Sarcastic chants of “we are staying up” rang around the home stands at the Emirates as the 1-0 win over Norwich lifted Arsenal to 16th place on three points from four games while Norwich, who are still looking for their first point of the season, slipped to the bottom of the table.
Arsenal’s start to the season has been defined by an inability to defend their box properly. Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City all managed to bully their way through the Arsenal lines to victory – but Norwich found no way through with the Arsenal far sturdier.
The main reason for that was because Arsenal had a defender playing who relishes such battles. Gabriel has missed the start of the season – and too much football in general – due to a knee injury but his presence was obvious here alongside Ben White, who seemed to play with more comfort knowing he had a proper defender doing more of the dirty work.
The Brazilian’s authority in defending his box was summed up perfectly in injury time when deflecting a Teemu Pukki effort over the bar. Aaron Ramsdale didn’t have a serious save to make all afternoon, much of that was due to Gabriel’s marshalling of potentially dangerous situations. He and White have the attributes to provide a solid base for Arsenal’s young talents to flourish and drive them back up the Premier League table.
After losing to Tottenham on the opening weekend, it has been the perfect response from the defending champions. Three games played and three games won by Manchester City, scoring 11 goals and conceding none. The run has coincided with Pep Guardiola selecting the same City starting XI.
After missing out on Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo, his side has shown no signs of needing fresh ammunition. City are beginning to hit their stride.
There was never any sense of another goal glut when faced with superior opposition in the shape of Leicester, whose manager Brendan Rodgers may reflect on this 1-0 defeat as an opportunity missed. Harvey Barnes and Ademola Lookman missed clear-cut chances to go with the close call to disallow Jamie Vardy’s strike for offside with the game still goalless.
City had 25 attempts with eight on target in addition to 61 per cent possession, but the manner of their winning goal at the King Power was somewhat fortuitous, Bernardo Silva pouncing on a loose ball to score after Joao Cancelo’s shot had been blocked by Caglar Soyuncu.
It came moments after Rodgers had decided the hour-mark was the right time to re-introduce Jonny Evans following his injury lay-off for Jannik Vestergaard, who had enjoyed a fine game but was tiring given his own recent setback. In a game high on quality, City look to be benefitting from the same settled line-up.
“After the international break, you always have doubts,” Guardiola said. “We were a high level again for three weeks in a row. We had many chances and could have scored more goals. This is a step we still need to take.”
The return of the Champions League this week will most certainly lead to changes, especially with Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden left on the bench here and closing in on full fitness, but with Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias developing a stronger understanding with each passing game in defence, Guardiola may resist the temptation to tinker too much as City look to set the pace again.
Aston Villa had 18 shots at Stamford Bridge, six more than their hosts. Afterwards, Dean Smith spoke of his frustration at how his side hadn’t got the rewards for their efforts, particularly after a first half when they repeatedly carved open the Chelsea defence.
But, as he said, football is about moments and Villa missed theirs. And with the quality of this Chelsea team, that wastefulness will rarely go unpunished in the end.
This was far from a complete team performance from Chelsea. They gave Aston Villa too much room in the opening 45 minutes and, in the case of disappointing debutant Sual Niguez, too much of the ball.
But in goal Edouard Mendy was exceptional, making six saves. In midfield Mateo Kovacic was marvellous, bagging a goal and an assist. And up front Romelu Lukaku was clinical, burying his two chances to score his first goals at Stamford Bridge in a Chelsea shirt.
If Chelsea’s draw with 10-men at Liverpool before the international break was an example of their unity, togetherness, organisation and collective will then this victory demonstrated the individual brilliance they can count on.
It is a mark of a very good team if they can win 3-0 on what was largely an off day. And an ominous warning for their rivals.
With all the build up to Cristiano Ronaldo’s homecoming at Manchester United, most other elements of the game were almost a second thought.
However, Newcastle had other ideas and despite what a 4-1 scoreline may suggest, they were not just there to make up the numbers.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first – there were errors made for Man Utd’s goals. Both of Ronaldo’s goals could have been dealt with much better by the Newcastle defence, and the same with Bruno Fernandes’ curler.
But Newcastle had their chances. They likely knew they would have to sit back and score on the break – which is exactly how Javier Manquillo ended up equalising shortly after the break. Both Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin, who were superb for the visitors going forward, were involved.
And at 2-1, Joelinton should have equalised again after some really smart play. He forced a reactive save from David de Gea, and that would have changed the complexion of the game.
“I was very pleased with a lot of it [the performance],” Steve Bruce told Sky Sports after the game. “I thought we were a constant threat on the counter-attack.
” We had some really good opportunities, I can’t remember coming here with so many opportunities. The difficulty is we gave poor goals away and that’s been our Achilles heel today.”
Overall, it’s harsh to say Newcastle deserved their 4-1 defeat. There were very bright moments, but a few sloppy defensive moments and the superior quality of Man Utd ultimately saw them beaten. Newcastle’s battles and victories will come on other days and there were positives to take from Saturday’s trip.
For around 20 minutes at Selhurst Park, Emerson Royal’s Tottenham debut was going smoothly. The right-back, a £21.5m signing from Barcelona, had been handed the unenviable task of keeping Wilfried Zaha quiet but he was coping well.
Until he wasn’t.
At the end of the game, as he trudged from the field having been run ragged by the player Patrick Vieira later described as Palace’s “technical leader”, his bright start felt like a distant memory.
Royal is not the first player to experience a chastening afternoon up against Zaha and he will not be the last. In fact, in this kind of mood, the 28-year-old is practically unplayable.
Zaha seemed aggrieved by the close attention he received from Tottenham’s defenders from as early as the first few minutes of the game but the angrier he got, the more dangerous he became.
He walked a fine line when he appeared to raise his hands towards Japhet Tanganga’s face as they squared up in the second half but it was the Tottenham defender who lost his cool, scything down Jordan Ayew to receive his second booking just five minutes later.
Zaha was playing with swagger by then.
There was a nonchalant no-look pass for Conor Gallagher in the build-up to the penalty, which he duly converted, and he then turned provider with the cross to set up Odsonne Edouard’s first goal.
Edouard’s late double ensured he grabbed the headlines but no player was more important to the victory than Zaha. Palace are embarking on a new era under Vieira but the identity of their main man remains the same. Just ask Emerson Royal.
Nuno Espirito Santo can point to mitigating circumstances when reflecting on Tottenham’s dismal showing against Crystal Palace. Spurs were without a string of senior players after the international break and lost another when Eric Dier was forced off injured.
The new head coach has credit in the bank after taking maximum points from his first three games in charge but the trip to Selhurst Park was a reminder that there is an awful lot to work on.
Tottenham’s late collapse can be partly explained by Japhet Tanganga’s red card but they were fortunate to be level at that point and even when missing Heung-Min Son and others, the bluntness of their performance at the other end will worry supporters.
Spurs didn’t muster a single shot in the first half for only the second time in the last six seasons and their final total of two efforts on goal was their lowest in a Premier League game in over a decade.
Harry Kane cut a frustrated figure and understandably so.
The 28-year-old thought he might be feeding off Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez passes this season but instead he is starved of service. He is getting on with it at Spurs but at Selhurst Park, he didn’t even have a touch in Palace’s box let alone a shot.
There were of course no complaints from fans when Spurs started the campaign with three consecutive 1-0 wins. But a lack of creativity and goal threat has been apparent across the three games. Only Burnley and Leicester have had fewer shots than Spurs so far this season.
Nuno’s first three games in charge show he is capable of making Spurs difficult to break down but soon he will need to demonstrate that he can get them playing too.
It was fitting that almost four games into the new season without a goal, it took a Watford player heading into his own net to get Wolves off the mark.
Equally fitting was how quickly they suddenly found their shooting boots, adding a second of their own nine minutes later, as Hee-Chan Hwang became the first Wolves player to score a Premier League goal this campaign.
His goal suggests the obvious question from Vicarage Road may have a simple answer. When one goal goes in, will more follow? The second-highest expected goals tally across the division, behind only champions Manchester City, suggests that may be the case.
“It’s a good result for us and a good result for our four games so far,” said manager Bruno Lage afterwards, with his side finally rewarded for the fruits of their labours.
Wolves would do well to look at Brighton for an explanation why they may need to be careful thinking they are out of the woods. The sarcastically titled ‘Champions of xG’ created chances throughout the campaign last year without tucking them away – demonstrating perfectly how composure owes very little to luck over a 38-game season.
Raul Jimenez, scorer of so many of Wolves’ goals since their Premier League promotion, still does not look the same player as before his life-threatening injury last year and is on his longest run without a goal for the club.
Once he is back among the goals, or Hwang builds up some scoring form, would seem a more apt time for Wolves to be optimistic. For now, this is one step in the right direction.
Four games into the Premier League season and the Seagulls are flying high in the table.
Granted, they have not had the most testing start, with two of their three wins coming against Watford and Burnley, who are both near the bottom. But their latest victory against Brentford showed the steps forward they are making under Graham Potter.
They are a solid team that can play expansive football with some talented players across the pitch like Yves Bissouma, Joel Veltman and Leandro Trossard, who scored the fine late winner on Saturday. Potter also showed his influence against Brentford by switching from a 4-3-3 formation to a 4-4-2, a move which starved the hosts of chances in the second half and allowed Brighton to get more control of the game.
“There’s no magic formula,” said Potter, whose side are just a point behind the league leaders. “It’s just trying to maintain the performance level that we have had, try to improve and the margins are so small that you have to stay humble.”
With summer signing Marc Cucurella making his debut, Brighton’s starting XI against Brentford contained 10 full internationals for the first time in the club’s history. The only area where they may be lacking is up front, where goals are in short supply. But if the likes of Trossard can continue to chip in then Brighton should be set for a good season.
At the moment going 3-0 up against Aston Villa on the opening day is looking Watford’s brightest moment of the season to date by some stretch.
Against Wolves, half an hour was all they turned up for and even then, they created only one single half-chance through Moussa Sissoko.
The Hornets have not thrown money at their playing squad since their Premier League return, understandably in a tough financial climate, but that calculated risk will hit them in the pocket if they go straight back down – and it certainly shows on the pitch.
That is a long way away with only four games gone but Watford have now lost three games in succession without scoring and would have targeted two of those, against Brighton and Wolves, as winnable, and have little in reserve due to that summer of thrift.
Their reliance on the individual brilliance of Ismaila Sarr, the enigmatic Emmanuel Dennis and been-there-done-it striker Josh King to get their goals is fast becoming clear, but they will not be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat every week.
“We need to be better in both boxes,” was manager Xisco Munoz’s assessment after their latest defeat, but his hands are tied.
Games against Norwich and Newcastle next up are already six-pointers and will likely go a fair way to determining how the Hornets’ season pans out.
Lose both and, going by previous form, it may go even further to determining how long Munoz remains in Hertfordshire.
Southampton may have failed to win any of their opening four Premier League games of the season for the first time since 2016-17 after Saturday’s goalless draw with West Ham at St Mary’s, but it is not all doom and gloom for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side.
That is because of the eye-catching impact made by substitute Armando Broja, who only entered the fray on the south coast with just 16 minutes left to play, but was still the Saints’ standout player on the day.
The Albania international was signed on a season-long loan from Chelsea this summer and having scored twice on his debut in Southampton’s 8-0 thrashing of Newport County in the Carabao Cup second round last month, was the forward Hasenhuttl looked to in order to make the breakthrough against the Hammers.
And the 25-year-old very nearly did in his 16-minute cameo off the bench, first hitting the foot of the post after one sensational solo run starting from inside his own half, before then seeing his stoppage-time header hacked off the line by Declan Rice.
So judging on this evidence, Broja may very well start for Southampton when they take on Premier League champions Man City at the Etihad next Saturday afternoon.