Manchester City can be beaten, Arsenal don’t need a striker and Marcus Rashford needs to get back to basics. It’s our weekly visit from the knee-jerk reactions to the weekend’s Premier League action.
Manchester City Might Not Win the Title
Who saw that coming? Everyone who isn’t a Wolves fan, put your hands down you big liars.
Despite having beaten Wolves in their previous six games with an aggregate score of 19-3, Manchester City’s 100% start to the season was brought to an end by Gary O’Neil’s hard-working side, who earned a 2-1 win at Molineux against all odds.
Unsurprisingly, the stats were still heavily in City’s favour, having 23 shots to the hosts’ three and 68% possession. However, Pep Guardiola’s side could only muster 0.87 expected goals (xG) from their efforts, and really struggled to deal with the electric Pedro Neto all day.
The defeat sees their chances of winning the Premier League reduce from 88.8% to 81.5%, according to the Opta supercomputer, and that probably would have been even lower had it not been for Liverpool’s defeat at Tottenham. City remain the team to beat, but they have only kept one clean sheet in their last seven games in all competitions, have fallen 1-0 behind in four of their last five, and having been beaten by Newcastle in the EFL Cup last week, have lost back-to-back games in all competitions for the first time since January when they were beaten by Southampton in the EFL Cup and then Manchester United in the Premier League.
Arsenal Don’t Need a 20-goal Striker
Last week, we asked if it matters that Arsenal’s central strikers can’t finish. Mikel Arteta’s side went to Bournemouth on Saturday and said: “No. No it does not.”
As pointed out in that piece, the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Eddie Nketiah and Kai Havertz regularly underperform against their xG, but it doesn’t seem to stop Arsenal from winning games, or indeed, scoring goals.
Their 4-0 thrashing of Bournemouth was another example of this, with four different goalscorers on the day. Goals from Bukayo Saka and Ben White came either side of two penalties, one scored by Martin Ødegaard, the other generously given to Havertz by his teammates to finally open his Arsenal account following his big-money move from Chelsea in the summer.
It certainly helps having Saka around. The England international has either scored (five) or assisted (two) in seven of his last eight Premier League appearances for Arsenal. He has also scored against 22 of the 24 sides he has come up against in the competition, only failing to do so against Leicester City (six games) and Burnley (five games).
Since the start of last season, 18 of 22 different outfielders to play more than six times for Arsenal have scored in the Premier League, with only Chelsea and Spurs (19) having a wider spread of goalscorers in the competition overall in that period. Four of those Arsenal stars (Saka, Ødegaard, Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli) have scored at least 10 goals in the Premier League, with only Brighton (five) seeing more players reach double figures for goals since August 2022.
Perhaps Liverpool Can Defend After All
There are other things to talk about when it comes to Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat at Tottenham, but there’s only so many times you can say “Sorry, what happened?!” and it still mean anything, so let’s look at the actual football that was played in north London.
Tottenham claimed a big win as they continue their excellent start to the campaign under Ange Postecoglou, but Liverpool also took a lot of heart out of defeat given they spent so much of the game with fewer players, and about a quarter of it with just nine men. It took a freak last-minute own goal from the otherwise excellent Joel Matip to win it for Spurs, who were kept at bay by Liverpool before that.
Some have questioned Liverpool’s defensive stability this season due to their knack of conceding early goals, but after Sunday’s games, only Manchester City (five) and Arsenal (six) have conceded fewer than their seven goals of teams to have played seven games (Chelsea conceded six in six prior to Monday’s clash at Fulham). If they can keep 11 men on the field any time soon, Jürgen Klopp’s men just might be able to do something.
Has Marcus Rashford Gone from the Solution to the Problem at Manchester United?
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” said Manchester United about their early season crisis. After seemingly putting their wobbles behind them with good wins over Burnley (Premier League) and Crystal Palace (EFL Cup), they lost their fourth league game of the season with a 1-0 loss at home to Palace.
So often last season, Marcus Rashford was the man to United’s rescue. He scored 17 Premier League goals from 108 shots and an xG of 15.8. So far this season, he has scored once from 28 shots and an xG of 2.7. His xG per shot has gone down from 0.15 to 0.10, but the problem for United seems to be that he’s taking too many of them. In the recent 3-1 home defeat for Brighton, he had eight attacking sequence involvements, and all of them were shots (he didn’t score in the game).
Rashford is also second only to Erling Haaland in the Premier League for both total shots and direct shot involvements (when a player’s only contribution to a sequence is taking the final shot). Erik ten Hag could really do with the 25-year-old rediscovering last season’s form, and trying to temper his urge to end every attack himself.
Aston Villa (and Ollie Watkins) Are the Real Deal
Unai Emery’s side absolutely destroyed Brighton at Villa Park, winning 6-1 in Saturday’s early kick-off. That made it 10 consecutive Premier League home games won since the start of March for Aston Villa, with only Man City (13) on a longer ongoing home winning run in the competition.
If you can believe it, Villa trailed Brighton when it came to xG (1.58 to 1.71) but were far more ruthless in their finishing, with Ollie Watkins in particular stepping up.
We’d like to think our mention of Watkins underperforming his xG a few weeks ago in our Stat, Viz, Quiz newsletter motivated the former Brentford man to up his game, which he has done significantly in his last two outings. In his first 412 minutes in the Premier League this season, Watkins failed to score from 14 shots with an overall xG of 2.4. Since then, he has played 179 minutes and taken eight shots with an overall xG of 1.0, scoring four goals. You’re welcome, Ollie.
Luton Could Stay Up
It was a historic day for Luton Town on Saturday, claiming their first ever Premier League win. The 2-1 victory at Everton was hard-fought and well-earned, and perhaps showed that Rob Edwards’ side are not to be underestimated this season.
Beating Everton may not be the most difficult task these days, but Sean Dyche’s men were coming off impressive victories at Brentford (Premier League) and Aston Villa (EFL Cup). Luton were holding on a bit after taking a 2-0 lead inside 32 minutes, with Everton having 23 shots and finishing with 2.9 xG, but hold on they did and that resilience could bode well for them in similar six-pointers this season. According to our season simulator, Luton’s chances of relegation have already reduced from 75.3% to 56.2%.
As for Everton, this was their fourth home defeat out of four in the league this season. They have lost each of their opening four home games for just the second time in their history, also doing so in the top-tier in 1958-59.