draw
Manchester City vs Manchester United – Home win