From Arsenal being in control in the title race to Nicolas Jackson deserving a bit of patience, it’s the latest round of our knee-jerk reactions to the weekend of Premier League action.
This is Arsenal’s Title to Lose
With the surest of wins over Robert De Zerbi’s Brighton on Sunday, Arsenal moved back to the top of the Premier League. They may only be one point ahead of both Liverpool – who dropped points later in the day – and Aston Villa, but they are the most convincing of the frontrunners and continue to show they have fewer flaws than the rest of them.
Earlier in the season, we considered whether Arsenal were equipped to mount a proper title challenge given they weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders in attack. Their impressively resolute defence, we concluded, might just be the foundations they need to win the title this season. That is looking more and more accurate, particularly given they are improving going forward.
Brighton are struggling to contend with a growing injury list and were decidedly off-colour at the Emirates, but a great deal of that was down to Arsenal’s performance. Even during the very mixed run of form that they came into this game on – Brighton had won two, drawn five and lost three of their last 10 games – they always, always scored. But here, they failed to find the net for the first time since 18 February, ending a run of 32 consecutive league games in which they had scored.
What’s more, they also barely even looked like scoring. For the first time in 49 Premier League games under De Zerbi, Brighton failed to attempt a single shot in the first half. They had six in the end but only one genuinely good chance. Arsenal were very, very comfortable.
Arsenal are now one game from being top at Christmas and they are better equipped than any of their rivals at the top of the table to win the title. It’s their title to lose.
West Ham Could Sneak Into the Top-Four Race
For the first time in 25 games in all competitions this season, West Ham this weekend won a game by three clear goals. Lucas Paquetá registered a hat-trick of assists, becoming the second Brazilian ever to do so in the Premier League after Roberto Firmino, who did so twice for Liverpool, but Mohammed Kudus was the real star of the show.
The Ghanaian has been a huge hit since arriving in London, and after his impressive brace against Wolves, he is in the Premier League top 20 scorers for the season despite the fact he has played only 783 minutes of a possible 1,530 for West Ham (51.2%). David Moyes’ side had become too reliant on Michail Antonio up front in recent years, but Kudus has, along with Jarrod Bowen, ensured they are not feeling the absence of their number nine.
West Ham are now among the Premier League’s most in-form teams. After winning only four of their opening 11 league games this season, they have won four of their last six, with their only defeat coming at Fulham when a stomach bug had torn through the squad.
Now only two points off Newcastle in sixth, and seven off Manchester City in fourth, West Ham have an outside chance of sneaking into the race for Champions League qualification. If the Premier League gets a fifth spot in Europe’s elite competition next season, then there’s no reason Moyes’ men shouldn’t be in the conversation.
Liverpool Are Stuttering
Liverpool broke an unwanted record this weekend. They had more shots than they have ever had in a Premier League game on record (since 2003-04) without scoring. With 34 attempts against Manchester United on Sunday, it was also the fifth-most by any team and the most since United’s 38 vs Burnley seven years ago.
Results haven’t exactly been poor of late and it is hardly time to hit the panic button, but there may be some reason to wonder if Liverpool are stuttering in the title race. They dropped points at Luton last month, and then got out of jail when coming from behind to beat both Fulham and Crystal Palace with late goals. And then on Sunday, even though they had a record-breaking number of shots, they could not muster even one opportunity that our data collectors would deem a ‘big chance’ – one that the shot-taker would be expected to score.
They are still only one point off top spot, and if they were to beat Arsenal this weekend, we will very much – given this entire column is about making knee-jerk reactions – be calling Liverpool the favourites to win the league.
But if they don’t convince in that match and drop more points, it could soon be time to worry that this new-look Liverpool – who have had very little time together – aren’t quite ready for a proper title battle.
There Will be No Christmas Cheer From the Officials
We have seen an astonishing number of red cards this season. In this weekend’s 10 matches, five reds were dished out, taking the total for 2023-24 to 37 – seven more than in the whole of 2022-23.
A combination of VAR and the new directives on time-wasting and dissent – the latter of which proved Diogo Dalot’s downfall at Anfield on Sunday – has led to a huge spike in dismissals. The current rate of 0.22 red cards per game is higher than in any other previous season, meaning we are on course to see a record 83 red cards – eight more than the previous most reds given in games across a Premier League campaign in both 2002-03 and 2005-06 (75 – including red cards later rescinded).
With the games piling up, and teams across the Premier League suffering what feel like unprecedented injury crises, managers could really do without losing players to suspension.
But Man Utd – who are among the teams with the most players out injured – will be without Dalot for next week’s tricky trip to in-form West Ham, while Spurs – another of those struggling with injuries – will have to make do without Yves Bissouma for three more games.
We aren’t here to debate whether or not those decisions were correct (in the case of Bissouma it very much was) but simply point to the fact that referees won’t be doing Premier League managers any Christmas favours.
Nicolas Jackson Has (Most of) What it Takes to Succeed
Nicolas Jackson has faced a lot of criticism for his finishing ability since his summer move to Chelsea but there is a very good player in there. He might not be scoring as many goals as he should given how often he gets into good positions, but maybe we should be looking at his numbers with a glass-half-full attitude rather than criticising him for every miss.
Only Erling Haaland (14.8) and Mohamed Salah (11.0) have accrued more expected goals in the Premier League this season than Jackson (9.8). Haaland (14 goals) and Salah (11) are clear at the top of the goalscoring charts, while Jackson is down in eighth, with seven goals.
While he clearly isn’t an elite finisher, it is easy to forget how young he is, in part because Chelsea paid so much money for him but also because he has quickly been asked to play like a first-choice number nine, when in truth he was probably signed to be a back-up to Christopher Nkunku, who has spent the whole season so far out injured.
And looking back over his 2023 as a whole, the former Villarreal man’s numbers really aren’t that bad. He is getting into fantastic positions really consistently, with only four players (min. 1,500 minutes played) across Europe’s top five leagues averaging more non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes than him (0.69), and only 10 players having actually scored more goals than him (17) this year.
At 22 years old and with only 2,950 minutes of top-flight league action under his belt, it is understandable that he isn’t yet the finished product. Jackson has plenty of time to improve on his finishing and with time, he will only get better. It’s probably only fair those criticising him cut him a bit of slack.