Despite only enjoying two separate five-minute spells when they were the better team in the North London Derby, Tottenham managed to leave the Emirates with a point last weekend following a 1-1 draw with Arsenal. For much of the first half, Spurs once again looked like a group of players who had never met each other before and were unable to put together any sort of passing move, but somehow they were able to make it to the break without conceding. Eleven minutes into the second half, Christian Eriksen caught Matthieu Flamini in possession inside the Arsenal half, gave the ball to Erik Lamela who threaded through a lovely pass that Nacer Chadli converted to give Tottenham a surprising lead. Any hopes of a smash-and-grab victory were dashed fifteen minutes before the end, when a mishit by Lamela – who, to be fair, worked hard defensively even though it is clearly not his forte – allowed Alexis Sanchez the opportunity to cross and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain lashed in the equalizer. Spurs held on for the final quarter of an hour and by one basic metric – an important one to us supporters – Mauricio Pochettino has already improved on last season. In 2013/14, eight matches against Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham (our three biggest rivals) ended with no wins, one draw and seven defeats. So far this year, Tottenham have beaten the Hammers and got a point against the Gunners – there may be bigger aims in the Premier League, but these fixtures are the ones fans look to when the schedule comes out.
As for Arsenal, they cannot be too disappointed with a draw in the derby, as it maintains their unbeaten record in the league and they followed it up with a 4-1 thrashing of Galatasaray in the Champions League in midweek. It really looks as though the combination of Danny Welbeck (who grabbed a hat-trick in that victory over the Turkish side), Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanches and Oxlaide-Chamberlain is starting to click; the biggest weakness for the Gunners is the lack of a top-notch defensive midfielder in their squad. Flamini certainly does not appear to be good enough to dominate in that position against the better teams, while Wenger deployed Santi Cazorla there in the Champions League, but that would be very risky against other top-four sides. This weekend, Arsenal face their toughest challenge so far this season as they face the only other unbeaten side, league leaders Chelsea, who thrashed them 6-0 at Stamford Bridge in March. The Blues had a comfortable 3-0 win over Aston Villa last weekend to maintain their position atop the Premiership and with them having Cesc Fabregas in the lineup to haunt his old club, who were unwilling to break their wage structure to bring him back when he was leaving Barcelona in the summer, Sunday’s encounter is mouthwatering. I’m particularly excited to see Fabregas score and then not celebrate, leading to the commentators talk about how much respect it shows for his former club, ignoring the fact that he’s not exactly showing loyalty to the team that currently pays his wages. If Spurs ever played Real Madrid again (say, if they somehow ended up in the Europa League…) and Gareth Bale scored, I’d hope he did his stupid finger-heart celebration – I’m not going to be any less pissed off just because he stands there solemnly while being congratulated by his team-mate. You scored, enjoy it.
Of course, I will not be watching Chelsea vs Arsenal live, since in coincides with Tottenham’s game against the team currently second in the table –
Manchester City Liverpool Manchester United Everton Southampton. Ronald Koeman, who replaced the White Hart Lane bound Pochettino in July, has done a wonderful job getting his side playing good football and winning matches, despite the many high-profile departures they had over the summer and this is their best start to a top-flight season since 1983/4 – a time even before Matthew LeTissier had played his first match for the Saints (ah the perfect excuse to link to the top 10 LeTissier goals again, cannot decide if number 2 or 9 is my favorite!). Last weekend, Southampton beat QPR 2-1 at St. Mary’s – the goal for Harry Redknapp’s side was just the fourth that the Saints have conceded in the league this season, giving them the best defensive record so far. Koeman’s side have thirteen points from their six games, putting them two ahead of the reigning champions, Manchester City, who gave up a 2-0 lead against Hull to be level at the break, but recovered in the second half to win 4-2.
Also last weekend, Louis Van Gaal once again saw his Manchester United team dominate and take an early two goal lead against West Ham – just as they had done in their defeat to Leicester the previous week – but this time they managed to hold on for a 2-1 victory, despite having Wayne Rooney sent off for petulantly kicking Stewart Downing, which was surprisingly his first straight red card in the Premier League since his first in 2002 while playing for Everton. In the Merseyside derby, Liverpool looked set for victory up until the final minute, when a thunderbolt shot from Phil Jagielka earned Everton a point and left the Reds without a victory in the league since their 3-o thrashing of Tottenham at the end of August. Elsewhere, the conquerors of Manchester United, Leicester City, came back to earth with a bump and a 2-0 defeat away at Crystal Palace; the pressure increased on Alan Pardew as Newcastle lost to Stoke 1-0 on Monday night; Burnley are rooted to the bottom of the table following a 4-0 loss at West Brom; and the match between Sunderland and Swansea ended goalless.
This weekend is the last Premier League action for two weeks as there is another round of international fixtures, so teams will be hoping to head into the break on a positive note. That will be particularly important for managers who are on the brink of dismissal, since their clubs will have a longer time to bring in a replacement before the next games, so Pardew will be particularly anxious for Newcastle to pick up points away at Swansea. The other matches – alongside the aforementioned Chelsea vs Arsenal and Spurs vs Southampton – David Moyes’ two former clubs meet at Old Trafford as Manchester United host Everton; Harry Redknapp faces his old team as QPR head across London to play West Ham; and two of the promoted sides, Leicester and Burnley, meet at the King Power Stadium. Manchester City will be hoping to avenge last season’s 3-2 loss at Villa Park when they return there on Saturday; Hull entertain Crystal Palace; Liverpool have a home match against West Brom; and the best candidate for 0-0 award goes to Sunderland vs Stoke.
Last week, 6-4; Season 25-35
Home team listed first
Hull vs Crystal Palace – Draw
Leicester vs Burnley – Home win
Liverpool vs West Brom – Home win
Sunderland vs Stoke – Draw
Swansea vs Newcastle – Away win
Aston Villa vs Manchester City – Draw
Manchester United vs Everton – Draw
Chelsea vs Arsenal – Home win
Tottenham vs Southampton – Away win
West Ham vs QPR – Home win