We are back with our latest round of knee-jerk reactions, this time looking at Matchday 5 of the Premier League season. Whoever said small sample sizes are a bad thing? (It might have been us.)
Trossard Should Be Starting for Arsenal
Since leaving Brighton for Arsenal in the January transfer window earlier this year, just five Arsenal players have made more appearances for the club than Leandro Trossard. The Belgian is clearly a big part of Mikel Arteta’s plans.
The problem though, for Trossard at least, is the extent to which he has struggled to break into Arteta’s first team. No Arsenal player has made more than Trossard’s 12 substitute appearances since he joined the club, and 10 other players have played more minutes than him since he arrived at the Emirates.
The former Brighton man must be wondering what more he can do to convince Arteta he is worthy of a starting berth. His winner for Arsenal against Everton on Sunday – a game in which he came off the bench (surprise) – was admittedly just his second goal for the club, but when you factor in his 10 assists, just two players (Bukayo Saka with 17 and Gabriel Martinelli with 13) have managed more than his 12 goal involvements since joining the club.
That’s made all the more impressive given his lack of regular first-team minutes. In fact, at a rate of a goal or assist every 88 minutes, no one has contributed more frequently to Arsenal’s attack than Trossard since his debut.
Martinelli had to be substituted with a muscle injury in the first half against Everton, and if he has a period on the sidelines it might finally give the Trossard the chance to force his way into Arsenal’s best XI. He certainly deserves that chance.
Luton Are the New Derby
Another week, another loss for Luton. They’re only four games in so it isn’t quite time to panic yet, but the number of people using the words ‘Luton Town’ and ‘Derby County’ in the same sentence is cause for concern in itself.
Derby of course hold the record for the lowest ever points total in a Premier League season, earning just 11 points in 2007-08, and Rob Edwards’ side, having so far given us very little reason to believe they can survive, need to show some signs of improvement soon if mentions of Paul Jewell’s terrible side are to stop.
After defeat to Fulham at the weekend, Luton are the only team yet to pick up a single point from their four games so far this season. They are the top flight’s lowest scorers having scored just two goals, also attempting the fewest shots on target (7). At the other end, their 10 goals conceded is the third worst in the division.
There was some hope at Craven Cottage in that they created a few decent chances, and their xG of 4.48 so far this season suggests that with some better finishing they might fare a little better. The only problem is there isn’t much sign that they have anyone capable of finishing off their chances. Seven shots on target from chances worth 4.5 xG is a really poor return; Sheffield United have scored five goals from just 3.5 xG.
There is a long, long way to go, but four defeats from four games means Luton are getting into the territory of challenging Crystal Palace’s Premier League record for the worst start to a Premier League season, when they lost their first seven games in 2017-18 under Frank de Boer (though they eventually survived comfortably thanks to a rescue act from Roy Hodgson). Luton have crunch games against Wolves, Everton and Burnley up next. One point from those would mean they avoid equalling Palace’s record, but they need more than that to get their survival bid up and running.
This New Liverpool Are Mentality Monsters
It’s a phrase that was coined by Jürgen Klopp about a previous incarnation of his team, but this new-look Liverpool – one that many people assumed would need time to gel after a summer of upheaval – looks to have the makings of another bunch of ‘mentality monsters’.
Saturday’s comeback win at Wolves means Liverpool have already won nine points from losing positions from five Premier League games this season. After coming back to beat Bournemouth and Newcastle, goals from Cody Gakpo and Andy Robertson turned the game at Molineux on its head before an own from Hugo Bueno put the icing on the cake.
To put their comeback achievements into perspective, no team in Europe’s top five leagues has won more points this season from losing positions this season than Liverpool, while six Premier League teams failed to win more than nine points after going behind in the entirety of 2022-23.
Klopp is a master of building team spirit and belief, and the team he built that produced a bunch of famous Champions League comebacks en route to glory in 2019 and then went on to win the Premier League were a legendary team in that regard. His current team are nowhere near that level, but they have the potential and mentality to beat anyone the way they are playing – even if they go behind first.
Wilson Is the (Second) Best Striker in the League
Callum Wilson just continues to deliver. His game-winning penalty against Brentford at the weekend took Wilson to three Premier League goals this season, making him Newcastle’s outright top scorer.
The Englishman has been remarkably consistent. Since the start of last season just two players – the peerless Erling Haaland (43) and the now-departed Harry Kane (30) – have scored more Premier League goals than Wilson’s 21. Alexander Isak, who arrived to much fanfare over the summer in 2022, only has 12 goals over that timeframe. Admittedly, the Swede has had his fair share of injuries, but the underlying data really does point to Wilson being Newcastle’s most dangerous striker, as well as one of the most potent in the league.
His underlying expected goals (xG) numbers are exceptional. This season, only Haaland (1.47) can better Wilson’s xG per 90 tally of 1.18 (minimum 90 minutes played).
If we extend that timeframe to 2023 as a whole, then the pair of them are essentially tied – Haaland has 1.0 xG per 90 compared to Wilson’s 0.99 – and Wilson’s non-penalty xG per 90 of 0.82 is not only better than Haaland’s (0.79) but greater than anyone else in the division.
Not only that, but Wilson also has the best minutes per goal of any Premier League player in 2023, finding the net on average once every 83 minutes.
The numbers Wilson has put up have been too consistent over too long a period of time to be considered a fluke. Let’s face it, Wilson is the (second) best striker in the league.
Douglas Luiz Is the Next Holding Midfielder to Go for Big Bucks
Between them, Enzo Fernández, Declan Rice and Moisés Caicedo make up three of the top five most expensive midfielders of all time. All of them moved for eye-watering sums of money in 2023, and Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz could be the next on that list.
Perhaps rather tellingly, it was Manchester City who brought the Brazilian to England, plucking him from Vasco de Gama in Brazil’s top flight in 2017. Yet Luiz never made an appearance for City and instead spent time on loan at La Liga side Girona.
Aston Villa then pounced, acquiring his services in 2019, and Luiz has been a mainstay in the heart of midfield ever since. Since joining the club, no player has made more league appearances than Luiz’s 145.
Off the ball, he’s Aston Villa’s primary ball winner in midfield. No Villa player has made as many tackles (8) or at a better success rate (72.8%) than Luiz, while he’s won back possession for his side more often (7.4 times per 90) than any other teammate.
He was a colossus in midfield at the weekend against Crystal Palace, winning possession 16 times, the most by a player in a single Premier League match in 2023-24 so far.
Once he’s won the ball back for Villa, Luiz has the ability in possession to launch attacks for his side.
The midfielder has started seven attacking sequences that have ended in an Aston Villa shot, more than any other player, while only two teammates – the far more attack-minded duo of Ollie Watkins and Moussa Diaby – have been involved in more overall attacking sequences ending in a shot.
With the Brazilian averaging 81 touches per 90 minutes – the most in the Villa squad – and 4.5 progressive passes per 90 – the most of any regular midfielder – his ability on the ball could well translate to a bigger club who enjoy even more possession than Unai Emery’s outfit.
It’s not just this season that Luiz has impressed. In 2022-23, he was voted both Supporter’s Player of the Season and Player’s Player of the Season at Aston Villa’s end-of-season awards.
Arsenal were reportedly interested in acquiring Luiz ahead of the 2022-23 campaign. They’ve now found their solution in Rice, but don’t be surprised to see more top clubs circling around the Brazilian before too long.
Forest’s Front Four is Top-Half Material
Nottingham Forest have bought so many players in the last few years that it shouldn’t be that surprising that they have managed to put together a top-class front four, but after adding Callum Hudson-Odoi on transfer deadline day, they now have genuinely exciting group of attacking players.
An underwhelming year on loan at Bayer Leverkusen has meant Hudson-Odoi’s move to Forest could have been viewed as make or break. The signs from his debut on Monday night against Burnley were positive, though, with a wonderful, curled equaliser from the edge of the box and his overall performance suggesting he is still very much the player we saw in his early Chelsea days.
Adding Hudson-Odoi to a Forest attack already boasting Anthony Elanga, Morgan Gibbs-White and Taiwo Awoniyi – whose assist for Hudson-Odoi meant he has now directly contributed to a goal in nine consecutive Premier League games – means Steve Cooper now has a front four that could pose a threat to any opponent.
Forest are eighth in the table, and in tough games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, they showed they are a very dangerous side when they play on the break. They had more of the ball against Burnley on Monday and struggled to create as many chances as their possession might have allowed them, but with time this new front four should help them learn to break opponents down in other ways. They now have the quality in attack to improve on last season’s 16th-place finish.
Knee-Jerk Reactions Aren’t Always a Good Idea
Part of Sky Sports’ analysis of Arsenal’s win at Everton on Sunday focused on the time it took for Bukayo Saka to take the corner which led to Trossard’s winning goal. He took 26 seconds from placing the ball to playing it short to Martin Ødegaard – a duration Gary Neville described as “an absolute mountain of time.”
Given it was still goalless at the time and Arsenal were just over 20 minutes away from dropping points to a struggling Everton side that had only avoided defeat once all season, they clearly weren’t wasting time.
In fact, as Sky’s analysts pointed out, it looked as though Saka was just trying to slow things down so much that Everton’s players were all static in the penalty areas before he took the corner and Arsenal burst into life. A few seconds later Trossard had put Arsenal ahead. A smart ploy, clearly.
But Saka’s slowing down of the game didn’t really deserve such close analysis. Opta have calculated the time between the ball going out and a corner being taken on Premier League games for years now. There were nine seconds between the ball going out of play and Saka placing the ball, making a total of 35 seconds between the ball going out and the corner being taken.
The average time that it took – from the ball going out of play – for corners to be taking last season was 33 seconds. So, Saka’s delay was just two seconds above last season’s average. Sometimes snap judgements – what some people might call knee-jerk reactions – aren’t a very good idea after all.